Words by Helen Calcutt / http://helencalcutt.org
I don’t usually stay up until five in the morning. In fact, I usually sleep to this point, get up, and find the morning again; a fresh untainted canvas with nothing but a few stars or a cold sunrise.
On this occasion, however, I found myself going right through. Alternative Dubstep Orchestra (ADO) were releasing their debut vinyl, and celebrating with a rich and diverse catalogue of music, ranging from the simple, to the sublime.
Around eight musicians made the ADO collective that evening, comprising of two percussionists, a bassist, DJ, violinist, vocalist, a small brass section, and a keyboard player. I’m not sure the entire group were present, but the sound was impressive all the same.
Supporting acts provided a comfortable opening, featuring African drumming troupe ‘The Goat Slappers’, Reggae DJ Producer and co-creator of ADO ‘General Riddim’, and a new experimental group JOLT. A number of the night’s musicians worked across these different groups, and while I’m usually adverse to anything remotely close to ‘my gang’ syndrome, this sense of familiarity and creative unity made for a relaxed and welcoming atmosphere.
The gig itself was clean, bright and highly professional. The performance, unquestionably thundered by ADO’s leader singer – Mish Maybe; who carried faultless vocals and a presence that seemed almost to outweigh the depth of the music. She didn’t stand still once but somehow remained central. The music moved through her, and, to quote a friend, signaled her as ‘the catalyst’ for both the blood and beat of the performance.
Given this genre bending dubstep style, you might expect every song to gift a similar experience; but it didn’t. There was a singularly different approach to every composition, and whilst I’m unsure as to whether there was a set list or not, everything seemed very much spurred by the presence of spontaneity – or at least, the energy that spontaneity provides.
The lyrics (not surprisingly) were of particular interest; very pared, and simple: stripped back. They rested above the music, almost misting there, without any real purpose but nevertheless utterly vital. They seemed to carry everything, like a wave. And again, this quiet electricity was delivered painlessly, and quite beautifully, by the inspired energies of ADO’s lead singer.
The gig wrapped up around 1am, with the energy of the performance staying long into the night. I didn’t catch any names of the songs; and this is largely down to the fact that ADO create and breathe continuously. And I don’t actually remember stopping at any point, or taking anything in other than the sheer motion of it all; but I know the signature track ‘Power’, an obviously well loved piece, came somewhere towards the end.
There is, I think, total distinction with ADO; there are groups, bands and collectives that are similar – but none the same. And in order to appreciate them fully, I believe you need to see them play live. There’s a hypnotic element to ADO’s sound, one that can only be experienced in the moment; everything is about continuation, evolution and growth. YouTube doesn’t do them justice.
This is, again, music for music’s sake; courageously (and often violently) blending genre and style with artistry and skill. Although one individual implied that this approach might signal a disregard for the cultural origins of the music they blend – not ‘quite’ playing in this key, or not entirely in keeping with the ‘quarter tone traditions’ of that genre.
But to me, ADO are more a celebration of sound and what can be done with it. After all, music is one of the more malleable artistic forms; the very energy and openness of it inspires creative synergy.
And in a multicultural society, what better way to articulate and celebrate our culturally rich and diverse community than through the fearless drive and vision of live, alternative music?
For more on Alternative Dubstep Orchestra, check out their Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/AlternativeDubstepOrchestra
Helen Calcutt is a poet, dancer and choreographer. To find out more about her work, visit http://helencalcutt.org