Sunday, January 15, 2012


There’s a video on You Tube of A Winged Victory For The Sullen playing at Unsound Festival in Krakow. The venue is uncredited but it appears to be a 18th century church, candlelit with rich burnt-orange colours. A hallowed and serene setting for the post-classical soundscapes of the musical collaboration between the composer Dustin O’Halloran and ex-Stars of the Lid man Adam Wiltzie. What to make then of the first calling station for A Winged Victory For The Sullen’s debut UK tour being Manchester Academy 3: a typically characterless and scuzzy student union venue with black drapes, dark concrete walls and a sticky floor (next booking the two day Academy Metal Festival)? Luckily neither support nor headliner seemed to find the venue a distraction from their entrancing music.

Belgium’s sleepingdog also features Adam Wiltzie in a separate musical collaboration with Chantal Acda. However their support slot makes musical not just practical sense: their “glacial moving, dark cough syrup pop music” providing the perfect warm-up (as with last year’s slot supporting Low). Acda alternates between piano or acoustic guitar accompanied by the carefully controlled drones of Wiltzie. For the second half of their six song set they are joined by two percussionists: one on brushed snare drum, the other on a variety of hand instruments plus ankle bracket chimes. Even performing as a four-piece they kept it all hushed and contained, allowing the songs to unwind around Acda’s serenely cool but warming tones. Delicious medicine indeed.

And my name is Adam. And we're going to play you seven songs of death and heartbreak" came the declaration after each player had been introduced. The two core collaborators in A Winged Victory For The Sullen faced each other across the stage: O’Halloran on electric piano and Wiltzie on guitar and drones, the former the more serious looking, upright and dressed in black, the latter bent over, often turning his back to the audience in loose fitting cardigan and jeans. Between them sat an inner circle of the three piece string section – cello, viola and violin. The set started in near darkness with the main source of illumination being the reading light reflection off the string section’s musical scores. What followed was a richly evocative playing of the duo’s eponymous album in which the drones and strings create slow moving surges and swells, deep and majestic, interwoven with the reflective piano motifs and repetitions. It was mysterious and moving in equal parts. Each song was punctuated by fervid applause from one of the most attentive and appreciative audiences I’ve been part of. And further lightening the mood was the occasional footballing comment from American Wiltzie: “How come Man City got so good?”.

As the set progressed, the illumination increased - and so did the animation of the duo, each rising and surging as the music did. The extra lighting started to make the raw surroundings more evident but the concrete pillar-box framing of the ensemble actually worked to create a beautiful tableau effect. Finishing with a final new song that added a subtle layer of grit to its glacial progression, the five musicians left the stage to more of that rapturous applause. And all the house lights were flicked suddenly on to reveal the prosaic setting. For sixty absorbing minutes we could have easily been in Krakow. And realising we weren’t, we still had the sounds of A Winged Victory For The Sullen in our heads, which like death and heartbreak, take time to fade.

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