This STUFF. and Balthazar article was written by Jen Taylor, a GIGsoup contributor. Edited by Natalie Whitehouse
Village Underground has a certain feel to it at night time, one that is suggested in the name; with its high ceiling and exposed brick walls, when it is filled with people, a haze of smoke and eerie coloured lighting, it creates a fantastically subversive vibe. Combine such a venue with the expertise of STUFF. and Balthazar (both hailing from Belgium), and it becomes a unique experience.
STUFF. are interesting from the second the lights dim and their performance starts. With smoke rising up through the ambient red lighting and a voice sample announcing random numbers over the P.A., the scene was set for the five silhouettes of the band members to appear at their instruments. Their set-up onstage is reminiscent of a jam session: with all members facing in towards each other to facilitate their musical unification. This certainly suits their music style, which is rooted in jazz and improvisation, but has grown into their own amalgamation of genres labelled by drummer Lander Gyselinck as “badass.”
They started explosively with their single ‘Event Horizon.’ Varying between loud heavy music one moment to thoughtful ambience the next, the song was indicative of the set that was to follow. Their music is constantly changing and entirely unpredictable; audience members were noticeably amazed by what they were hearing, many for the first time, since the band has only recently appeared on the UK music scene.
STUFF. are purely instrumental (except for the occasional sample in some of their remixes), but they use an Electronic Wind Instrument (EWI) for the focal point of their music (basically a midi-controller played like a saxophone), which creates an entirely unique sound. This perhaps makes it easier to connect with their music compared to music of some of their experimental contemporaries, as there is often a melody line to follow. It is obvious that STUFF. are very proficient musicians, and their set was filled with songs that flowed mellifluously into the next, combining to form more of an experience than a collection of songs.
Balthazar also chose a perfect song to start their set with, as the haunting riff of their single ‘Decency’ filled the speakers, and the layered violin seeped into the very core of every audience member. Four band members stood along the front of the stage (the fifth further back on the drums) as a wall of musicians presenting a collection of vocal harmonies that were beyond impressive. The lead singer duties were shared between Maarten Devoldere and Jinte Deprez, with harmonies also added by violinist Patricia Vanneste and bass player Simon Casier. They have mastered the art of creating a unified front with their singing, the strength of their vocals shining out while the instruments layer expertly underneath. Moments of acapella (like in their track ‘True Love‘) showcase their singing talents even more.
Onstage, they are very composed and practised; often dark and serious, there are also moments of wildness and fun that shine through. They suited the venue perfectly, and it them. The strength of their song writing and arranging could be seen throughout the set, with perfect timing of building the music, but knowing when to drop the instruments back to let the vocals carry the songs on their own.
Their final song and encore could not have been more fitting, as they broke into ‘Blood Like Wine.’ Balthazar collectively sung the repeating final phrase “Raise your glass to the night time and the ways to choose the mood and have it replaced“ to a sea of hands raising their drinks in admiration and gratitude to the band, and singing the words back at them. In this moment, we were all connected, and as the song moved to finality with an acapella section, the feeling of solidarity was strong. It all ended with a moment of silent suspense as the voices died out, a “thank you“ uttered from the band and an explosive applause thundering out from the audience.
To a backing of Henry Mancini’s classic song ‘Moon River’ echoing out from the speakers, Balthazar linked arms and took a bow. This song itself suggests a reminiscent mood, and everyone filed out reflecting on the night they had just experienced, with excited natter about how perfect it had all been, filling the room.