7 Of The Best: Live Acts In The World Right Now

Danny Brown, Moderat and more – see them ASAP…
Danny Brown

Festival season isn’t over just yet, so there’s still plenty of time to catch some amazing performances on stages outside and in the dark. With this partially in mind, but mostly just because, here’s 7 Of The Best live performers who, really, you should drop everything to see before they hang up their dancing shoes.

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Danny Brown

It’s been said before, but it’s worth saying again: Danny Brown (pictured above) doesn’t do shows, or gigs, or sets – he does parties. In the words of the great man himself, if you want a rap show, “You can go to an open mic”. For rap artist or not, Brown is undoubtedly a rock star of our age. His unheralded amble onto any stage constitutes a refreshing change from the contrived hype and fanfare that usually comes with the genre. Here, it’s simply not necessary – his own massive personality is all the hype he needs. We’ve all heard the controversy that hounds Brown’s every step – his battle with a lean addiction, his bizarre feud with The Guardian over a scotch egg, his dogged insistence on being “a weird mother*cker” – and sometimes watching the man live can feel less like a show and more of a quasi-choreographed car crash. He seems to operate wholly upon the brink of meltdown – and it’s fascinating to watch.

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Anyone who caught Moderat on last year’s UK tour will know why they’re on this list. It’s not just the winning combination of Modeselektor’s Earth-moving glitch-techno and Apparat’s ambient-inflected pop – although that certainly helps. A long-standing partnership with Berlin-based visual arts collective Pfadfinderei (who Sebastian Szary has described as the band’s “fourth member”) means that Moderat now boast one of the most intimately coordinated and immersive live shows around. While Moderat perform the music, Pfadfinderei will orchestrate a sequence of projections playing onto several overlapping screens, delivering a visual show that’s as eerie as it is fascinating. Taken together, their live performances are miles away from the standard fare of carefully considered setlists played to arbitrarily installed light shows – Moderat live is an atmospheric, multi-sensory encounter that places aural and visual experiences on the same high pedestal.

Watch them live at Melt! 2014 here

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Another act notable for examining traditional conventions of live performance – subsequently finding them thoroughly inadequate and placing them firmly in the bin – is Manchester quartet MONEY. Their debut album, ‘The Shadow Of Heaven’, is a stark diatribe on love, loss and faith made with a fervour approaching the religious, an impression that features heavily in the band’s live performances. Frontman Jamie Lee – one-half street preacher, one-half monastic ideologue – has been known to emerge from the back of the crowd, yelling incoherent fragments of poetry as he pushes his way past punters and onto the stage. But don’t think that the MONEY live experience is all gimmicks and stunts – this is a band capable of incredible feats of emotional intensity. On ‘Goodnight London’ – a very Mancunian dirge for identity and belonging in the context of the capital – we hear a band working towards the very apex of pin-dropping emotional intensity.

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Many readers will see Kiesza as an unlikely addition to this list – given the saccharine, poppier-than-pop nature of her breakout single ‘Hideaway’, some have taken her for just another dose of major-label eye candy. But she has a background in classical dance, and that video looks just like the virally streamlined YouTube fodder that might be dreamed up at a Warner brainstorm. Her tender, classy cover of Hozier’s ‘Take Me To Church’ quickly put paid to those first impressions, and her performance at Germany’s Melt! Festival in 2014 displayed an affinity for showmanship that is rare in contemporary pop. One moment she is alone at the piano performing a heartfelt cover of Jeff Buckley’s ‘Hallelujah’, the next she is pirouetting straight into ‘Hideaway’ accompanied by a squad of backing dancers. And that’s some serious value for your money.

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Mount Kimbie

Mount Kimbie have long been an underrated force when it comes to the live arena. While they may lack the eye-catching flamboyance of other acts on this list, the group’s electro-tinged melancholia holds the potential for truly life-affirming experiences. And now the south London duo has announced a new partnership with Artisan – an offshoot of the United Visual Artists group – representing a truly enticing prospect. Artisan has worked with artists and brands ranging from Massive Attack to Vivienne Westwood, Battles to Bulgari, and specialise in providing “technically innovative, dynamic spatial design for live experiences”. From the evidence of Artisan’s online portfolio, any collaboration between these two has incredible potential.

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Placed alongside the other artists on this list – an assortment of visual/audio collaborations, unhinged megalomaniacs and classically trained dancers – Savages might seem a little straight-down-the-line. A four-piece set up in the classic guitar/bass/drums arrangement, Savages don’t break ground or push boundaries in the same way as Moderat and Mount Kimbie. What makes them so affecting, however, is the band’s back-to-basics insistence on absolute immersion in the live experience. Fans are told not to use camera phones during performances, their debut album was entitled ‘Silence Yourself’, while the cover art came emblazoned with a 26-line manifesto calling for the world to “shut up”. In an age of shrinking attention spans, where ‘second-screen experience’ is an actual thing, Savages demand your full attention.

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Young Fathers

There are certain phrases that get thrown around far too often within music writing – ‘genre-defying’ is one. ‘Intense’ is another. Most of the time the usage is completely unjustified, mainly being unmerited hype thrown around by label PRs or easy get-outs for time-pressed journos. It’s only rarely that these clichés ring true – and in the case of Young Fathers, these accolades are truly deserved. The genre-bending sonic acrobatics of the trio’s output to date don’t so much subvert genre boundaries as they split them apart like a chainsaw through butter. Repurposed for live performance, these tracks can be some of the most viscerally potent experiences that you’ll ever encounter. While there are parallels to be drawn with a Savages performance – same brooding eye contact, same sense of gravity and occasion – where Young Fathers take it up a notch is with their sheer physical intensity. Witness it if you dare.

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Words: Jack Enright

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