EMA at Scala
Formerly of Amps For Christ and Gowns, Erika M. Anderson’s debut solo effort Past Life Martyred Saints arrived last year and has been earning her a whole lotta praise. Her show on Tuesday 15th May at Scala, London, was – as she revealed during her set – the last chance Londoners would have to see her blend of introverted singer-songwriter brooding with furious, abrasive punk for a while.
Solo musician Indians kicked off proceedings with a minimal and varied set. His shy but upbeat alt-pop worked best during the songs where he allowed his quietly-assured and emotive vocals to do most of the work with just an acoustic guitar or a piano for accompaniment. For the most part, his set reflected this and where he used synth tones sparingly and relied more on gradual dynamic shifts for affect, his songs were all the more powerful. It was shame his set concluded with an electonic-heavy track, which watered down his strengths and sounded a little bit like a Disney song made with arpeggiated shiny 80s synth and an 808. Still, his set was highly enjoyable and had it continued for a few more songs it would have been warmly received.
Still Corners made their presence known with warm, bassy synth swells, driven by dance drums and pensive bass lines. Their moody, spacious indie-rock had a nice immersive feel but also failed to really go anywhere. It quickly became quite predictable and was difficult to stay engaged with. However, the guitarist’s effects-laden freakouts injected some much needed energy and tension into the music and indeed their best song was based around a powerful directional melody led by the guitarist. These standout moments brought a great character to the band and showed they have some compelling stuff up their sleeves.
As soon as EMA and her band sprung into action there was no doubt that we were in for something special. The gradual lurch of The Grey Ship, from a gloomy and sparse opening to an agitated, menacing climb and finally to a raw, vicious ear-splitting climax, was indicative of the way her songs grow and take hold of the audience. The song was an excellent example of EMA’s keen ear for emotive melodies and indeed memorable hooks were abundant throughout. Songs such as Butterfly Knife (the standout track of her set) showcased brilliantly her vocal style; from a sweet, pained almost-whisper leading to a ferocious and desperate scream.
The sonic turbulence created by the concoction of manic violin, electric guitars subjected to Sonic Youth-esque abuse and simply fantastic drumming made for colourful, bold music and if EMA wanted to put the audience on edge she achieved it by spinning a disco ball on a piece of string at high speed dangerously close to her guitarists head. Clad in fairy lights she glided through the tender Marked, a lovely, sombre number positioned between noisier tracks and sung with heartbreaking clarity.
Scala was packed for EMA’s set and though there were a few audience members joyously singing along throughout the performance, the audience remained surprisingly subdued. It was an appreciative crowd though and they were particularly responsive when she started playing her last song before the encore, California. Her most unusual song, in which her vocal delivery is strinkingly similar to Kim Gordon, is by turns a confession, a condemnation and stream of consciousness over an eerie soundscape formed of synth strings and delayed guitars.
A charismatic performer with a talented and dynamic band, it was a pleasure to see that EMA could translate her dense and detailed music to a live setting with such power and fervour. As entertaining as it was endearing, it’s hard to imagine that any audience member wasn’t firmly in her grasp as the band threw themselves into their most grandiose and aggressive moments.
Photos: Marco Arias Rua