Pixel Race & Alkalys
Soirée Cerises – Ixelles – 8th March 2009
Can’t see the amps for the beards!
Oops – Late as usual and Alkalys are already in full flow. They’re a 4-piece from Le Havre in France and are on a DIY 12-date tour of Northern France and the Benelux, supporting the release of their 2nd album, "Coeur Delys". First think that strikes me is the number of amps on stage – the Flute Enchantée has plenty of room, but for once, the stage looks rather crowded.
Weird! Not quite sure what to make of this forest of Post-Rock noise at first. There’s little communication with the audience. One bass player with his back turned to us, the other one concealed behind the guitarist, who while he is facing us, is clearly more interested in his shoeless feet and whiter-than-white socks.
Jimmy’s solid, hard, aggressive, almost metallic bass rages through most of the set, while drummer Spleet (who is a perfect likeness for Animal from the Muppets) leads the frenzy from the back. As the lone guitarist, Max is providing loops and texture, and looks almost out of place, as he’s the only one of the 4 not sporting a wild bush of hair and beard. Meanwhile, Ben, carefully hidden at the back has stuck a screwdriver in his bass and is grinding away at it with what looks like a home-made bow and a drumstick. At one stage, even Spleet left the drums, turned his back to us, and picked up a bass and a bow.
The music is experimental. It's about layers, journeys, emotions, challenging preconceptions. Like Stockhausen or Glass, you do not "just" listen to it like you listen to throw-away pop - you need to experience it, feel it, become one with it. You need to let yourself be swept away with the flow. Fighting it is futile. It doesn't matter who it soundlike or who's done this sort of thing before. If you have to ask yourself that, you'd be missing the point.
Alkalys is a band that pushes the limits. Not just of what you should be doing with the instruments, but also of what the audience ought to be experiencing. It took me quite a while to understand what was happening on stage, just to eventually realise that there was nothing to understand. Just relax, sink into the music, and reach an almost trance like state.
I’m on the first listen of the album as I write this. This is music for meditation. Alkalys are not there to entertain. They’re here to clean your soul.
Off for a beer, and back into the theatre to see the amps have moved a bit to fit even more gear on stage. Same beard set-up - 3 long, 1 short, but that’s just about where comparisons stop.
I’ve heard good things about Pixel Race. I’d bumped into Eric a while back, we’ve known Jessica for a while, and I’ve had some very positive reports from the lads who’ve already seen them.
Most of the songs have some element of sequenced synths to them coming from a laptop in the corner, so the Nicolas the drummer is playing along to a click. Not that it lacks spontaneity. Eric’s solid rhythmic guitar seems to have its origins somewhere in the realms of metal, but he’s quite open to launching into a synth solo every now and again. Jessica’s discrete riffs intertwine with Olivier’s masterful bass.
The band have great fun on stage. This really comes across. The songs are bright, uplifting, fast paced and very well written and structured. As you’d expect from a band where the majority of the members spend most of their time making other people’s music sound good, the orchestration and attention to detail is immaculate.
Eric is clearly in charge of operations, and Kevin seems to be at a slight loss for what to talk to the audience about between the songs. They’re used to playing festivals, and I suspect they’re not quite used to really being as close to the audience as you get at La Flute Enchantée. That’s somewhat reflected in their set – fairly short and very high octane. I’d have liked to see something a bit slower that maybe allows Kevin to show off his soulful voice.
Kevin has a great voice and great technique. His vocal delivery is really excellent. It’s a shame the sound isn’t quite right – Eric’s guitar is a bit on the loud side, and Kevin’s not really up-front enough to really be able to understand what he’s singing about, particularly in the lower ranges. And it’s a shame that the backing vocals are not really audible. But then the Flute is not the easiest place to get a good sound balance, despite the bands credentials.
Again, festival-ish set, so they’ve not got anything else up their sleeves for an encore. Wait! Yes they do! An entirely acapella rendition of Blown Away.
This is fun. Easy catchy tunes, a polished delivery, fronted by a young singer with a solid voice and immaculate English. Closer to McFly than Metallica. I don’t think they’ve consciously tried to breach that gap between Pop and Rock, but that’s what they are succeeding at. Knowing the local Brussels scene, they’ll be the derision of quite a few critics because of it. But if they manage to keep going and expand on what they’ve got, there’s a good chance that my kids will want Kevin posters on the wall and a guitar like Jess’s.