Yasmin Selena Butt visits a circus with a twist and manages to interview the intense SonVer! When you think of the circus what comes to mind? Scary-ass clowns? Blindfolded, spinning foxy lady strapped on a wheel while some magician with a twirly moustache throws knives at her? Big tent? ‘Resonate’ at Jackson’s Lane in Highgate, had all the thrills of the big top; spectacular rope acrobatics, jugglers, dancers, opera - but what set it apart was the sheer joie de vivre of the cast and the fact it was performed to a largely live, post-rock soundtrack, interspersed with some invigorating, passionate piano pieces. The combined whammy of this saw the audience exit with faces radiant in smiles, and a 75-minute performance feel as if it passed by in the flutter of a heartbeat. Over too fast, but pretty unforgettable. Put together by Frederike Gerstner (also performing as a juggler in the show) in collaboration with London’s post-rock outfit SonVer, pianist Anne Lovett and a host of performers all over the world, the show kicks off with SonVer peforming the sparkling bright ‘Plus 30 minus 2’ a piece from their album Luz Del Abyss.  As the last twinkling chords ebb away, the capacity crowd look up to see Anna Abrams suspended in a graceful, bodily arc in the air tethered by rope. She looks vulnerable, small and she’s holding a violin, with which she plays – a note perfect Waltz – while performing aerial acrobatics that look like living art. Abrams sets the bar high as she descends and then Lili Muhleisen and Sara Lundstedt - fresh-faced and smiling perform a tango routine, twinning like siamese using an aerial hoop. They make it look effortless, and it’s utterly enchanting. Gertsner performs a juggling act with skittles, building upto four, which hang in the air suspended as if invisibly woven together. But, the highlight of the show both musically and visually is SonVer’s masterpiece of soaring, majesty and beauty ‘ Ebusus’ interpreted by Israeli/Swedish duo Yam Doyev and Leo Hedman. Together they look unworldly. A gender bending sinewy pair painted in punk, gothic and emo colours, almost like characters out of Narnia or a Russian fairytale. They look startling, amazing. Their routine tangled in ropes and performed on the ground is a sensual pursuit of power games and play verging on vampiric erotica. It’s fiery, athletic, feisty and utterly compelling, and all the while the chords of Ebusus swirl all around them. The duel ends with a tongue in cheek betrayal with Yam turning her back on her punk lover and focusing her intense attention on SonVer’s Ruban Byrne tucked away on the side, pouncing on the surprised guitarist, to the delight and amusement on the crowd. Award winning pianist Anne Lovett’s self-composed  ‘Tokyo Rush’ follows and it’s a piece that would shine out brightly on a film score during a pivotal scene where your heart skips a beat. It’s powerfully emotional, packs a bruising punch to your soul, leaving a pleasurable ache. You wouldn’t get this at the Big Top travelling circus, nor the opera aria performed at the end by soprano Alexandra Schoeny, accompanied by aerial hoopist Bret Pfister looking comically conflicted as she hits impossible high notes. If Resonate tours the UK – GO. It’s very unique. You need your head checked if you miss it. It really is that simple. www.frederike.co.uk www.myspace.com/sonver www.annelovett.net

Sonver Interview

Yasmin Selena Butt interviewed Ben McLees and Joanna Quail from SonVer just before their performance at Resonate -  to find out more about the band, what they’ve been up to and whether they thought Spotify was going to make or break music. YSB:  How did SonVer form? Who came up with the name? Ben - Jo wrote a piece of cello-based music in autumn 2003 which we recorded and really liked, but weren’t sure what to do with it. On Fireworks night that same Autumn I took a field recording of the Blackheath Fireworks display, and put that field recording into the track Jo had done. It transformed the feel of the whole piece, and that track became ‘Until The Stones Melt’ from the first album. We really liked what we’d done, and we felt inspired to see what else we could do. That’s where SonVer started. Joanna – The word SonVer is loosely derived from the idea of ‘sound to see’. It stuck. YSB – Musically, how would you describe SonVer to the uninitiated? Ben – Being instrumental, we get called ‘Post Rock’ a lot, but that just feels like a lazy tag to me. I think we bring together all of our individual influences into SonVer’s sound, and