REVIEW: Endless Window 8 – Nathalie Stern, Competition @ Cumberland Arms (20.11.15) | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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For their eighth and end-of-year chapter, Endless Window have brought together two artists who share a common ground in the way they perform their music; each utilising looped motifs through various ways of sampling to structure their content.

The stage upstairs at the Cumberland Arms, in stark contrast to the cacophony of instruments and equipment covering it last month, is bare, except for a central podium stand; a table of technology draped in rich blue velvet. Unified at this lectern, in a blue mackintosh, Craig Pollard, as Competition, starts his set.

The last time I saw Pollard perform solo he engaged with his instruments and effects at floor level which framed our musician as submissive and jittery as he searched for relevant knobs and devices on the ground, but tonight, by standing up tall to perform, with all of his sound playground apparatus at an accessible distance from his digits, the deeper vulnerability expressed in his music could be shown through his own confidence, as masterfully engineered quotation, without the audience being drawn to Pollard’s own practical stage concerns. His voice and lyrics sit delicately and deep inside the dense textures he samples for his loops, emphasising the subtle character of his voice more than the clarity of every word.

Competition’s penultimate song, the project title-track, is a perfect encapsulation of melancholic confusion, and you could see it reaching inside the hearts of the focussed faces in the audience tonight. In contrast, the last song had a delightfully bouncy beat which was married with a soliloquy charting an existential crisis of a distracted mind. The song’s narrator kept returning to the burning question: “Seriously – when will I get a dog?”

Substituting the podium with blue velvet for a synth stand of her own (this one adorned with a cape sporting a green, red and yellow flower design) Nathalie Stern opened with a slow drone and steadily interjected vocal phrases. Her presence was instantly commanding and the unique texture of her voice took hold of the space with its characteristic spirit of strength and darkness. Using multiple loop-stations and a Korg synthesiser, she blended her first few songs into one another, with a particularly furtive chant using harsh Anglo-Saxon consonants. Midway through the set, coyly asking the audience for permission to play an instrumental, Stern then turned to her synth and embarked upon building up a fuzzy four-bar phrase; a tune which would not be out of place accompanying fantasy adventures.

In this self-described ‘second phase’ of her song writing, Stern’s composition focuses even more around the voice, with these recent performances not involving any guitar orchestration that the previous period had. This direction feels perfectly whole in a new way. The duplication of her own voice with impeccably chosen harmonies, fills the sound, and holds more power in an unshared air. Tonight, once more her bold music, balanced with her natural charm on stage, has fresh and seasoned admirers seduced alike.

The evening’s designer Mark Corcoran-Lettice swiftly followed up on the positive mood hanging in the air after Stern’s set, by launching straight into the disco portion of the evening, which brought a modest, but exuberant, amount of wigglin’ hips to the dance floor, and kept them there with songs by (to name a few) The Breeders, KLF and Kendrick Lamar. For the closing track at 12-o-clock, our DJ summoned the Gainsbourg/Birkin duet Je T’aime; a gentle and respectfully playful nod to French culture, love and life.

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