This alt-J article was written by Ed Phillips, a Gigsoup contributor. Edited by Zoe Anderson.
“Okay, so you can help me sing this… if you like” says John Newman, a gentle preacher, as opposed to the fire-and-brimstone type, encouraging his congregation to raise their voices up with his. Also, he’s the frontman. And not so much a preacher as he is a poet and philosopher… alongside the whole musician thing, of course. Not really a preacher at all. Still, the singalong to ‘Matilda’ that follows isn’t too unlike a hymn. Joyful, but reverent. Quiet, yet resounding. And these folktronics certainly know how to rock an otherworldly vibe, if not a religious one.
alt-J shroud themselves in mist as they open with the ‘Intro’ track from their critically acclaimed album, ‘This is All Yours’, and it’s not long before keyboardist Gus Unger-Hamilton is raining down light melodies and Newman is pulling off a performance worthy of Robert Plant in ‘Something Good’. The darkly menacing ‘Bloodflood’ follows soon after. The quirky eeriness created earlier by ‘Every Other Freckle’ remains, having settled in the air like the kaleidoscopic dust about the stage.
Having played at bigger venues already, such as Glastonbury, alt-j seem comfortable in playing for a large crowd, despite the often understated nature of their songs. Yet this isn’t to say that the band don’t know how to excite a crowd. Unassuming, plainly dressed and reserved as they may be, these deeply thoughtful indie rockers unravel one enigmatic, slow-burning masterpiece after another, appearing to save the best for last as they bring out the likes of ‘Breezeblocks’ and ‘Hunger of the Pine’ post-encore. Miley Cyrus‘s involvement in the latter only increases the subtle sense of tension alt-j have cultivated this evening, while Thom Green’s drumming in the former, though sporadic, highlights his importance in creating this.
Dedicated to perfecting their art, alt-j have been difficult to pinpoint since their inception in 2007. Though one of their founders, Gwil Sainsbury, left last year, the band don’t seem to have lost their unique sound. Furthermore, they have the perfect supporting act in the form of The Horrors. Tonight, The Horrors create such an intense atmosphere that for a moment, as they power through ‘Still Life’, it is easy to forget that the main act has yet to mount the stage. Ghostpoet, the first act of the evening, may not leave as vivid an impression as the others, but ably set up the mood for them nevertheless.
alt-j are still difficult to pinpoint. They don’t drive the audience into hysteria, but they do seem to exert a lot of control over them, remaining stock-still even as fans flail about to their oblique lyrics and chaotic tunes. Long after they have left the stage, that control hasn’t faded away.