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Live / stage review

balo + Power Out

Within the minimalist concert space of Sheffield’s Theatre Deli stood two drum kits, a harp and an array of electronic gizmos.

15 October 2021,

First to take on this unlikely arrangement was balo, a duo comprised of drummer Will and harpist Manon, showcasing a host of ethereal material from their debut album renders.

Throughout, Will’s drumming floated somewhere between the dense texture work of experimental jazz trio The Necks and the primitive thuds of British avant-garde orchestra Third Ear Band. Manon’s rhythmic harp playing complemented this greatly, with a repetitious style reminiscent of experimental harpists Zeena Parkins and Lara Somogyi.

With this, their music offered a sonic palette more prismatic than their understated setup would suggest, spurred on by the duo’s obvious musical affinity. Cymbal rolls and harp glissandi swelled in turn as they reacted intuitively to one another’s signals.

The positioning of two tonally contrasting pieces demonstrated the duo’s musical versatility well. Cymbal scrapes and sparse harp during ‘Arctic’ captured a frostbitten ambience not unlike a piece of classic Kankyō Ongaku, while the warmer tones of ‘Sands’ evoked the sunbeaten melodies of Tunisian oudist Anouar Brahem.

With ambient music as an admitted influence, the duo devoted time to cover two tracks by Aphex Twin. Manon’s harp took the lead throughout their renditions of ‘Radiator’ and ‘Curtains’, rendering hazy hooks with a clarity in stark contrast to the tripped-out sprawl of the originals, while Will’s drumming gave an unforeseen immediacy to Aphex’s lethargic rhythms.

Next to light up the stage was Power Out, the alias of solo drummer/electronic musician Sarah Heneghan. After balo’s kit was swept away, Sarah sat down at her own, donned headphones and immersed herself in a vortex of loops and synths, vowing to return only when her explorations were complete.

With free reign to wander where she wished, her set flowed freely between variations of microhouse and ambient. Her syncopated drumming provided an off-kilter accompaniment to her electronic beats, bass drum pulsing with light as rhythms danced on the periphery.

Standout piece ‘Sleep Until Something Happens Again’ embodied the entrancing atmosphere of the venue perfectly. As two synth chords marched along at a funereal pace, Sarah filled in the gaps with elastic beats resembling those of drum timelords Greg Saunier and Steven Drozd. The results were hypnotic.

Next came ‘Heckler’, a rhythmically bewildering offering of minimal house showcasing Sarah’s octopian independence. While her electronics were relatively unadorned, they provided Sarah a vital foundation on which to base her improvisations. For one person, the clatter was extraordinary; Power Out was positively electrifying.

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