that’s pretty much everything from electronica, metal, post-punk, classical and psychedelic rock, and most things in between. I like to think of our gigs as an experience as much as a performance. We like to take our audiences on a journey, and they’ll get all those musical colours during that journey. YSB: What were those early experiences like with the band? Ben – Our first few gigs were more like open rehearsals to a certain degree – for the first few months we weren’t 100% sure of what SonVer actually was, musically speaking. Once we started to write more and more music, SonVer’s identity became stronger. Throughout we were doing something a bit different, and the response was always really positive, which was reassuring for us both. Joanna – For me a stand out moment was our first gig at WGT Leipzig, where we played to about 500 people, none of whom had heard us before, and were given a standing ovation at the end of our set! YSB: SonVer began as a duo, why did you decide to expand to a four piece? Joanna– We felt we had gone as far as we could as a duo in the live setting, and we were excited to have additional input from two musicians we know well and are greatly inspired by. YSB What have Alistair Richardson (drums) and Ruban Bryne (guitar) brought to the mix? Ben - Al and Ruban have brought in a wealth of ideas, both with writing new material and reworking the old tracks. We just feel as though we’re much more convincing now playing live as a 4-piece, not to mention bigger sonically. YSB - How would you describe the vibe in the band?  Being multi-instrumentalists do you ever argue over who gets to play what? Ben – Above all else, we just love creating and playing, so the vibe is always pretty electric. We never argue over who plays what, we know what each one of us brings to the table and we encourage each other to play to our own strengths. It’s what works best, so it’d be stupid to mess with it. YSB - Who comes up with the initial ideas or is it pretty even? Ben -  Jo’s probably the instigator of the majority of our music, though by the time we’ve completed a track, it’s very much a 25% split between everyone. That said, the first album was largely Jo’s work, with the exception of ‘Khat Show Host’. With the 4-piece we’re never short of ideas, and that’s what makes writing so exciting. YSB - Your second album is called Luz del Abyss, what does that mean? Ben -  Ruban came up with the title, and it seemed to encapsulate the record perfectly for all of us. It translates as ‘Light From The Abyss’. The album has a few dark moments for sure, but there are also moments of great optimism, especially with ‘Plus 30 Minus 2’. YSB -  Besides SonVer  do you play in any other bands? Joanna – I do a fair amount of session work – plus playing with a few singers on a regular basis (Tallulah Rendall in particular).  I enjoy working in ‘traditional’ band settings. I also work with aerialist Yam Doyev (who is performing in Resonate) I accompany her silks and cord lisse routines which is something I find challenging, entirely new and very enjoyable. Ben – A new band called High Above The Storm, which whom I play guitar. I’m bassist in a post-punk project called Man Eat Man Eat Man, and I’ve a solo project called This Is Radio Silence. YSB - Who goes to Sonver gigs, who do you attract? Joanna – A hugely varied audience. We feel very lucky to count amongst our fans a loyal contingent ranging from post-rock to goth to contemporary music lovers. And all ages too! YSB – Between the both of you what’s been your favourite gig to date, that you’ve played? Joanna – I really enjoyed the gigs last summer at the festivals, the whole experience was great. Also, the debut gig as a four piece - at the Luminaire. I really enjoy playing at the Union Chapel and we’ve been lucky to be there three times. Ben  – My favourite SonVer show was probably the ‘Luz del Abyss’ launch gig at The Union Chapel last November, and I’ve very fond memories of a 2-piece show we played in Edinburgh in 2006. YSB – You worked with Belgian band Elephant Leaf, how did that come about? Joanna -  I met Lucie Dehli (singer) via MySpace believe it or not! We met in person a year or so later and it felt like I’d always known her. We collaborated on an Elephant Leaf release initially, then teamed up to do the ‘3 Songs’ EP which we recorded ‘online’ as Lucie is in Belgium.  