Nitin Sawhney Unplugged, Hamer Hall, Sunday 2 September

While the gulf between East and West sometimes appears to be impossible to transverse in political terms, Nitin Sawhney, and his band of multicultural virtuosos have no difficulty crossing borders, and finding ways to reconcile apparently opposed cultures and traditions. Unlike politicians and religious fundamentalists, musicians have to listen to each other carefully, and respond sympathetically and creatively to the rhythms, and sounds of their collaborators.

Sawhney is a polymath, a master of several musical instruments, and more than comfortable in a variety of genres and creative mediums. His ‘unplugged’ set showcased highlights from his prodigious output as a songwriter. Seated on a stool, cradling his guitar, he directed his sublime band with supreme confidence. Every musician on stage shone, but vocalist Nicki Wells was, for me, the star of the show. Wells, a young blonde Englishwoman, is the master of several musical idioms, and effortlessly sings classical Indian music with passion and subtlety. The disparity between her appearance and her voice challenges the conventional verities concerning musical authenticity.

It’s too easy to pigeonhole Sawhney as the erudite poster boy for British multiculturalism. Of course his music is political in its daring fluidity, but it’s so much more. Most of his ‘unplugged’ set was originally recorded with electric instruments, and employed production techniques associated with electronica. His band did an amazing job of reproducing this material in an acoustic setting while mimicking the tones and rhythms of machines. This is no easy feat. I haven’t seen or heard musicians of this caliber in quite some time, and while I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, I think the refurbished Hamer Hall is a little cold, and remote if you’re seated towards the back of the venue. The sound was a little thin, and could’ve benefitted from a little more volume. I’ll make sure I’m front and centre next time.


Chet Faker, Revolt Art Space, Saturday 8 September

First and foremost, the Revolt Art Space is über cool. A converted 19th Century factory in the badlands of Kensington, this place exudes charm. Part club, part gallery, and part live music venue, the Art Space is a good spot to hang if, like me, you turn up to a gig at opening time, and the main act doesn’t take the stage until you’ve had way too much to drink, and the small army of sub-par support acts have severely tested your patience. It’s amazing what tasteful décor, and moody lighting can do to calm the savage beast. The food on offer’s not bad, either.

Chet Faker has a resonant, soulful voice. It’s a little husky, but the man is blessed with genuine vocal chops, and his blend of electronica and soul is compelling, even if his repertoire is slight (hence the need for the plethora of supports —btw, the XX have a lot to answer for — not everyone can spin gold from minimal synths and breathy vocals. You know who you are. Nuff said).

Best known for his cover of Blackstreet’s ‘No Diggitty’, Faker’s own tunes follow a similar vein, and the bearded wonder does seem to have a very enthusiastic following. Is he the next big thing? Who can tell, but a certain well-known music business mogul was sniffing around, so something’s brewing. This eminent identity couldn’t keep still. If he wasn’t maniacally tapping his mobile, he was shooting the shit with various up and coming young muso’s, patting them on the back, chatting them up. How many years has he stood in the glow of stage lights, rocking back and forth, arms tightly crossed, listening intently, making calculations, and hatching plans? But things have changed. What was once solid now melts through the air in binary code, eschewing the need for plastic discs and opportunistic middle-men. The times and the industry have changed. I’m not sure Chet Faker needs to sign on the dotted line. He appears to be doing just fine.