Forest Swords feels like the kind of artist who could drop through a wormhole in time and perform to an audience of druids and stone age villagers and they would get it. They'd be shocked, but they'd get it. There's a universality to his medieval-tinged, moody electronica that seems rooted in the sounds of flowing rivers, windy rock faces and leafy glades, a deeply organic incarnation of a highly synthetic genre.
With this in mind I wondered whether the magic of the Wirral-based producer's music would translate properly to the murky Shoreditch stage of the Village Underground. Thankfully my worries were unwarranted. Aided onstage by bassist James Freeman and VJ Sam Wiehl, Matthew Barnes builds entire worlds out of shapeless vocal samples, skittish beats and flickering guitar lines.
In concert the dub elements of luscious compositions like 'Ljoss' and 'Panic' are enhanced, transforming them into gut-rumbling subsonic masterpieces. Elsewhere the warm mellotron swells of 'Thor's Stone' sound like the greatest Zelda soundtrack never made. Anywhere else but Shoreditch you might even get people bobbing their heads along...
But the real star of the show is Wiehl, whose beautifully shot visuals rightfully dominate the dimly lit stage. Firelit interpretive dancers, masked faces and glittering streams flit across the screen, unlocking a dreamlike, often eerie quality of the music that's only hinted at on record.
The only real problem with the performance is its brevity, a delayed start bringing the performance to just over the hour. But in that time Forest Swords weaves a tapestry of atmosphere and emotion few other dub-centric artists could match.
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Words: Josh Gray
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