Writer Mark Roberts / Photographer Ewan Williams
It’s a rainy Tuesday November night and I’m walking into the Hare and Hounds for a gig put on by Supersonic Festival. As I enter the room, the stage is rammed with synths and organs for Swedish-born Karin Park’s set. They appear to be fiddling with some massive orbs, which I assume are lights.
Karin Park opens the night with sounds from the bottom of the ocean and haunted vocal harmonies courtesy of a mellotron plugin. As this sparse audio space is created, Park begins to sing with a Gaelic-style folk voice that meanders over the timid atmosphere.
The bass is droning, piercing through the floor, rumbling up my feet, continuous as though it vibrates out of the subterranean roots of long-forgotten trees. The Björkian display by Park is executed with technical feel, emotive and angelic, relying on luscious harmony between the synth and the voice.
As the set develops, beats are brought in, and as they build and layer over each other the syncopation progresses. Suddenly this ethereal landscape has a groove; as arpeggiated synths scatter over the head-nod-inducing pulsations, the hi-hats enter, turning this song into a polyrhythmic banger.
How did I end up at an ambient rave? It seems oxymoronic yet, here it is. I’m listening to it right now, as Park bends mellotron vocals with the help of a pedal in and out of tune.
As the set ends, Park jumps onto an antique organ for her final, drawn out, ambient tune, returning back to the start of the set’s vibe.
It’s a stunning moment that draws in the crowd.
Between the two acts, the crowd fills out somewhat, and I overhear how the person next to me is really excited to eat some brownies tomorrow as they haven’t had them in ages. You know, normal gig conversations.
At this point, London based A.A. Williams arrives on stage, backlit and brooding, four silhouettes slowly swaying to the anticipatory opener. The sound is (and has been) impeccable, and the Hare and Hounds yet again get big kudos for being the best sounding small venue in Birmingham (in my opinion).
A.A. Williams is post rock but with some dark influences. The opener is almost Opeth inspired, the tremolo guitars cut across the atmosphere as the bass slowly underlines the entire piece with sustained filth. A.A. Williams herself rides on a bed of reverb, filling every corner right down to the pockets in your coat.
The climb to crescendo and the space is cinematic, like the band version of the cumulative scene in a (probably dystopian) film. It is incredibly well synced, these are clearly accomplished musicians.
Guitars drop down, muted and driven over a flowing piano that pings in the distance. There is a classical inspiration here, and this element clashes with the metal influenced post rock in a melting pot of soft and hard sounds, both combining to create something both powerful, yet delicate.
This band is absurdly well-timed, and the sound may as well be played off the album, but for me this might be an issue.
The only problem with A.A. Williams on stage performance is that as silhouettes it’s difficult to connect with the audience, and without a lot of movement either there’s little stage presence. Combine this with almost album perfect sound and I’m wishing for a bit of chaos, a moment where I feel like the band have gone beyond where you think the limits of the tune are.
Something which legendary post rock bands like Sigur Rós and Godspeed You! Black Emperor achieved in all their sets.
This isn’t to say A.A. Williams are lacking, they just need to move beyond the comfortable, beyond the crescendo. They need to balance their tightness with chaos, and then they’ll be unstoppable.
A.A. Williams + Karin Park @ Hare & Hounds 15.11.22 / Ewan Williams