Live Report: Atton=Raon, Ashburton Arts Centre

An explosive, theatrical, multi-instrumental tour de force from a wildly-talented Devon crew...

I have no idea what to expect from this gig. A mate invites me, I know Ben the soundman, kids are with grandma. I think sod it, give it a whirl. 

I duck into Ashburton Art Centre – my first time, as it happens – and am miffed to find I’m too late to bag a seat. No space in the sober methodist pews. Never mind, I linger awkwardly on what feels like a stage – there’s a miniature keyboard station set up – but a nice lady (who turns out to be the main guy’s wife) assures me it’ll be a dance floor soon. Skeptical, I sit.

Soon, emerging from a smokescreen haze, under a diaphanous miasma of artfully-hung drapes, appears Sam Walker, aka Atton=Raon. Studiedly unkempt, Walker’s straggly beard and matted hair immediately makes me think ‘synth castaway’, or ‘Casio Robinson Crusoe’ as he sketches a dainty air on the keyboard. 

Thus begins our immersive adventure.

Following this melodic amuse bouche, Walker clambers onto what I can only describe as his battlestation – a half-moon arrangement of keyboards, drums, percussion, microphones, christ knows what – and proceeds to unleash merry hell. 

Man alive, Sam Walker is a force of nature. With thunderous, octopedal dexterity he dominates three, four instruments at a time, whipping his rapt followers through a wormhole into a moody dystopian nightclub somewhere in the future.  

Absolutely fucking murderous kickdrum. Howling, urgent vocals. Walker no longer looks like some shipwrecked unfortunate. No mate. Under a brooding, intense lighting concept from his brilliant collaborator Nathaniel Mason, Walker is recast as a bellowing Olympian god, lobbing furious volleys of kick and hi-hat into our writhing pit. 

Put it this way – none of us are sitting down for long. 

I don’t take notes, because I’m at the front and pulling my phone out would make me look like a dick. What else can I say? Walker shifts between multiple stations over the course of the evening – at one point stage right, on a vintage Wurlitzer accented with wacky rainbow lighting. Later, stage left, he’s on some manner of steel pan drum mounted on another kickdrum. All rather theatrical, all very considered. 

Enthroned on his primary, central battlestation, Atton=Raon deploys relentless enfilades of bangers. A warlike assault on the pleasure centres. At other, quieter moments – stood on a table in the middle of the dance floor – he’s just a hairy little folk dude. The contrast is so very striking, a testament to his versatility. He’s good value, is Sam Walker. 

I daresay there’s a whole backstory to these songs. Deep lore. It feels like the kind of show where every tune likely refers back to some occult, talismanic whole. There’s a distinct Englishness about Walker, too, an oddball eccentricity that is utterly charming. Real depth and breadth. 

Props to Ben Addicott on sound – none of it would work without his exquisite judgment for clarity and heft. You very much feel Atton=Raon is a collaboration, not just a glorified one-man-band. In sound, as electronic noise and weird burbling reverb crackles and dissolves into the smokey ether about our ears. And ambitious stagecraft in Nathaniel Mason’s technicolor lasers, frantically scanning shadowy cornices in the dim recesses of this stately old hall. 

Anyway, Atton=Raon is a great night out. Moving, in so many ways. A thing of beauty. A work of genius.


Words: Andy Hill

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