You don’t get a great deal of incense at gigs these days. Free Love, however, provide stimuli for ears, eyes and the nose.
The duo’s name and olfactory preferences reverberate with echoes of the late 60s hippie dream. So does their music, albeit in a technologically savvy, electronica-orientated update. There may not be any glaringly obvious links between, say, lysergically motivated jam band operatives of yesteryear and the duo’s bank of analogue keyboards and modulators.
Dig deeper, and the twosome’s dense mesh of fluttering and fractured beats, warbling flute and disorientated incantations, aided and abetted by overwhelmingly vivid visuals and presented as a non-stop entity as opposed to individual tunes, soon accrues an exploratory zeal that has a fair bit in common with both vintage bleary-eyed communal jam vibes and such psychedelic dance pioneers as The Orb. There are longueurs along the way, but at their hypnotic best Free Love are worth tuning in and dropping out for.
James Holden’s recent phase is also acutely tuned to the cosmic grooves from the gilded and decidedly cultish corners of the musical past. It’s telling that the music played whilst the stage is set up for tonight’s headliner consists of leftfield jazz and vintage Ethiopian instrumentals.
Having made his name as an electronica auteur and celebrated dance DJ, Holden’s recent, improvisation-heavy debut outing with The Animal Spirits (named after the band) catapulted his sounds towards a heady, fragrant region where cosmic jazz ala Pharoah Sanders and Alice Coltrane coexists in perfect harmony with traditional Middle-Eastern and African motifs and cutting-edge electronics.
We’re in an area also populated by Floating Points, but Holden and co. pummel their source materials with extra abandon.
This turns out to be a recipe for a wholly captivating live show. Bathed in bright lights, the road-honed five-piece make the current record, strong as it is, sound like a sketchy draft. Once the opening chant “Incantations for Inanimate Objects” is out of the way, the heavily percussive set – predominantly drawn from the recent album – accrues a fearsome momentum that resembles a mighty engine stuttering to life and picking up speed to the point where losing control seems like a realistic prospect.
There’s a thrilling sense that the musicians (drummer, percussionist and two brass/woodwind players) aren’t at all sure what is going to happen next, and the gradual build-ups from repetitive minimalism to full-on cacophony are navigated with an unusually accomplished aversion to aimless idling.
By the time the extended set-closer Go Gladly Into The Earth combines Holden’s euphoric machinations with mournful brass motifs reminiscent of a New Orleans funeral procession, you could easily imagine the brightly coloured strips of fabric (familiar from the album cover) that decorate the stage are fluttering as if caught in strong winds due to the propulsive force of the music alone, as opposed to a hidden wind machine.