Gig review: Nordic Giants at Belgrave Music Hall, Leeds

Nordic Giants at Belgrave Music Hall, Leeds. Picture: David Hodgson
Nordic Giants at Belgrave Music Hall, Leeds. Picture: David Hodgson
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There’s nothing intrinsically Nordic about Leeds. The weather at times perhaps, the beards and checked shirts of The Round Foundry, the moose head in the Christkindelmarkt. Where it isn’t expected is in the Belgrave Music Hall on a cold Monday evening.

Even then the atmosphere isn’t what might be considered Scandinavian. The stage is dark. Thick atmospheric smoke billowing across, a large screen hangs off the rear wall and a smaller one where it would normally be expected a lead singer would be stood. And so the scene is set for what isn’t the usual gig format.

Nordic Giants are ‘post-rock’ duo Loki and Roka Skulld. Formed in Brighton in 2010, the band have released a number of EPs and their first full length album in April 2015, ‘A Seance of Dark Delusion’. Off the back of their music they have to date played a number of festivals (albeit they got rather too close to the curfew at the 2014 Deershed Festival and the set was somewhat abruptly curtailed) with this UK tour supporting their current release.

The band’s recorded music can arguably often appear repetitive with difficulty in maintaining interest for its entirety, slipping eventually into the background. This is clearly because the Nordic Giants’ music is geared towards their live set.

The band members emerge onto stage dressed in feather headdresses and tribal body markings, their faces indiscernible, particularly so in the virtual darkness. The large wall screen and front of stage monitor display specially commissioned films, whilst Nordic Giants throw out their high energy music in perfect synergy to the images. The keyboards are firmly set on piano with Loki switching from these onto trumpet. Half the set relies on the drums keeping the rhythm, the remainder ignores them completely and Skulld moves to the front of the stage on guitar, unusually playing all parts with a bow in order to provide the haunting sound that accompanies the films.

For the entire set films are shown on the screens. And they are of the highest productive quality, with a variety of genres, from shape shifting animated films to acted films with jaw dropping special effects. At the outset, the set marries tune Illuminate alongside the short film This Way Up, an animation featuring two undertakers, then track Evolve or Perish shows an acted film The Exit Room, following a war based journalist – which finishes with a ‘to be continued’...

All the way through the set the band themselves are in virtual darkness, the most visual they become being when strobing lights are added to the atmosphere. It’s a modern day equivalent on traditional cinema halls – films played alongside live music to make them come alive. It is a finely honed and rehearsed set, the music being in total tune with the films, down to the smallest detail. In the film Pencilhead and the film Together, there is an animated horse stuttering across the scene, the music perfectly in alignment with the jerky movements.

Two of the films look like big budget high octane films, full of special effects, cars being lifted off roads, battles with drones and almost fairytale like stories. All the time Nordic Giants are in the background, thrashing out their music, the audience captivated by the combination and unusual concept.

This wasn’t the normal run of the mill music gig. But then wasn’t the normal run of the mill cinematic experience either. It was uplifting and an entirely different concept to anything else out on the current circuit. How it translates to larger stages, bigger audiences would be an interesting experiment. The set length at around an hour and twenty minutes was just about perfect, any longer and the films would have taken a significant precedence, the music faltering into a backing track.

As it was the music is much more than a mere backing track, it adds a dimension to already impressive cinema quality films. Even at the conclusion of the set, the lights don’t come up as long as Nordic Giants remain on the stage. A brief bow to the audience and they leave, with the films remaining as the main talking point of the evening. What is so captivating about the evening is that it is completely different and not something easily forgotten. The audience still have no idea what either band member actually looks like but then that is the concept, for the music and cinematic experience to sit as bedfellows, without one outshining the other. And on that basis, it works perfectly.

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