East Village Arts Club
Friday, 13th September 2013
No Ceremony, or NO CEREMONY /// as their mother’s know them, are an odd bunch. The promo for their debut self-titled album wasn’t so much an exercise in anti-hype as it was an all out fucking horrorshow, filled with 20 YouTube clips of dying babies and short audio mixes of white noise. I imagine this was to create some sort of mystique, although it appeared to serve little purpose other than to creep you the fuck out.
I half expect an exorcist style growl as Victoria Hamblett softly introduces her band; consisting of two lads who look like they have been kicked out of their high-school prom and a nervous looking teenager hunched over an electric drum kit. Hardly the sort of mysterious and hedonistic ghouls you might have expected three months ago. They have an album out now though, and whilst that whole mysterious shit might work when you are trying to generate hype it probably doesn’t when you are trying to sustain it.
On their excellent debut album, No Ceremony create music that relies heavily on atmosphere, using timbres and textures to build walls around their listeners. This is achieved largely at the mixing desk, with production that smothers Hamblett’s vocals almost beyond recognition. The result is a set of pop songs that are just out of reach, delivering these very organic, human melodies in extraterrestrial packages with the sort of juxtaposition that has you pressing repeat as you attempt understand them.
With this in mind, it is interesting to see how they will try and replicate this on a live level. I mean, with album number one only just upon us, their live set up is hardly going to have any sound technicians drooling. The inclusion of a live drummer for the tour certainly is a wise one though, if only for the fact that it allows other members to focus on the finer intricacies of their sound without worrying about keeping the beat.
The Loft at the EVAC feels vacuous, as the twenty or so people in attendance follow that weird empty-gig science of standing only at the back. FEELSOLOW is arguably their most complete song to date, utilizing those sort of dramatic, four to the floor synths that the likes of Tiesto deploys at your least favourite European holiday resorts. The likes of HURTLOVE and HEARTBREAKER build on this, harnessing that synth lead aggression that Crystal Castles formulated but with added levels of, you guessed it, trance? Now I never went to Ibiza in the 90s, but I can say with some confidence that trance was never cool. What it did do though is distill that fist-pumping euphoria; that huge sense of grandiosity that was capable of making clubbers feel like just for that moment, life wasn’t just a series of overdrafts and thirteen hour shifts and that it actually meant something. Think of it like of like a Westlife key change for the MDMA generation. Tonight though, No Ceremony turn that on its head, using that throbbing base and visceral, pulsating synths to frame and heighten Hamblett’s mournful cry of ‘Is it wrong to make you love me’ in something equally as grand, yet inherently more tragic.
No Ceremony’s appeal lies in their many contradictions. Slower pieces, like the aching WARSONGS and the fragile AWAYFROMHERE are, with their rustic acoustic guitar and twinkling piano, campfire folk songs. What they manage to do though, with a hint of autotune or a downpour of static, is make them just inaccessible enough to keep us engaged. The whole thing really is a masterclass in restraint, not quite letting you feel connected or not quite letting you dance to the point where you just have to accept that this is a group of musicians in complete control of how they want their listeners to feel. Now I know that could be construed as one-dimensional, but when the modern day pop culture icon is Marcus Mumford sobbing in a fucking trilby hat then it is comforting to see a band present their emotions with such conviction. It is a risky move, and many will certainly find it detached, but tonight, even with a sparse and largely disinterested crowd, their performance captures that uncertainty and isolation that their album conveys in abundance. It is an impressive effort for a band clearly still finding their feet, and is evidence that despite their new found openness, No Ceremony aren’t ready to let their guard down just yet.