Comparing concerts to religious acts has probably been one of the most popular devices in music journalism since the invention of pop music: Mid-1960s Beatles hysteria was so close to religious hysteria that the latter could not even be considered a metaphor for the former anymore. Bruce Springsteen’s concerts have been likened to all sorts of religious initiation and absolution rituals so often that by now most likely a significant portion of the audience feels like they are indeed taking part in something metaphysical.
In contrast, a friendly Wednesday night at Berlin’s beloved Urban Spree did not seem like an occasion where one could use religious imagery very effectively, considering the small crowd that had found its way into the venue.
Californian post-wave/punk outfit All Your Sisters played its first European show ever that night, but when Québec-based synth wave act Xarah Dion opened, not a lot of people were there to witness it. Not yet.
Dion mixed her French choral-like vocals with arcade synthesizer sounds, and tons of reverb and loops, the result of which was a paradoxical sound like an esoteric Atari Teenage Riot. Really. Alternately, she created harmonies and dissonances, making her show both disturbing and meditative.
When she finished her set, the venue was quite crowded and ready for the night’s main act to take the stage. The two-piece band from San Francisco (keyboard/bass, guitar, and a drum machine) opened with a cascade of drone, reverb, and feedback that only very slowly developed into a recognizable song.
Although the sound was heavy, dense, and distorted — the epitome of noise — the overall impression was still calm, contemplative. Due to wafting smoke and dazzling strobe lights, the band was only visible as vague specters on stage, strangely detached from the rest of the venue.
While most bands seek to include the audience, establishing a connection as strong as possible, these guys did not say a single word to the crowd until halfway through the show. This was not the musical equivalent of a baptism or absolution — rather, one felt as though secretly witnessing an ancient mystic ritual.
Musically, it was reminiscent of Joy Division — not least because singer Jordan Morrison really sounds like Ian Curtis — but still much darker, more industrial and disturbing, although occasionally an 80s pop appeal that sounded remotely like Depeche Mode surfaced.
Most songs faded into each other in waves of noise that appeared to become more intense the longer the concert lasted. Equally, All Your Sisters’ performance grew more intense over the course of the show; the two played and moved as if they were in trance, still mystically detached from everything but their own music.
Toward the end of the last song, both musicians fell to the floor. Eventually the music ended and the noise faded. The ritual was over, and outside, it was a quiet May night.