FringeReview UK 2015
For Nordic Giants the performance is the thing, and as those who have seen the live show will attest, it is a visceral experience that goes beyond the normal descriptors. Each mind-blowing performance involves a chosen few short films, which are soundtracked live with atmospheric soundscapes. Two mythical creatures create an experience with bowed guitar, piano that is both haunting and rousing, and climactic and thunderous drums.
Nordic Giants have spent the last couple of years bringing their own formula of claustrophobic cinema clatter to a selection of unusual locations across the country; from disused Victorian music halls to converted seaside bandstands. Dressed in feathers and shrouded in a ubiquitous fog the pair look more like residents of Middle Earth.
The award-winning short films that accompany the live performance are each one a work of art; by turn poignant and powerful, dark and uplifting. Whether live action or animation, experimental or narrative, each resonates and will stay with you in its own way.
Seeing Nordic Giants has been described as akin to a religious experience: the multi-screen visuals, powerful strobes and exquisitely timed accompaniment create a whole that is far greater than the sum of its parts.
Arriving fashionably late, it turns out I’m two hours early. Which is actually quite annoying. However, The Old Market is quite a nice place to hang out and in the end I nod off in my comfy seat in the bar. Rock’n’roll!
I wake up in time for the support act, ALMA, who I’ve written a short review of at my site www.soundandfurymusic.co.uk , but they deserve a very brief mention here as I really enjoyed them.
It’s a seated gig, and is advertised as such, but it still feels a teensy bit weird; like we’re waiting for an opera or something.
Ok, so, Nordic Giants are two… men? Humans? Well, more accurately, they are two Nordic Giants. They have tribal-looking masks on, and fur pauldrons, and exposed tattoos, and massive headpieces, and feathers and twigs in their hair (I think).
They also have a surprisingly busy video backdrop, which begins with arresting staccato clips of horror films interspersed with inspirational facts about how we’re all made from the fragments of broken stars, and how many miles of blood vessel are in the human brain (100,000 apparently, although I personally think that’s a bit irrelevant if said brain still insists on voting Conservative).
In short, these people are unapologetic hippies.
Which is nice, because with only two of them on a keyboard and a drum kit (presumably with a pretty hefty whack of post-processing), they are managing to produce music which is coaxing out my inner hippy (never very far from the surface anyway) in quite a pleasing way.
What’s that? A bowed guitar with strobes and sans-serif messages about the destruction of our planet? Yes please!
At the end of every track there’s a very slight, pregnant pause before the audience applaud. I think the seating is making us strangely polite, and we’re all a bit hypnotised by both the music and the visuals. We’re ready for more of each track, even though it sounds like the end. Well, that in addition to the fact that their live set doesn’t sound like the records, which, for clarity, I absolutely love!
These videos though. Hmmmm.
I feel like a bastard saying this, as clearly a lot of thought has gone into making this concert a more multi-sensory, more transcendent experience than one might be used to at a live gig. And that’s great; I want to be surprised and delighted, of course. But I don’t think they’ve got it quite right here.
The first video (over the fantastic track “The Seed”) is a strange black and white animation that looks like it’s from the 1930s via a horrible acid trip. I think this works, but as the gig goes on we get more and more narrative-based shorts. None are anything but good, and Nordic Giants are clearly fans of the overblown CGI turned-up-to-eleven genre. That’s fine. I am too, but these require too much of my attention, and I’m afraid I do find it all very distracting.
Here are a couple of examples:
Rather than pull me further into the music, I feel like it’s pushing me away, and furthermore selling their music as if it were a soundtrack in search of a film, which to my mind is selling it short.
I recently reviewed Godspeed You! Black Emperor, who used scratchy video loops in the background of their show, which complimented the music perfectly. I understand that they are an established, successful band, and they can get away with pretty much whatever they like, but I am left wondering whether Nordic Giants could achieve more with less.
However, it’s important to finish by focussing on the music, which was what interested me in this band in the first place.
It was wonderful. Majestic, sweeping, orchestral, distorted, sweet, angry, infectious electronica, played by two mini giants! The venue did a great job on the technical side of things, and everything sounded terrific.
I hope I get to see this band again in a few years, with a slightly more restrained backdrop, and a tad more focus on the fantastic music.
By Tom Beesley