“We find that we live on an insignificant planet of a humdrum star lost in a galaxy tucked away in some forgotten corner of a universe in which there are far more galaxies than people.”
This quote by Carl Sagan inspired the title of the 2018 album ‘A Humdrum Star’ by GoGo Penguin. Together, the three musicians have made it their mission to connect the listener with something far greater than oneself – and it’s this that’s the ignition to this performance on their new tour.
It’s the first show they’ve played in London since their sold out album launch in the Roundhouse. Before that, the trio of musicians – pianist Chris Illingworth, bassist Nick Blacka, and drummer Rob Turner – were entirely rescoring and playing live a new soundtrack for renowned environmental film ‘Koyaanisqatsi’, a stark documentary on the separation between humans and their environment. This, and their other highly acclaimed projects over the years – they were even shortlisted for the Mercury Prize several years ago – shows that GoGo Penguin are clearly no strangers to pushing through to higher levels, whether terrestrial or interplanetary.
So it was only a matter of time before this Manchester jazz-electronica trio would reach the Royal Albert Hall, establishing a cult following for their interstellar explosion of sound. Their compositions are curiously niche, an offspring of jazz-electronica and trip-hop. Layers of interweaving sound drift like a daydream over the crowd, a shifting cloud of noise teeming with the pattering rhythm of piano, hi-hats and bass. ‘Raven’, one of the earlier pieces of the night, is a stand-out example of this: a palpitating race of notes, bass the urgent heartbeat driving behind the bouncing notes. Yet the notes aren’t lost and indistinct in a haze of noise – far from it. In fact, the clean break-beats and anthemic riffs have a minimalist quality, a trajectory that is homely and comforting.
It’s this that makes the evening such an easy-listening experience, with old favourites like Murmuration, Garden Dog Barbeque and One Percent entwined with the new pieces from ‘A Humdrum Star’. The lighting too is enjoyably unobtrusive, strobing lights subtly blending into the beat of the music. Spotlights are cranked up to the ceiling like telescopes to the rafters of the night sky; in the quieter moments they resemble a lonely call into the cosmos, a call from “some forgotten corner of a universe”. It’s one small performance for their delighted fans, who have seen them before and will see them again, but performing at the Royal Albert Hall is one giant leap for GoGo Penguin into an interstellar unknown.