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Juana Molina, Gravenhurst, Kama Aina

By Brona McVittie and Alastair Dant

In these solitary times, people seem more interested in what sets them apart than what ties them together. Nuclear families yield to flat-sharing singletons whilst cultural pundits mourn the death of a community spirit. Fair enough. What we lose in common decency, we more than make up for with introspective artistry... The last ten years have seen a deafening increase in bedroom bleeps and bedsit strumming. Both electronic musicians and their singer/songwriter cousins have enjoyed the democracy of cheap recording processes and accessible technology. Auteurs of all shapes and sizes are staking careers on self-produced albums and standalone stage shows. Blather on about the decline in social values all you want – it's never been a better time to start a one man band!

Our independent record industry is clearly on top of this situation. Knom's recent Bush Hall showcase was testament to the power of one. First on stage was Domino's new recruit, Kama Aina, a Japanese chap who plucks his dinky guitjo, beats a bass drum and harmonises on the harmonica, all at the same time. Like the many sides of Money Mark, octopus boy has a sonic gizmo for every occasion. Something about his diminutive stature and exotic garb suggested that he might deliver a comic turn, but instead we were treated to a striking instrumental soliloquy. Everything from simple humming to an inspired solo on the kazoo proved how little need there is for vocals, let alone a bunch of backing musicians, and we're sure we'll be seeing his Hawaiian shirt again.

Sandwiched between the two dominoes was unexpected Warp signing, Nick Talbot (aka Gravenhurst). Hearing his ethereal, acoustic tones emanating from the undisputed home of UK electronica was a surprise. Hearing his too-obvious-to-be-menacing, too-carefully-played-to-rock, too-much-already live interpretation was a bit of a shame. In substituting the shadowy cemetery of his bedroom studio for the well-worn dynamics of a power trio, he seems to have lost the haunting edge of his album tracks. The plaintive purity of his voice was still there, but in place of ghostly harmonies, delicate finger-picking and multi-instrumental touches we heard the driving bass, stark drums and heavy strums of amplified angst. Every song seemed to veer from a hushed build up to a maelstrom of heavy wrist action and – having reached the apex of their ambitions with a two-chord workout cum kinks cover – the chilling, autumnal poetry of Mr Talbot's debut seemed to have been lost along the way.

Fortunately, the first lady of folktronica was on hand to remind us how things should be done. Juana Molina's inspired set proved that the autocratic virtues of modern technology need not be confined to the recording studio. From her melancholic opening medley onwards, she struck a rare balance between earnest acoustic balladry and quirky electronic ingenuity. Her combination of emotive guitar playing and soft Spanish crooning with layers of looping synth parts and hand-tapped drum rhythms led a friend to remark that she could win prizes for left-brain/right-brain coordination.

Although the Argentinian's third album is now in the shops, this was one of her first UK performances, and so the crowd were genuinely excited by set pieces like El Perro. Dedicated to anyone who'd ever been kept awake by a neighbour's barking dog, this was easily one of the highlights of her act. Deftly operating a series of sampling pedals, she looped layers of synth sounds and guitar strumming into a swirling rondo, then cut away to a crescendo of musical howling and simpering, punctuated by some of the most convincing barking this side of crufts. Such inspired lunacy could easily go wrong, but a former life as a TV comic (and some fastidious rehearsing) paid dividends, and her canine antics soon had the audience on side. It's rare to see performers so comfortably absorbed in what they're doing when so many are watching. It's even rarer for them to be doing something as novel as this. Thank you Miss Molina. Tres Cosas are three things we won't easily forget.
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