Tropic Of Cancer
Corsica Studios, London
Saturday October 12 2013
Although they're playing tonight approximately
half way through a Blackest Ever Black label showcase all-nighter, which
features an array of ambient-noir artsts, laptop jockeys
and DJs, Tropic Of Cancer are
clearly the stars of the show.
Perhaps that's because, in Camella Lobo, Tropic Of Cancer have a rare thing: a recognisable personality in a genre that, in the main, is all about self-effacing backroom boys. At any rate, there's quite a crush in the Corsica Studios railway arch as everyone tries to cram down the front before the stars come on.
Not that there is much of a show, you understand. You'll get no dry ice or flying pigs at a Tropic of Cancer gig. However, just to prove that showboating is not an entirely alien concept, Camella Lobo and her guitarist/electronics controller Taylor Burch (of Dva Damas, who played earlier) are both wearing red and white outfits which suggest a corporate image concept that's almost Devo-esque. Vague shapes flicker on a back-projection screen. It's like attending an illustrated lecture for the surrealist sales department.
But the suits 'n' screen are the only nods to the notion of showbiz. Tropic Of Cancer keep it downbeat, introspective. Nobody cracks a smile on stage (in fact, Taylor Burch fixes the audience with a disconcerting stare for most of the performance). And the music, of course, conjures a mood of melancholic ambience that is almost tangible. Tropic Of Cancer's throbbing atmospheres hang under the old brick arch like fog.
Curiously, perhaps - because it's probably not apparent to the casual listener - for all their moody ambiences, Tropic Of Cancer deal in songs. Proper songs, with real lyrics, alhough everything is comes at the listener indistinctly, through the hazy fog of sonic twilight that the band scare up from guitar, bass, electronix and effects.
pulse and thump. The vocals come slinking in like cats patrolling their
territory; old school drum machine clatter punctuates the drone.
At times, chiming guitars cut through as if captured from a long-gone radio show, still floating in the ether since the 50s. In these moments, Tropic Of Cancer tap into a similar impressionist take on 50s rock 'n' roll that Suicide explored - Camella Lobo as the hypnagogic Patsy Cline to Suicide's robot Elvis. And then they'll bring back the bleary haze, fuzz the focus once more, and all of a sudden Tropic Of Cancer sound like an old Cocteau Twins cassette that's been left on a car seat through a hot summer.
It occurs to me that if Camella Lobo ever wanted to be a proper rock star - somewhere between Likke Li and Grimes, let's say - all it would take is a bit of production to bring out the song structures that lurk beneath Tropic Of Cancer's blurred lines. Push the beats forward, bring the vocals up. Dispell the darkness. Let a bit of pop sunlight in - not too much, just enough to illuminate the bittersweetness. I suspect it could all be there for Camella, if she wanted it.
But I hope she doesn't want it, because there's something compelling about Tropic Of Cancer's vapourous excursions into the heart of darkness.
For more photos from this gig, find Tropic Of Cancer by name here.