Review: Micachu and the Shapes 11th August in Festsaal Kreuzberg

Micachu and the Shapes – 11 August 2012, Festsaal Kreuzberg

Micachu and the Shapes are probably best described as a naturally divisive band. Upon first glance you could be forgiven thinking that they represent just another tiresome scene group. After all, they wouldn’t be the first to attempt to achieve novelty by distorting rhythm, eschewing choruses, throwing in vacuum cleaners and then calling the result ‘pop’ music.

The problem is, as time goes by, this scepticism is hard to maintain.

Why? To put it simply, it becomes apparent fairly quickly that the distorted nature of Micachu’s tracks is not the product of a desire for shallow notoriety, but rather the outgrowth of a fairly formidable musical education. Mica Levi, the founder of the group, is a former student of composition at London’s Guildhall School of Drama and Music who has composed for the London Philharmonic Orchestra. As a consequence, very little of her performance comes across as a gimmick.

Instead, what initially appears as random noise is generally soon recognisable as quirky, sometimes fiendishly complex arrangements. The strange tension that lurks in Micachu’s songs, which are simultaneously both uncomfortably disjointed and remarkably fresh, is never fully resolved. Yet the sensation of easing into the concert over time was inescapable, not to mention very rewarding. This was never more apparent than during a rendition of ‘You Know’, where an inconsequential album track of under two minutes was transformed into a hypnotic, slow-building number that seemed not to last long enough.
The evening kicked off with a set from Kwes, a London-based singer/producer who has collaborated with Mica on the two Kwesachu mixtapes. Although anyone who has heard his recent EP Meanwhile can hardly doubt the quality of his richly-layered music, it is clear that as a live act he still lacks something.

This could be a result of shyness – well documented on the EP’s standout track, Bashful – and his strongest performance of the evening, on the new track ‘Broke’, suggested his best work lay in exploring the depths of melancholy. Nonetheless, for him to shine further as an artist it is hard to escape the feeling that he must either break from the shackles of introspection or channel this emotion into something more powerful.
By contrast, a large part of the charm of Micachu and the Shapes is derived from the confidence Micachu has in herself as a performer. Like many things about this group, this differs sharply from initial appearances. Indeed, as someone whose stage outfit took androgyny to the limits of extreme blandness, it would be difficult to find an artist further removed from the flamboyant performers lionized in popular culture. Yet what could appear forced was so evidently not – as further clarified by the lyrics of opening track ‘Heaven’, where Micachu mocks modern vanity (‘I’m striving for perfection / When I look at my reflection’) – that it just added to the refreshing honesty of the band.

In fact, perhaps the best part of the concert was the pleasure with which Micachu performed. In an age where apathy is achingly fashionable, the playful irreverence with which she treated her own work – mostly notably when she abruptly stopped the song ‘Nothing’ midway through, referring only to it as the ‘depressing one’ before starting from scratch – was endearing. The fact that impromptu moments such as these, along with memorably asking (and receiving) a ‘clothes donation’ from the audience was testament to the warm reception her band received.

Ultimately, it is hard to escape the impression that Micachu and the Shapes continue to be a band to watch. Although their newly-released album Never is more polished than previous releases, it is obvious that there is much more to come yet. Although I can’t begin to guess what that could be, I look forward to it.

Review by Leon Kuebler

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