Hidden Door Festival: Hidden Orchestra + Gazelle Twin + Callum Easter + Monkoora @ Leith Theatre 3rd June 2017
The Hidden Door Festival is an annual non-profit multi-arts festival in Edinburgh, now in its fourth year. This year it has taken place from 26th May to 4th June in the long-derelict old Leith Theatre, a venue currently undergoing restoration. For more details visit the website: http://hiddendoorblog.org.
The first of yesterday evening’s band performances in the Main Auditorium was Monkoora, who looked suitably regal and decadent as she came on stage in a dark eye mask and flowery dress in front of a small but clearly dedicated, predominantly female audience. During the opening song her vocals were rather faint, but the matter was soon remedied. Her multilayered electro-pop repertoire is kitten-playful, siren-pretty and banshee-eerie. Vocally she sounds like a more delicate, yet occasionally (on Bocx World) rather angrier Kate Bush. During the latter song she began to bounce around the stage. Her memorable and distinctive material made for a superb opener.
Monkoora was followed up by the white-noisy, hammond-heavy, echoey fare of Callum Easter. While his recorded music is a beguiling mix of blues, electronic soundscapes, indie rock and Peter Gabriel-style world influences, last night it seemed to lose a lot of its elaborate richness in the Leith Theatre acoustics. It fell into a grey muchness, his vocals sounding overly similar to the rainy, world-weary dreariness of David Gray. The crowd wasn’t so enthusiastic for the most part, prompting the artist to ask “you’ze out there, Hidden Door”?
The truly disturbing audiovisual performance Kingdom Come by avant-garde industrial techno artist Gazelle Twin (real name Elizabeth Bernholz), on the other hand, was absolutely bang-on the kind of show the old Leith Theatre should be playing host to in its rejuvenated form. Imagine two vocalists (one male, one female) wearing frightening flesh-toned masks and stepping endlessly on treadmills in front of a huge screen depicting footage of riots, escaped animals, spine-chilling song lyrics (“I can suck you dry”) and more besides. The music may be “banging”, but it’s weaved with a fair number of melodic flourishes - even a little yodelling believe it or not, which actually comes across as rather sinister in this context. They provide us with a harrowing evocation of a destructive, oppressive modern world where wealth flows up vast skyscrapers to the elite, while the masses are prodded into fighting over a dwindling supply of what’s left of their wellbeing. When the pair run offstage into the audience near the end of the show, it feels like a startling call to action.
When Hidden Orchestra came on, their music (a sort of mixture of classical, jazz, world music and post-rock) was the soothing antidote to Gazelle Twin’s grippingly suffocating polemic. A collective assembled by Joe Acheson, with a regularly-changing round-up of guest musicians (plus a few regulars such as Poppy Aykroyd), last night they bestowed us with the unusual but welcome presence of a skeleton violin player along with the other ensemble members. While the atmospheric, diverse sonic tapestry washed over the audience, it was accompanied by some suitably fanciful kaleidoscopic visual projections (church windows and the like). While they didn’t quite top Gazelle Twin for sheer impact (frankly very few could) their performance was still stunningly celestial and crystalline.
For me, the third night of music at the Leith Theatre Hidden Door Festival was undoubtedly the finest. The inspired showcase of an eclectic range of acts offset the fact that some fell prey to what was undoubtedly the technicians’ and stage planners’ lack of experience with the venue in terms of acoustics and making best use of the facilities. I am sure, once the rejuvenated theatre is up and running again, that these issues will be worked through via experimentation and time.