As a listener, I have my doubts about how electronic music translates in a live setting. By no means do I practise the mating call of the jazz wanker (“don’t they just press play?”) but I have reservations nonetheless about whether or not a piece of electronic music can retain the spontaneity that gives live music its cathartic power. Perhaps that’s disingenuous: what I’m driving at is that I find the medium to be constricting in a live setting because of what it is – a replication of an electronic sound – and as a listener, I want to be coddled into believing that it ‘could all go wrong’ at any moment.
Enter Sydney’s Collarbones, a duo who combine glitchy, electronic production with soulful, live vocals. It’s all very 2012 – think Purity Ring – smartly accessible to both electro nerds and pop enthusiasts, executed with a left-of-centre M.O. that makes it perfect for alternative radio. As a live act there’s definitely some work to do – but the potential is there, as are, I think, the songwriting chops.
To be fair, there were some really clever, interesting compositions, but there were also some duds. So much so, that at times I found some of the songs virtually indistinguishable and quite samey. Certainly, this harks to the gripe I had a little earlier about the medium Collarbones operate within being a constricting one, but it also suggests there’s room to move in terms of melodic arrangement and more-varied production.
When it worked, though, it really worked. This is music that attacks you on a primal level: hip-shakey, ass-quakey, movement-inducing music. It might not make the same sense to all of your synapses, but it’s not supposed to. This isn’t Geldof playing for change, this is a dressed-down duo getting down and dirty for a few hundred people on Oxford Street. And in that sense, it works.
The only time it genuinely didn’t work is when the DJ mixer the band was using genuinely stopped working. Thankfully, it was during their final song, so they didn’t have to cut their set short. And as to spontaneity, as to ‘what do you do when it all goes wrong?’, this was live improvisation at its best. At a whim, and completely a capella, the duo closed with a rendition of The J-Lo classic Jenny From The Block. The audience joined in with robust enthusiasm. A genius save.