Photos by Ming Wu
The Saturday night sky seemed unsure, sprinkling water droplets onto the sidewalk, stuck somewhere between a mist and a steady rain. I was also unsure as I found myself in garage 11b, perplexed by its lack of adornment, by its smooth concrete floor, and by its industrial aesthetic. These artists were new to me, and I looked ahead with blind uncertainty. Ten minutes before any music began, a blue start-up menu shone against the white wall behind the ‘stage’ area, like a vast blue ocean and I got caught floating in the middle of it, not knowing where I’d drift ashore. Projectionist Matthieu Hallé’s live backdrop visuals were stunning throughout the evening, adding a terrestrial layer to the performance which allowed the sounds to transcend the venue’s confines.
An unaccompanied Théan Slabbert (Bosveld) opened the show. Soft and reverberating, his fingerpicking was meticulously calm, and full of lows and mids. Then, an unexpectedly deep voice. Soon the audience was noiseless – this peaceful brand of ‘future-folk’ had silenced us, trapped us in a cave, and painted us our favourite colours. The naked flame of a candle danced against the wall, casting shadows, deceiving us like some ancient parable, while Slabbert sang melancholy songs about “you were standing there” and “you are everything I’ve hoped for”. The voice was warm, the candle-lit projection was warm, the room was warm; then the fingerpicked melodies severed all of that, slightly distorted, like a knife through a pat of warm butter. Bosveld’s third song slowed down time. His fourth song nearly paused it. If you seek immortality, you could have glimpsed it here.
During the brief intermission, the blue start-up menu returned, once more like an ocean, but now I had a better idea what beautiful desert island I was drifting toward.
When Merganzer took the stage, the first thing I noticed was their flexible LED book-lights, just like I used as a small child, curled in my blanket-fortress while reading stories long past my bedtime. They were shining onto the band’s music stand. Genius! Their set began with slightly less genius, but much more effectivity – a beating floor tom, a cavernous bass guitar, and lush synth-strings. True fascination came with the arrival of two female voices; their inseparable harmonies flowing upwards, and downwards, and upwards again, while the delay on the bass guitar unceasingly captured my attention. With Merganzer the synths are steadfast, and the cymbals ring indefinitely. At this point, Matthieu Hallé’s projection featured rippling waves overlapped by the candle flame, seemingly contradictory, but complementary to the pleasant rippling of the music.
Suddenly, we the audience found ourselves in a vibrant garden, a garden of parsley and basil and flowers, and someone beautiful is playing a violin. Someone is playing beautiful violin, a melody that steps upward and skips back down in a well-timed loop. The strings add yet another layer of delicious sound onto this thick string-pop wedding-cake. Later, Merganzer sprung into a fast one, a song called Tritone from the brand-new album Mirror Maze, a song overladen with snare drum and everlasting cymbals, founded on a swooshing loop of ambient strings, and full of life. Their closing piece is the serene title-track Mirror Maze. Mika sings,
“The nights are getting longer / I wake up before the light / If I can make it to the solstice / Maybe I will be alright…”
It is December 12th, and the nights are seemingly longer than ever. But you’re almost there, Mika –and what a lovely way to get there.