Son Lux at Bi Nuu – Berlin
After queuing for over an hour in the cold, I was ready to see Son Lux. I’d been listening to his recent release ‘Lanterns’ on repeat since I discovered it towards the end of 2013. With its cracked lyrics and melodies, scattergun beats, synth stabs and atmosphere of dark, unsettling beauty, it struck me as the perfect album for when the nights draw in, the trees go bare-boned, and people’s thoughts and words hang cold and suspended. That didn’t make it any easier to stand still in the winter air outside Bi Nuu, with the queue jumpers and bottle collectors and the trains sliding by overhead, but it did make me determined to wait it out as opening time inexplicably passed and stretched and some gave up and headed elsewhere.
Eventually, as the lucky few sipped complimentary apology Gluhwein provided by the venue, the doors opened and we frozen Leute slowly filed in and filled up the hole under the station.
When it was time, I moved to the front of the room for Son Lux. I had no idea what to expect live, no idea how the density of the recorded songs would translate, but as Ryan Lott sang the first lines of album opener ‘Alternate World’ I knew my ears, brain, heart and toes were in safe hands. Lott jumped between his sharply angled keyboard and computer, wrestling with two microphones. The guitarist wrenched diverse rhythms and atmospheres from his strings (was that calypso I heard?), and the drummer jolted, jabbed and glued together a backbone of beats of sometimes bewildering syncopation and muscle. I don’t even know how to write about it. It’s almost as if they were toying with one another. Each daring the others to get lost in the fragments they served up, leading each other astray, wondering if they’d ever find their way back through glittering, ice-covered foliage. Somehow they always found their way back.
Maybe this is just the way it seemed. Maybe it had all been rehearsed this way. But I doubt it. The tracks were all recognizable from their album forms, but they swirled in out of the mists of epic intros, and were batted around, kept in the air despite sudden tempo changes and the efforts of each band member to wring every possible nuanced drop of life from them; in the case of ‘Easy’, for me one of ‘Lanterns’’ highlights, throttling the beats and bleeps slower and slower until it ground to a silent halt (maybe by mistake – who fucking cares?), after which Lott told the crowd “it’s not finished”, before reanimating the tune for its jittering conclusion.
This was the beating heart of it. Each track was chaotic. Each track threatened to get away from itself and spiral out of control, maybe even disappear altogether out into the night. They were treated as if they were violent, living things the band could only coax in lightly pre-destined directions, the sole rule being that at some point they must agree on the end. These were thrilling, skankingly playful live arrangements. How do you even conceive music like this? How do you play it without fucking up horrendously at each attempt? I don’t know, but somehow they managed, and each song blended into the next as a piece of an expression of the whole. I know that most of ‘Lanterns’ was played minus the quieter tracks such as ‘Lanterns Lit’. I know ‘Plan The Escape’ got an outing (or at least I think it did). But the individual tracks didn’t matter so much as the overall arc and the opportunity to see a group of musicians in the grip of something they were creating that was larger and more powerful than themselves. One of the most beautiful moments came with a song I’d never heard before when the whole stage stayed bathed in green light. At that moment, somewhere towards the end of the set, I had a thought. It’s a thought I have rarely and only in the presence of something which allows me to transcend my weak and fleshy self – a sunset, a sunrise, a wild natural landscape, or in the company of a friend, book, or song that is at that moment purely itself and simply pure. It’s a thought that feels almost ridiculous to reveal, although I’m sure any music lover will understand. That thought was: I don’t want to die.
That’s right, I don’t want to die. I don’t want to think of a time when I won’t be able to be stunned like this. If this is what it sounds and feels like right now when musicians push and pull at the boundaries of music and bring back this wonderful weirdness that hangs together by a thread and is wonderful precisely because it steers so close to total, jarring collapse, imagine what treasures are waiting out there far into the future. What will music sound like? What will ‘music’ mean? And why am I not allowed to be there? Anyway, it doesn’t matter, and as Son Lux close the set with ‘Lost It To Trying’, I don’t care; it’s enough to be here now, surely it is.