Little Dragon, Shepherds Bush Empire | reviews, news & interviews
Little Dragon, Shepherds Bush Empire
Little Dragon, Shepherds Bush Empire
A bouncy but emotionally unengaging show from the upbeat Swedes
About a year ago, when I saw Gorillaz’ sensational show at the O2 Arena in London, one of the highlights of the evening was “To Binge”, the duet between Damon Albarn and Yukimi Nagano, the Swedish-Japanese singer with the Swedish band Little Dragon. It was a fabulous moment - a song drenched in emotion, Albarn on his knees, Nagano’s voice swooping and soaring.
Strange to say, then, that the one element that was missing from Little Dragon’s sold-out show at the Shepherds Bush Empire last night was emotion. Granted, their music is essentially about upbeat electro-powered rhythms, so I wasn’t expecting an evening of heartbreaking chansons or gushing showtunes; nevertheless, while it was impossible not to move to their constant stream of propulsive grooves, my heart remained resolutely unbudged.
Nor is this failing one that can be attributed to their chosen genre: although electronic music has a reputation for being chilly and unemotional, in fact countless electro-driven bands, from New Order to The Orb and beyond, have made dance music that’s steeped in emotion, that makes the scalp prickle. For Little Dragon, however, their ambitions seem to stretch no further than having fun and bouncing around. Whether or not you think this is a bad thing depends on what you expect from your music; personally, I prefer something with a bit more heft, even if it is just cheesy heft.
I prefer my dance music to slam me in the solar plexus rather than just tickling my ribcage
Anyway, Little Dragon are clearly doing something right, because the packed crowd were steadily roused to their feet by the non-stop stream of rumbling, thumping tunes delivered by the five-strong band - four blokes plus Nagano; the blokes were nerdy types with jeans and beards, while the rather more glamorous Nagano wore spangly shorts, a halter-neck top, and knee-highs. What impressed me was that they seemed to be playing almost all of the music themselves, rather than relying on backing tracks; this is a difficult trick to pull off with dance music, given its requirements for precision, and it was one that owed a great deal to the clipped, sharp, economical drumming of Erik Bodin.
Nagano herself sang powerfully, with more than a touch of Björk in her floaty, eccentric phrasing and her deliberately slightly flat tuning. She needs, though, to expand her repertoire of patter beyond “It’s great to be back in London” and “We’re going to take it down a little now”. (Although at least she didn’t ask us if we were ready to “paaarty”.) Also, she played a mean cowbell, banging away on extended grooves such as "Shuffle a Dream", which, like much of the show’s material, was drawn from this year’s Ritual Union album.
There was one song which showed that they’re capable of doing something beyond the sprightly and danceable but somewhat lightweight rhythms that dominated the show: it’s called “Feather”, from their 2009 Machine Dreams album, and with its slower tempo, blocky chords, deft changes of key and its embellishments of curious wibbly synth noises, it touched the parts of me that the rest of the show had failed to reach. I was stirred. The rest of the show was fine as far as it went, but lacked, as I’ve said, that vital emotional component; and also, too often, it lacked real musical substance - I prefer my dance music to slam me in the solar plexus rather than just tickling my ribcage.
Clearly I was in a minority in this view, because by the end of the show the crowd were on their feet, grooving and cheering, going slightly bonkers. For me, though, it’s still that Gorillaz moment that sticks in the mind; this, in comparison, was instantly forgettable.
- Little Dragon are on UK tour in February and March 2012
Little Dragon perform "Shuffle a Dream"
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