Review by Matt Carey

There’s something about watching a gig in a church that separates it from normal experiences. Maybe it was the smooth curvature of the architecture doming over the congregational area, or the stained glass windows positioned above and behind the stage at the Union Chapel in Islington, but there was an indefinable buzz in the air as the people took their places on the wooden pews and soaked up the ambiance in anticipation of what was to come.

By the time Christian Fennesz took to the stage- silent, stern faced and leather jacketed, wielding his guitar and his Macbook- the anticipation in the rammed chapel was almost too great to bear. A reverent hush fell over the crowd, however, as Fennesz’ opening drones rolled over the audience, the Austrian skilfully weaving together electronic rumbles and shimmering layers of effect-laden guitars, before laying these harmonies to waste with apocalyptic bursts of noise and squeals, battering the rich sonic creations with explosive, atonal bombast. Fennesz also proved himself capable of stripping back this harshness at times and dropping into sublime and complimentary symbiosis of sequenced near mechanical throbs and glitches and masterful use of guitar. Islington was taken into a hurricane, drifting through maelstroms of whirring and white noise into the tranquillity of the eye of the storm, and then back into the wildness time and time again. At times the abrasive nature of certain layers grew slightly tiresome, and the fact that the greatest moments of the performance came when the sheer power of the sugary hooks that Fennesz unleashed (and simultaneously buried) were the most prominent, is inescapable. It is a testament, however, to Fennesz’ skill as a musician that the glorious sonic moments vastly outweighed the times where the violent timbres seemed to drag slightly.

Once the crowd had filtered back from their unholy communion at the bar, Emeralds took to the stage for a set of transcendental proportions. Guitar and, surprisingly, drum machine, took centre stage as Messrs Mark McGuire and Co. tore through a cosmic whirlwind of finely crafted drone, this new material sewn together by fantastic lead guitar work by McGuire himself, flashing his talent as he darted around the pulpit. The band avoided any potential lapses into tedium with sheer energetic enthusiasm, with John Elliott playing violently (perhaps spurred on by initial anger with sound levels), occasionally bordering on madness- there were numerous occasions where I was certain he would headbang his way right through his synths. But even more important than the sublime noise with which Emeralds textured the air within the chapel, was the obvious pleasure and pride which they took in such a striking venue; McGuire mumbling about how honoured the band were to be playing in such a “beautiful venue”. But once the group had abruptly finished their triumphant encore; the title track of their most recent, critically acclaimed album Does it Look Like I’m Here? it was clear the chapel was theirs, and no one was left in any doubt that this had been no ordinary Sunday Service.