Stockholm-based electronic duo Korallreven played their first DC show Monday night, headlining the Black Cat backstage. They were joined by openers Young Magic and Stout Cortez. Korallreven are currently on their first US tour, in support of An Album by Korallreven, out on Acephale Records.
Young Magic played an enthusiastic and energizing set. The trio, currently based in New York City is comprised of Australian ex-pats Isaac Emmanuel, Michael Italia, and Indonesian-born Melati Malay. They mixed dreamy vocals and ambient guitar with tribal-sounding rhythyms and hypnotic, thumping beats. Their performance and sound was fresh, intense, and engaging.
By the time Korallreven took the stage the room was pretty packed. Producer/keyboardist Daniel Tjader and singer Marcus Joons were joined by a third musician on stage, playing guitar and percussion. The set started off with pre-recorded tracks- the celestial, airy vocal layer of Julianna Barwick from their track “Sa Sa Samoa.” It was a little hard to tell from that point what was live and what was recorded, musically. I imagine, as with a lot of electronic music, there are a certain amount of pre-programmed elements, but where that ends and where the live performing begins is kind of nebulous. Regardless, they created a dreamy, yet forward-moving tone with the song, which morphed/was combined with their song “As Young As Yesterday.” While the song(s) were beautiful and lush, Joons’ vocals were a bit lost in the multitude of layers of Barwick’s pre-recorded vocals and the other synth/instrument layers going on.
Joons’ demeanor was kind of vulnerable and fragile- he stood, (flower tucked behind his ear) mostly still and a little tentative seeming, but while a little awkward at times, this was also endearing. While it took a while for him to warm up, vocally (there were some pitchy moments at the start of a few songs) he got into his groove and the performance came together. The stage was lit by black and white video projections, sometimes muted scenes of tropical locations (the inspiration of the band’s genesis was Joons’ travels to the South Pacific), and abstract visuals/animated burst and patterns.
The upsides- the music was beautiful, lush, and mostly pretty chill. The vibe of the music was mirrored in the band’s demeanor and appearance. The downsides- there wasn’t much of an arc or crescendo in the set, it kind of occupied the same space the whole time. Joons’ pitchiness and lack of much of any vocal effects amid the super-lush, layered music stood out sometimes in a not-so-good way. And the set was pretty short- only seven songs (or eight if you separated the mash-up of “Sa Sa Samoa” and “As Young As Yesterday.”) I didn’t time it, but it didn’t feel longer than an hour, if that. When they left the stage the audience was cheering heartily, and the lights remained down for quite a while, the cheering continued. An encore seemed expected, especially with such a short set, but they didn’t come back out, and eventually the lights went back up. Clearly they already have an enthusiastic fan base in DC, waiting for more from the duo.