Live review: Beautify Junkyards & Sharron Kraus at Cafe Oto


Ghostbox Records present: Beautify Junkyards, Sharron Kraus & The Focus Group (DJ) at Cafe Oto (London) 26th October 2018

Live photographs by Alice Peillon

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Words by Gareth Thompson

In her essay, Tactile Sensibility, the renowned weaver Anni Albers stated: ‘All progress, so it seems, is coupled to regression elsewhere.’ Writing back in 1961, Albers feared we were becoming insensitive and should touch things to assure ourselves of reality. As an artist who united ancient crafts with the language of modern art, you sense Albers would’ve understood where the record label Ghost Box is coming from.

Its music might be largely device-laden, but the essence of Ghost Box is a sensory world of nature magic. In its major works we find a remembrance of landscapes where our fingers knew rough bark and sticky sap. And if this wash of electronica evokes rural echoes for a hip urban crowd, well, maybe that’s half the point.

Ghost Box… It’s a phrase you really want to whisper. Put your ear closer now… Ghost Box! Sounds like something phantasmal in the attic, full of freaky fragments. You might say similar things about the label’s output. Take a listen to The Advisory Circle’s impish raves around the maypole, or the playful meadow larking of Belbury Poly. Ghost Box is no mere fantasy realm, though, but one where digital opuses work sentient wonders. Proof that technology has, in this case, not disenchanted us one bit.

And so it was the label occupied Café Oto in London for a night, so human society could rummage inside this alchemusical box and cut through modern trappings to feel naïve again. No surprise to find MOOF favourite Sharron Kraus involved – she’s recently worked with Belbury Poly, thus adding cyber tints to her wiccan world.

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Kraus picked out simple guitar sequences that soon turned ominous, as if being filtered through an apprehension engine. She talked openly about the ‘gloom elements’ in her records, saying, “When death becomes personal it’s no longer an abstract concept.” Kraus then gave us the soothing elegy ‘The Man Who Says Goodbye’ wherein she sang like a heartbroken songbird. Backed by James Street and Oliver Parfitt on Moogs, the whole experience was one where every noise meant something. Kraus blew on a recorder to offer baroque flutters, then added the ting and hum of a singing bowl, as cymbals were scraped like a spell being cast. The random doom-boom of synths may have felt mournful, but Kraus’s charming set affirmed the natural process of life amid our certain decay.

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If this opening act ushered in winter, then Beautify Junkyards reminded us it’s always summer somewhere. “We prefer red wine to pints,” said singer João Branco Kyron, whose vocal union with Rita Vian brought sunblushed pop to the band’s retro muse. A screen backdrop depicted skulls and ballet dancers, dandelions and child saints. The much revered cellist Helena Espvall threw in some pizzicato shapes under bossa-delic beats. But at the base of these utopian vibes was a strummed acoustic guitar, holding each song firmly in shape.

The poetry and politics of Brazilian movies, indeed the whole tropicalia movement, was alluded to on ‘Shelter’. Then came ‘Valley Of Wonders’ inspired by a small farm in Portugal where the group wrote its first album. Having already covered Nick Drake and Kraftwerk alike, this Lisbon collective occupies a computer world that’s hanging on a star.

In an age where so much is marketed as mindful, Ghost Box’s event offered a mind full of wellbeingness. To paraphrase Anni Albers, we listened to the voices and tools of our time. And listening made us truly active, open to all channels of energy. It was a night when shamans and aliens might equally have lurked. A night of truly paganormal activity.

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