They have few musical contemporaries, and are in somewhat a league of their own.
Eight o’clock in the evening seems a little early to have strobe lights leaving patterns behind my eyelids, but then again LV, the support act for the evening, have wasted absolutely no time in getting the audience warmed up.
Starting out with a subtle thumb piano sample morphing into a restless footwork beat in ‘Shake’, the young production duo seem intent on offering a sonic tour of all that is bass driven in their thirty-minute set. Taking in elements from jungle, UK funky and grime, the beats they roll out aptly demonstrate the musical parameters of Hyperdub – the label to which they are signed. Much of the energy, however, is channelled through lanky vocalist Joshua Idehen. While the the two producers lurk over laptops, twiddling knobs under the stage lights, the MC spits rhymes about the indignities and hassles of modern London life, all the while jutting around the front of the stage and occasionally shrieking into the mic like some kind of deranged bird of prey. His vocal style takes in everything from Ghostpoet-esque social observations to jabberings about the tube stops on the Northern Line and wanting to try on an audience member’s coat.
Thus energised, during the interval I suddenly notice just how full the Trinity Centre is. The night is completely sold out, the venue is rammed, and sweat is starting to drip off foreheads. Turning back to the stage, the first sign that Submotion Orchestra have appeared is an urgent, undulating synth sound, almost like a siren, which is quickly met with a thudding kick drum and bass line. Vocalist Ruby Wood then appears, to huge applause from the audience. At first, it seems as though the sound engineer must have a nightmare job on his hands – the bass threatening to subsume the singer’s delicate vocals. But in fact the opposite is true: the whole set is a masterful balancing act between the depth of their beats and the light, floating melodies which unveil themselves over the top.
Dedicated primarily to material from their new album ‘Alium’, the set showcases the band’s ability to expand and develop their sound while staying rooted in the bass. Remaining fairly close to the 140bpm tempos of dubstep, the septet manage to evade the rigidity that sometimes accompanies digitally-produced music. Their use of live percussion and expertly-looped trumpet melodies creates a much warmer and more human sound, imbued with a kind of fluidity: harmonies drift into one another and vocal lines melt away into echo. This fluidity also creates a space which allows them to sidestep some of the cliches of genre. While some might see this as an attempt to make the darker sounds of the UK underground more palatable to commercial audiences, it’s more the case that they pay their respects to dubstep and its sister genres, while allowing the music to evolve and grow in unexpected directions. In this sense, they have few musical contemporaries, and are in somewhat a league of their own.
As to the reaction: while there are definitely moments in which the whole room is moving, especially during tracks such as ‘It’s not me, it’s you’, for much of the evening the crowd is in a quiet state of euphoria, as though they are being massaged in sound. Much of the appeal of Submotion Orchestra possibly stems from having such a strong female presence in what remains a male-dominated scene, and the audience seems fairly evenly split gender-wise. In fact, by the end of the gig, it feels as though loved-up couples are pairing off all around me, peaking during the final track, ‘All yours’ – which reminds those present why they have so much affection for this group.
Check out ‘Trust/Lust’ right here: