wed 25/05/2022

Soap & Skin, Scala | reviews, news & interviews

Soap & Skin, Scala

Soap & Skin, Scala

Austria's dark chart topper isn't as assured live as on album

Soap & Skin: Anja Plaschg attempts to free herself from the tyranny of the laptop

Any shade you want, as long as it’s dark. Songs like “Extinguish Me”, "Deathmental”, “Mr Gaunt Pt 1000” meant last night wasn’t going to be defined by uplifting toe tappers. On album, Soap & Skin’s music is desolate, emotive and turbulent. The songs are tremendously affecting, with a touching intimacy. But live, too few heights were scaled.

I wanted to love this. Unequivocally. The recent Narrow and 2009’s Lovetune For Vacuum are tremendous albums. And that is where the problem lies. This concert opened with Narrow’s “Deathmental”. On record, its crashing cacophony fuses the industrial with a classical sensibility. Live though, stood at the front of the stage, Anja Plaschg was stranded, the music coming from a laptop sitting on her grand piano. The drama being heard was not complemented by what was on stage. The spell cast by the studio recording was undone.

Until two-thirds in, this was more recital than performance

Soap & Skin is Anja Franziska Plaschg. When sat at her piano, Plaschg gels with the music. Thankfully, most of the set was thus. Accompanied by a four-piece string section, trumpet player and her sister on backing vocals, Plaschg looked within. There was no need to bond with the audience with banter or gestures – and there was none of that. Even so, until two-thirds in this was more recital than performance.

The change, the shift in emphasis came with her snail’s-pace, death rattle version of Desireless’s French disco classic “Voyage Voyage”. “Vater” – sung in German – about her recently lost father brought emotion onto the stage. So much so, Plaschg absented herself for a few minutes after she had finished singing. As the set wound down with “Marche Funèbre”, she became spontaneous, her body whipping, even though the laptop was driving things again.

The encore was a version of The Velvet Underground’s “Pale Blue Eyes”. As well as their Nico, John Cale lurks inside Plaschg’s music. His Honi Soit and Music For a New Society bubble up. As does Chopin. At its most extreme the interaction between her piano, the programmed sounds and the strings evoked The Rite of Spring given a Nine Inch Nails makeover. But her core sensibility is European.

Plaschg is aware of how to play with iconography

Plaschg is originally from Gnas, a south-east Austrian village with a population of 2,000. The daughter of a family of pig farmers, she attended Vienna’s Academy of Arts where her tutor was the artist Daniel Richter, whose most famous painting White Horse-Pink Flag incorporated the cover image from punk-era, art-rock band Wire’s debut album. She played Nico in a stage play in 2008 and has recorded a version of the ex-Velvet Underground siren’s “Janitor of Lunacy”.

Now 21 and steeped in the artistic, she’s obviously aware of the nature of iconography and how to play with it – the black hair she had a couple of years ago has been replaced with the red Nico adopted when she was sick of her blondeness. Even so, there’s an unpredictability to her music and performance. The first time I saw her, she broke off mid-song, stood up, was still for a moment and then scuttled away through a door, seemingly panicked. That was it. The end.

Austria though is used to her – immediately after it was issued there in February, Narrow became an instant chart topper. Lovetune For Vacuum had peaked at number five in 2009. It’s extraordinary that music this challenging has become so successful. Now, the challenge is to consistently capture the fire of the albums live.

Watch the video for Soap & Skin’s cover of Desireless’s “Voyage Voyage”

As the set wound down, Plaschg became spontaneous, her body whipping


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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Nice live report. Do you happen to have the setlist?

I do. And can reveal - putting it pompously - that a planned second encore (which didn't happen) would've been "The End" - further emphasising the Nico-ness. 

Oh Dammit, really??? Could you please post the setlist? I am desperately looking for it . I need it for my Italian live report.

OK, there were a couple of hiccoughs, but I really disagree that the laptop gets in the way: she always adds 'more', and that's the important bit ... unlike the support DJ set which could've easily been a recording while he was checking his emails, but I digress ... I think her charisma (can you have charisma if you don't engage?) pulls the performance through. To me it is just that: a performance as well as a gig.

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