GoGo Penguin bring the beats to the Roundhouse

GoGo Penguin, the Blue Note-signed Manchester piano trio whose fusion of acoustic jazz, glitchy rhythms, rock dynamics and dance-like loops earned them a Mercury Prize nomination for their 2014 album V2.0, launched their fourth album, A Humdrum Star, with a sold-out gig at London's Roundhouse.

Against black-and-white penguin outlines spotlighted above the stage, 'Raven' opened the set with Chris Illingworth's sparse, plangent piano chords and Nick Blacka's scratchily-bowed doubled bass. GoGo Penguin recently produced their own score for the experimental dialogue-free film Koyaanisqatsi, originally soundtracked by Philip Glass. Their cinematic credentials were immediately evident, as was the influence of Glass' mesmeric minimalism. 'Strid' and 'Reactor' combined polyrhythmic melodies with tricky time signatures to progressive effect. At times the repetitive bass loops and piano patterns engendered a build-and-drop effect that more closely resembled EDM (electronic dance music). 'Bardo' was closest to a rave-ready trance-track, its staccatoed piano stabs propelled by strobe lighting and restless, driving beats.

GGP-RH18-Rob-credit-Fabrice-Bourgelle

With Illingworth's piano melodies anchoring the music, Rob Turner's drums often acted as the lead instrument. Indeed, it sometimes seemed Turner (above) was playing to a different track altogether: take his drums out and it's easy to imagine a standard four-to-the-floor EDM beat. On 'To Drown in You' from V2.0, hyper splurges of snares and hi-hats splintered an initially simple melody into fits and starts, creating rhythms so busy and jittery they appeared the creation of a neurotic, four-armed drummer-bot. Perhaps this glitchy, mechanical feel is unsurprising given that many of GoGo Penguin's compositions began on computers.

Though Turner recreated beats with drum-machine-esque precision, GoGo Penguin grooved like humans. 'A Hundred Moons' brought repose in the set's otherwise relentless intensity with a looser, swaying rhythm, while penultimate song 'Protest' broke the minor-key mood that seems the band's default as insistent bass riffs and swaggering, triumphant piano chords crashed into a cacophony of riotous energy. With hypnotic hooks underpinned by virtuosic rhythms, GoGo Penguin are far more likely to get you dancing than you'd expect from listening to their records. What a shame then to turn the Roundhouse into an all-seater venue – the audience's itchy, happy feet remained regrettably cold.

– Sam Taylor
– Photos by Fabrice Bourgelle

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