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Braids: live at The Pickle Factory, Bethnal Green

28 June, 2016 — by Christopher Ratcliff0

Braids band

As I sit writing this on a Monday afternoon, the Braids gig we went to last Thursday night in Bethnal Green, seems like a very long time ago.

Last Thursday night there was hope.

Last Thursday night, as Raphaelle Standell-Preston stood on stage at 9:45pm and asked the small but enthusiastic crowd inside the sweat-box known as The Pickle Factory if we had all voted, there were still 15 minutes to go until the EU referendum polls closed. There were at least three hours left until the full horror of what has been done to our country would be revealed. Being surrounded by people who are from what would turn out to be one of the most heavily ‘remain’ boroughs of the UK, we all shouted yes to her question, and all felt a quiet confidence that everything would be okay. We were with open-minded friends, liberal and multicultural in our outlook. Optimistic that the lies and scaremongering that took up so much of the last few months would ultimately come to nothing.

Last Thursday night, we had no fucking idea.

This is a review of a gig we went to last Thursday of a band who I’ve loved dearly for half a decade, which has now been tainted by outside forces, written by a man who clearly didn’t vote to leave the EU. You’re very welcome to leave the page right now if this isn’t what you came for. That’s fine. But as Stendell-Preston said before launching into possibly one of the most exquisite hours of live music I’ve heard in a long time, “Apathy is boring.”

miniskirt video Braids

Tonight, the Canadian three-piece are an incredibly tight unit, each member of the trio maintaining eye-contact with one another as they deliver their emotionally-honest electro-pop, replete with moments of improvisation and genuine warmth. Braids stick to tracks from 2015’s wonderful Deep in the Iris and their recent EP, featuring the heart-wrenching ‘Companion’, and although all of their work is excellent, these last two records crystallise their ideas and themes perfectly.

Raphaelle Standell-Preston’s voice is incredible tonight, and perhaps I never truly appreciated her range before, moving from fragile vulnerability to powerful wallshaker in a single breath. Her ability to act the hell out of her lyrics puts Standell-Preston in a similar league as Samuel T Herring from Future Islands. And much like that band, although Braids appear largely contemplative on record, on stage they aim directly for your dancing shoes.

Breakbeats and keyboards are deployed joyously by Taylor Smith, who rocks out like a malfunctioning Kraftwerk robot finally tasting life for the first time ever. The amount of concentration on Austin Tuft’s face while delivering every drumbeat is to be admired, especially when you consider his is one of the only non-organic instruments on stage. The artfully balanced levels of interaction between experimentalism, through humanity and machinery, is what makes Braids so special.

braids joni video

Of the many highlights, Companion’s ‘Joni’ is upliftingly direct pop. It’s central lyric, “we don’t know where we are going, I will be fine without knowing” matching our mood with artful coincidence, and Standell-Preston makes the most of what little stage she has to pogo joyously around in. ‘Miniskirt’ is Braids’ masterpiece, made all the more heart-stopping with the knowledge of that it deals with Standell-Preston’s own experiences with sexual abuse and tonight she delivers the song with an eviscerating edge. It’s an honour to stand in a crowd and hear it.

Everything Braids do live and on record is engineered to make you feel alive and empowered; to make you think about your place in the world and lift you out of the shit. And by the end of the gig, when they’ve played ‘Warm Like Summer’, repeating the line, “There is no end, there is no start, because you’re always in my heart” we all left that building feeling so much better than we did before.

But where is that feeling now?

Since Thursday evening I’ve spent my entire time being furious at the state of the country, terrified at the way racism has now seemingly been legitimised in some corners, while being appalled but not particularly surprised at the lack of forethought from the people who created this division.

I largely forgot all about the gig and mainly just watched the horror unfold on my computer screen.

But, purely because of the strength of those melodies and the warmth of their music, much of what I heard stayed with me in its own subtle way. Its textures remaining through the worst moments, helping me to appreciate the people in my life a little more, hold the people I love a little tighter, and despite occasional moments of anger and (semi) regrettable words exchanged with people who I barely even know, ultimately I remembered why we confront the bad things in the world so passionately. Because we care.

Apathy is boring.

For more London gig reviews, check out Bjork live at Hammersmith Apollo.

Braids, live at The Pickle Factory, Bethnal Green, London

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