Yesterday Johnny Brenda’s played host to a well-matched pair of critically acclaimed artists working at the growing confluence of electronic music and R&B. No faux-rave radio cheese here, though—Autre Ne Veut and Majical Cloudz are significantly more experimental than that. Majical Cloudz began the evening as if emerging from their namesake, two men on stage coaxing everyone closer from within a mist so thick that frontman Devon Welsh asked if he could be seen several times before requesting additional lighting. No matter how much dry ice clouded the room, however, his voice cut through the dark directly into the listeners’ hearts, supported by a bed of pulsating ambient synthesizers courtesy of bandmate Matthew Otto. As he belted out lyrics of longing, romantic and otherwise, through an impressive vocal range while convulsing in a manner more reminiscent of the impassioned paroxysms of a fan in the front row of the 10 year reunion of his favorite emo band than the calculated showmanship of a rockstar, Welsh’s passion for his music was palpable. In a time where all too many musicians hide behind irony, tongues firmly planted in cheeks, this lack of artifice invites each one into a world that is indeed magical.
Video screens lowered from the ceiling as Autre Ne Veut took the stage: first the drummer, then the programmer/backing vocalist, and finally the harem-pants clad Arthur Ashin, their heavy beats accompanying images of a painting being carried around city streets. Painting is a well-chosen metaphor for Ashin’s music, an impressionistic take on R&B that includes all the falsetto acrobatics and guttural wails without the rest of the song structure. The propulsive downtempo instrumentals are not the only aspect of Autre Ne Veut that resembles so-called ‘trap music’—it has a similar relationship to its source material, stripping it down to basics for maximum effect. The results are moving, literally. There was not a single body in the place that did not rock to these rhythms, despite—or even because of—the virtual impossibility of understanding what precisely was giving Ashin the blues. Just before the last song the frontman climbed down into the audience and watched the backing vocalist and drummer jam out the ending of the song they were performing with a smile of satisfaction on his face, embracing Devon Welsh before returning to the stage. He seemed truly happy to watch his music being performed, even by others.
Autre Ne Veut’s new album Anxiety was released yesterday to a ‘Best New Music’ nod from Pitchfork, and this show was the opening night of a tour that will take these two artists through their respective hometowns of New York and Montreal and down the west coast before ending at SXSW. If their success continues to grow, perhaps sincerity is not dead in the 21st century.
By Dave Fox | Philadelphia Ambassador | @philosofoxthedj | Beat-Play and Music Without Labels, LLC