Written by Jack Andrew Cribb
I could hear the dim sound of guitar chords muffled by walls and doors as I entered Hoxton Hall on June 8th. I was late. To relax after a rushed tube journey I went to the bar and bought myself a beer. At £5 I scoffed, still not used to London prices.
I’d come to see a three piece band called Mt. Wolf. I’d only discovered these guys a week before, and suddenly I was asked to review a gig of theirs, which turned out to be an event to celebrate the release of their latest album, Aetherlight, their first full length album after returning to make music together. Mt. Wolf had been on a hiatus through 2014, after splitting up due to what was described as ‘creative differences’. Yet know, they are back together, and after listening to their album on repeat for a week, I could not wait to see them, as their emotional mixture of ethereal post rock, electronic soundscapes, and minimalist orchestration has truly caught my attention.
The first act was a singer songwriter called Samuel Ford, who played mixture of sultry and dark acoustic folk tunes. Unfortunately I arrived late to the gig, and so I missed most of his set, but what I did see was pretty compelling. Two backing singers and his percussive acoustic guitar playing gave his music an incredibly rich and warming sound, a fireplace sound, cosy but also able to be dangerous. His track The Storm, was the highlight of his set, dark, foreboding, and just a little bit sexy, you can tell why it’s his most popular song on Spotify.
Next up was a solo artist, Bryde, who quite frankly has a thoroughly incredible voice. Her vocal range, soft yet raw timbre, and her frenetic, power chord-heavy guitar playing made for a real groovy experience. Tracks like Wouldn’t That Make You Feel Good, Nectar, and Help Yourself brought with them a very rough emotionality, which was juxtaposed by how softly Bryde, or Sarah Howells, sang. She claimed to usually play with a live band, but that night she was alone, and regardless of her lack of backup, the impact of her music greatly came across.
After Bryde’s set the small hall, that looked more like an old ballroom – three tiers, ornate railings, and large rich-red curtains that framed the stage, giving it the quality of Victorian theatre rather than the meeting place of young London millenials. The stage, lit with purple lighting, was multi-tiered, and would eventually be inhabited by Mt. Wolf on the main area, and above would be seated a violinist and a cellist whose instruments lit up bright blue, like bio-luminescent creatures.
The venue filled, the atmosphere was tense, and then, Mt. Wolf took to the stage. They are made up of singer-producer Sebastian “Bassi” Fox, guitarist Stevie McMinn and drummer Al Mitchell, and on stage they were joined by a keyboardist, a backing vocalist, and the aforementioned small string section.
I did not know what to expect. I’d listened to Aetherlight a lot, and very much enjoyed it – it reminded me of the lighter songs of Arcane Roots, or the intricate multi-faceted compositions of Nordic Giants, or the stunning uplifting crescendos of Sigur Ros – but with all those similarities, and the sonic scale of the album, I had to wonder whether they could pull it off in a live setting. As soon as they came on, I was quickly reassured.
Anticipation rushed through my bones as the introduction to what was practically the whole album began. Mt. Wolf are very talented when it comes to layering a complex amount of sounds in a constructive way. They immediately began playing Heavenbound, the second track from their album. Fox’s charming choral falsetto echoed throughout the hall, as he sang the stirring chorus “You run free/ Sail on, sail on now/ Don’t wait for me/ Sail on, it won’t be long now”. Heavenbound represents the best of Mt. Wolf’s musicality, a rousing chorus, pounding drums that in no way clash with the relative ambience of the sound, and the mixture of vocals, both Fox’s and the vocals of the backing singer and keyboardist, whose female voices, lighter and brighter than the frontman’s, completely round off the tone of this song. To see it live was an honour.
I’d never before seen a band who created such a pure sound live. It was something that transcended the sum of its parts. Tracks like Bohemia and Dorji sounded hopeful. The crowd moved in an ambient wave of happiness. I could feel it in my limbs. At the crescendo of Starliner II, drummer Al Mitchell stood up and began furiously beating the cymbals before him, while the dual diamonds of light behind illuminated them in white to red to blue light. The infectiousness of the music surged through the crowd, whose applause was heartfelt and genuine. The band then played a track called Golden, whose melodious lyrics “I’ve bled for many crimes/ And I’ve hurt you so many times before/ Before you leave me I’ll try, one last time” were stuck in my head for many days afterwards. The combination of male and female vocals on this track is an absolute delight to listen to, ending on the questioning “Why won’t you tell me who I was, and who I am?”. Sublime is the correct word to use when describing this song, which is carried by the harmonies, and the soft picking of the acoustic guitar by Stevie McCinn.
It would be hard to determine whether this is the best gig I have ever been to, and so I won’t do that – but I can definitely argue this is one of the best. Mt. Wolf juxtapose the strength and vigour of a live indie band with the calming sensibilities of electronic producers, and the minimalism of contemporary classical artists. They lie on the boundary between storytellers, live band, and art piece. It’s effortlessly harmonious. If you asked me whether I would see them again, I would reply yes, are you coming with me?
You can pick up copies of Aetherlight here.
You can listen to Mt. Wolf’s Heavenbound here: