Breakbeats, Piano Melodies and Bass Lines – GoGo Penguin Gig Review

After hearing high praises about their live performances, URB went to see GoGo Penguin perform music as part of their current Europe Tour. They performed music from their 2020 Blue Note Records release, the self-titled ‘GoGo Penguin’, alongside new tracks and audience favourites. A comparison made by the 405 about how their music ‘recalls the intricacy of Aphex Twin or Four Tet’ built my excitement and expectations high prior to the event. A night of breakbeats, minimalist piano melodies and powerful bass lines transformed the Marble Factory into a coalescence of ethereal and turbulent sounds.

One of the most memorable features of the night would be the audience, a demographic of mature melomaniacs. It is without question that the influence a crowd can have on a performance is noteworthy. I would describe the composition of the crowd to be an average age of 40, unconventional, male dominated and consisting of an unusual number of solo attendees; although this made for a tall crowd, I positioned myself upon a platform at the back of a venue. A distinct progression of ambience was exhibited by the crowd, controlled principally by the music. We were escorted, mesmerised and happily trapped within the trance-like bond. After beginning overwhelmingly still, the crowd began to form pockets of movement and energy which accumulated to an expression in dance. I felt an unexpected sensation of privacy, where I could close my eyes and move freely.

While it made for a time to temporarily sign off from the outside world, I felt as though their complex sound exercised my mind and demanded full focus. Being in the digital age, I’m intrigued to observe phone usage throughout a performance, here they were overwhelmingly absent, so much so that I felt rather guilty when I switched on mine to take photos and notes. 

The band showed little interest in talking to the audience, although this did not leave the show incomplete in any manner. An introduction to Chris Illingworth (playing a grand piano), Nick Blacka (bassist), and Jon Scott (drums) was made with intermittent announcements of song titles. After questioning the name ‘GoGo Penguin’, I found a humorous explanation centred around a weird looking stuffed penguin and last-minute decision. 

Geometric lighting framed the three members, illuminating the haze of smoke suspended around them. Each song bled into the next, complementing the pre-existing trance-like atmosphere, occasionally broken with enthusiastic cheers. The bass took centre stage, unusual but seemingly appropriate; played with a bow to create drones and risers, plucked to create a melodic bass line and used to emulate an electric guitar at times. I became increasingly in awe of the techniques used to play each instrument. The piano was accompanied at times with the use of subtle synthesis and discreet effects to accentuate the performance. The drum style varied, fluttering and junglist. 

The cinematic sound occupied the room, delicate yet boastful, showcasing a talent of remarkable creativity in the use of instruments. The progressive, scattered layers were sewn together seamlessly, individual and conflicting yet cohesive. There is acknowledgement of each player even throughout busy parts, preserving each layer of sound so that nothing becomes lost under each other. The causal connection and long history between the band members felt central to their spellbinding performance. 

GoGo Penguin describe themselves as ‘a collective who channel electronic and club culture atmospheres alongside minimalist, jazz and rock influences to create music that pulses and flows from the dancefloor to meditative inner-worlds’, and I couldn’t agree more. If you’re looking for something intractable and innovative, then you’re looking for GoGo Penguin.

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