26th March, 2015
After several years on the periphery, London production two-piece Maribou State are edging closer towards the nerve-centre of UK electronic music, as they prepare to Release their debut album ‘Portraits’, in June. Tonight is their debut live show, and this notion of blending their identity as producers and as DJs into a single entity is a familiar one, as acts look for ways to translate the complexities of programming into the raw passion of performance. Regular selectors on the festival and club scenes for several years now, Maribou State have never strayed too far from their productions, leaning towards the warmer, synth-heavy house sounds that come with an Ibiza sunrise or mid-afternoon. This experience will no doubt have seeped into their songwriting, using the ebbs and flows of the dancefloor to create songs that centre around atmosphere and mood as much as they do melody and tone.
There is a full band set up tonight, with Davids and Ivory taking guitar, synth and programming duties, and Johnny Cade and Holly Walker on drums and vocals respectively. When electronic music like this is played on live instruments, there’s a danger that it can land in the middle of the authentic sounds of say a guitar or a drum kit, and the synthetic, digitised aesthetic of the productions but falling short on both counts. Walker’s vocals are so perfect in terms of pitch that they could easily be emerging from a sequencer, whilst Cade manages to keep the beat so precisely that we could be listening to a drum loop. So it’s a testament to their ability as sound engineers and players that tonight still feels like a club show, with every crescendo or every pause keeping the audience obediently in time.
Davids and Ivory are excellent at building these inviting, all-encompassing soundscapes in a way that commands, but never smothers. And despite Walker’s excellent vocals, Maribou State are still at their best during the instrumental moments, carefully layering a diverse range of sonics until they become these grand, rich walls of sound. The slow, measured synths at the end of new single ‘Rituals’ come in like water filling up the room, creating these gorgeous emotional swells that intertwine seamlessly between the grandiose and the tranquil. There’s a genuine sense of human feeling bleeding into each of these tracks, like the twinkling piano on opener ‘Moon Circles’, or the affected vocal on ‘Midas’. And despite the largely synthetic pallet of sounds on offer tonight, you can still feel the weight of emotional context being fed through every note.
Maribou State have always been excellent producers. Tonight though, there is evidence that they are prepared to move away from the more immediate gratification of UK club culture in favour of something altogether more considered, slowly nudging their listeners towards these moments of bliss instead of arriving there fully formed. This is music to listen to on a bus with your eyes closed or at your desk whilst your mind wanders as much as it is within a club at four in the morning. These are complicated songs without ever really sounding complicated, which allows them to twist, turn and unfold completely naturally and of their own accord.
It’s been over four years since their first single, so this album has been a long time in the making. UK electronic music has changed and mutated countless times between, and even with this brief rendition of ‘Portraits’ tonight, it feels like Maribou State are finally able to express what electronic music means to them in a way that they’re comfortable with. It’s a remarkably assured performance, striking the balance between club and live music culture with surgeon like precision.