Lucie is an incredible vocalist and composer, and she uses her voice as an instrument in the purest sense, so it really worked having her vocals within the SonVer sound. She came and sang at the Union Chapel in May last year and that gig was the first time everyone else had met her, about 20 minutes before stage time! YSB -  SonVer have gigged abroad. How did the shows compare to the ones in the UK? Joanna - It seems to me that European audiences are more receptive to music in general, and in particular an openness to instrumental music. I feel that live music is held in greater esteem somehow in Europe, gigs tend to form part of a whole night out at a particular venue, and audiences will come for the actual show and not just for the club afterwards… Ben – There are far less barflies in Europe… YSB - Tell me about the last really great gig you went to? Ben  – Magazine at The Forum in February. I never thought I’d see those songs live, so it was a great night. And Barry Adamson is the coolest man on the planet, FACT. Before that, I was blown away by Grinderman’s set at Latitude last summer. Joanna – It has to be Judas Priest supported by The Scorpions at Hammersmith Apollo.  Same reasons really, two great bands and Rob Halford is an amazing frontman, with a superb voice even now. And Jimmy Page spilt Ben’s pint! I also enjoyed Great White last year at Shepherds Bush. Thunder always put on an excellent show but you’ll have to move quickly to see them because they are splitting up after this summer tour. YSB – Ed Christmas. He directed your video for the track Ebusus didn’t he? Joanna – Ed’s video for Ebusus was basically his interpretation visually of our music, and we loved it. The visuals were entirely his choice and design, and we are really proud to be working with him.  We initially thought about a VJ for live performance, but we actually prefer to work with video Ed creates for us. YSB:  Ebusus is a really powerful piece of music and evokes all kinds of things in head. What kind of images does the track conjure up for you? Joanna - Funnily enough now and then I think of my old living room!  Only because that is where I first wrote the cello ‘loop’ you hear in the main section, and I left it running for hours!  Now, I have many images in my mind, often borrowed from what other people tell me it inspires in them. To me, Ebusus is a celebration. Ben – I don’t tend to visualise anything in particular, I just get goosebumps instead. YSB: What music out there have you been enjoying yourselves? Ben – I’m really liking School Of Sevens Bells, Pivot and The Slow Life at the moment. Joanna – That’s tricky for me. I am stuck at about 1987!  I do like ACDC’s Black Ice – does that count?! I also enjoyed the Big Linda album. And I’ve been listening to a lot of recordings by a cellist called Gavriel Lipkind – he is inspirational. YSB:  Going back to when you were kids, who was your first ever favourite band? Do you still like them? Ben  -  The Cramps. And yes, I still love them. And I was very saddened when Lux passed away recently. I spent the whole night playing Cramps records back to back… Joanna -  Well now. Here we go Ben says… My first favourite band was Pink Floyd; ‘The Wall’ was in the charts when I was wee.  My dad used to blast it out of his weird car. WASP were and are a huge band for me.  I think they were probably the first band I was ‘in to’ at school. Ben -  – I think it’s really healthy to have an almost unconditional love of your first favourite band. Music is about taking you places, and sometimes it’s good to put something on and feel like a kid again. YSB – With your debut album being on Spotify. Do you think the site is good for bands or will it drive down sales? Ben - I think Spotify is fantastic. I’ve already bought a couple of albums in the last month on the strength of streaming them on Spotify, so I can’t imagine it detracting from sales. Far from it – bands are far more than just single production lines, especially bands who don’t do singles, like ourselves. I miss the days of albums being side A and side B, a full body of work – the MP3 age has damaged that somewhat, but hopefully Spotify can help address the balance. Essentially music is made to be heard, and bands can only ever benefit in the long term by having their music being made available in this way. YSB – And finally what do SonVer have to look forward to in 2009? Joanna – We are working a very exciting audio visual project with various filmmakers, headed up by Ed ( Christmas), entitled ‘The Alchemy of Man’. We have several festival shows in Europe, one with Cranes and iLiKETRAiNS in Germany. We may release an EP or even a third album by the end of the year…