Whether or not the experimental ethos of the excellent St John Sessions is your cuppa, you can’t help but be a little bit awestruck at the setting for the series: the magnificent Church of St John in Hackney.
The cavernous domed roof, timeworn interior and vast church organ hanging overhead contribute an incredible amount of atmosphere, particularly when accompanied by dark, swirling electronic soundtracks.
The Tim Hecker-headlined St John Session is a masterclass in ambience and soundscaping, two terms that can make the eyes of even hardened music fans glaze over, but certainly not when tonight’s three performers take charge.
First up is Vessel, signed to wonky New York alt-hop label Tri Angle Records (home of Forest Swords and Evian Christ), who takes his jittery tech-hop a few steps further, working up a colourful, spooky ambience that grows into a fierce, industrial rhythm, complete with electronic screeches that would unnerve the most hardy of velociraptors.
US producer Pete Swanson then steps up and launches into an intense, noise-techno barrage. No messing about for Mr Swanson, just full-on filth and crunchy, chewed-up beats that throw themselves around the church (and are probably still lurking there). It’s a stark contrast to most of Vessel’s set, but just as engaging.
Headlining is Canadian sound artist Hecker, whose sprawling, ambient compositions just beg to be performed in a vast, weathered church.
For added atmosphere, the lights are turned off during his performance, eliminating any threat of smartphone-fiddling and allowing the audience to become fully immersed in the engulfing electronica.
As expected, it’s a captivating set and one that shows that soundscapes can be energetic as well as ambient. From the colourful beginning section that could almost have been a sci-fi soundtrack through to overwhelming ethereal and sinister passages later on, it is a glorious, intense trip through Hecker’s otherworldly audio visions. Being shunted back into reality when the lights come on is a bit of a downer, really.
Props to St John Sessions for organising a series where setting and sound have been matched so beautifully.
- - -
Words: Tristan Parker
Photos: Jaroslav Moravec / Inverted Audio
Get the best of Clash on your iPhone - download the app here
Stream tracks by Tim Hecker via Deezer, below…