Bonobo and UK music venues are like two friends that haven’t seen each other in a while. They both have complimented each other in the past but their distance has made them grow apart. In the 18 years of his career, Bonobo has cemented his name in the electronic music scene, from headlining festivals to intimate venues like KOKO in London. It’s been three years since Bonobo has last played in the UK, where he brings the combination of electronic downtempo and world music onto the iconic stage of O2 Brixton academy. However, the larger than life sound and performance Bonobo is known for doesn’t fill the venue but instead, compensated by flashing lights and stunning visuals of landscapes, projected onto a screen.As red lights start to dim, Bonobo, an ensemble of violinists and a saxophonist gradually appear on stage, opening with ‘Migration’, the album title track to his latest release. Simon Green usually makes his laptop performances lively but ‘Migration’ gets its vitality from a saxophone solo jazzing up ambient piano progressions that take too long to blossom into heaving melodies. Bonobo’s presence is invisible, as if the gig hadn’t even started and was only a warm up session.
Just like his 2017 album Migration, Bonobo uses the theme of migration by projecting different landscapes onto a screen in the background. Travelling has always been a key part in Green’s life. From Brighton to New York and LA, Green has lived all over the place, which has made him deal with the struggles of adapting to new areas and even feeling like a traitor for leaving the UK based on current political climates. His demeanour on stage, the visuals on screen and the melancholic tracks he chooses to play reflects his unease on the subject. Accompanied by serene strings and dark synths in ‘7th sevens’, a desolate and barren scenery crops up on screen, which is more captivating than the lifeless bass guitar solo he does over the track to show he isn’t only skilled at producing electronic music.
His expressions embody the dead land behind him, like he didn’t want to perform in this country, despite stating “I miss playing in London”. His emotionless performance makes the UK appear like his past, one that he is no longer a part of. Green’s time in the UK was where his previous, more upbeat albums like Black Sands were born, contrasting to the ambient and soothing album Migration. With Green now approaching 40, the UK is like a reminder of his younger self, where he’s mainly created and performed experimental, bass-heavy tracks, perfect for a typical an underground music event in Shoreditch. Unlike his previous set list, this one has less danceable tunes associated with youth culture as if he is going through a mid-life crisis on stage.
The stage booms with energy as Green plays “Bambro koyo ganda”, a track that draws in influences of North African Gnawa music and bass-filled tech house, two worlds of music that rarely meet. The night then continues with Green making intricate mixes by looping deep house vocal chops and 8-bit noise from “Kerala”, to then playing the full track, as bright yellow lights decorate the stage. Obviously, Green doesn’t miss the opportunity to play crowd pleasers like the jazzy, melodic “We Could Forever” from Black Sands, which provokes the only smile of the night.
Green continuously proves he isn’t afraid to reinvent himself; a new incarnation from LA, through experimenting with new music, even if it’s more suited for a seated only gig than a stall standing one.
Words by Angel Keene