Penguins Flip Filmic Treat At Bristol's Colston Hall

ggp-colston

GoGo Penguin have always had one eye on the dancefloor. Now they have the other fixed on film scores.

Versatility, though, is not necessarily the first thing that springs to mind when considering the Mancunian trio, who've to date released three albums of decent but samey post-EST jazztronica. Their harshest critics doubtless claim they're a one-trick-pony who repeatedly match coffee-table jazz with laptop beats. But that's precisely why the band's live rescoring of cult movie Koyaanisqatsi is such an exciting prospect (on top of their recent inking to legendary label Blue Note) – this is a band with a lot to lose and a sizeable hill to climb in terms of proving their artistic scope.

Backing Koyaanisqatsi, a psychedelic trip into the dark heart of American civilisation, then, is a brave move. The hypnotic grandeur of Phillip Glass's (a composer to whom the band owe a huge debt) original soundtrack, with its shimmering arpeggios and ethereal chorals, could be tricky to measure up to. But opting to retrack this particular feature is, equally, a shrewd manoeuvre. Firstly, the rarefied spectacle on offer, jam-packed as it is with hallucinatory montages of crawling cityscapes, lends itself well to the band's club-ready electronics. Secondly, experimental disaster documentaries, a genre pioneered by director Godfrey Reggio, are currently hot with hipster audiences – Adam Curtis' uncompromising BBC essays and Leonardo DiCaprio's climate-change exploration Before The Flood, for example, are not only hugely popular, but follow devotedly in the footsteps of Reggio's impressive back-catalogue.

For the first quarter of an hour, with the trio shrouded in darkness, you might've been forgiven for thinking that Australian minimalists The Necks had supplanted them, thanks to the slow unravelling of lightly fingered piano, aerially suspended double-bass and bustling drums. But when the band fully took wing, there's no mistaking GoGo Penguin's classically inflected grooves. Atop breathtaking scenes of atmospheric turmoil and roiling seas, pianist Chris Illingworth and co laid down rippling rhythms slick with trembly arpeggios and danceable polyrhythms. So far, so GoGo Penguin.

But when the film took a left turn, cranking up the tempo with shots of aircraft dogfights, gridlocked cities and the runaway chug of munitions factories, the band broadened and deepened their well-trodden sound. Bassist Nick Blacka, both at the centre of the stage and the music, strapped on an electric four-string and fired out joltingly funky futurist riffs which seemed to shock Illingworth from his minimalist stupor. As chilling scenes of warfare and industry grew in intensity, they triggered a dizzying shoot-out of jaggedly free piano and tensely unstable low-end. All the while, drummer Rob Turner marshalled the crossfire with beats that, if played in a club, would've wrongfooted the most slick-moving partygoer.

The verdict? This dazzling sound-and-screen mash-up was inventive enough to silence the critics and offered a snapshot of the truly breathtaking musical vistas the trio are capable of conjuring.

– Jamie Skey

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