Mary Ocher at Centrala

Support: Hassan K.| Rosie Tee | Steckdose
January 26, 2024 at Centrala
Promoter: Smithereen

Here we are in the café at the end of time. We’ve come to hear Mary Ocher sing her songs of worry about the imminent unknown. It feels like a fragile moment. Like there might be only so many of them left. Outside dark clouds gather. Inside we huddle in the near-certain knowledge that everything is terrible and only likely to get worse.

The atmosphere is intimate and friendly. A hush settles on the shuffling chairs. It’s a respectful crowd, attentive. Which is just as well as the opening section of Steckdose‘s set is barely above the level of machine hum and electrical buzz, provoking unspoken questions: is it plugged in/turned on? Has he started? Bringing improvised electronics mixed with loops and field recordings he’s a familiar figure at nights like this. The art of that early quietness slowly reveals itself as our hearing leans in to catch the subtleties of soft drones and calm fuzzy layers. It’s a fine opening to the evening.

In contrast Rosie Tee offers strange and fractured pop music. Her lovely voice floating over minimal electronics set out in agreeably unusual patterns. Drawing on Polish folk tales, the songs from her forthcoming Night Creature release are appropriately dreamy and mysterious. Chasing through the moonlit woods. There’s a constant low key surprise in the music, nothing overly dramatic or jarring yet you can’t be sure what’s coming next. Will it stop, will it get hectic, will it repeat? It’s a patchwork of moments, a tumble of thought and feelings.

With Hassan K the surprises come racing out at you with their teeth bared. Just as you’re thinking ‘this is a bit metal’ it gets a lot more metal then warps and changes throwing Iranian motifs, gabba beats and more into the blender. What starts as a guy twanging away on guitar with a laptop backing mutates via a strip of pads attached to the guitar until he’s running around the venue energetically throwing shapes and firing off new slabs of sound with a tiny hand held controller. Everything is happening so fast it moves from maddening to brilliant to hilarious and back again in seconds. The set builds to maximum intensity about twenty minutes in, after which it sometimes struggles to maintain the same impact but it’s a remarkable performance.  

Mary Ocher’s recent album Approaching Singularity: Music for The End of Time is not exactly the imposing Jeremiad its title (and the fact it comes with an accompanying essay) might suggest but a diverse selection of nimble avant-pop. Its concerns are wide ranging, from global conflict to the continuing viability of a career in underground music. Her work is a philosophical interrogation of authority and identity. A Ukrainian Jew she finds herself with two passports and no country. Her personal is political.

We might have come to expect the presentation of such an album as a unified piece, as if it were theatre or performance art as much as experimental music. To a degree, it’s all three, but the show is low key, cosy and communal, drawing on songs from across her career. It’s not rock ‘n’ roll, nor is it a lecture. As with the songs themselves it is open ended, multi-layered, an ongoing investigation, something shared. Wearing glowing ram’s horns Mary moves from electro-experimentalist to acoustic folky to café pianist invoking a kind of pre-dystopian cabaret. A drink before the war.  

She chats to us casually about the songs, about being sad not to have seen “any fluffy cows”, and the Hague ruling in South Africa’s genocide case against Israel. She briefly bemoans the glitching AV, says she loves the venue but wishes that someone had brought a dog. Apparently it reminds her of the info shop she worked at in Tel Aviv years ago. The sort of spaces that have died out or mutated into one like this. Earlier Rosie Tee called it a safe space to be weird. It is a special place, of a kind facing an increasingly precarious future, but for all the cautionary meditations on the coming doom there is also something celebratory in Ocher’s music. Of small achievements and the connections between people, the possibilities in spaces and evenings like these.

     

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