Friday, 2 September 2016

Ela Orleans - Circles of Upper and Lower Hell

Ela Orleans - Circles of Upper and Lower Hell - Album launch. Stereo, Glasgow

Live gig review, Stereo Cafe Bar, Glasgow 1.9.2016

I can't say that I've ever before come away from a concert thinking "I really must make a point of reading that 14th century poem about Hell". However that was the situation I found myself in as I meandered back from Stereo in Renfield Lane last night, after watching Ela Orleans perform at the launch of her new album. It has obviously not been an easy process getting to the point where there was an album to be launched. An earlier incarnation of the album was released last year as Upper Hell, produced by Howie B. In the sadly familiar story of music industry machinations however, that led to the artist who made the work not getting paid and lawyers having to get involved. With that now behind her, and with the support of Night School Records, the music as envisaged by Ela herself has now seen the light of day. 

Ela Orleans album, Upper and Lower Circles of Hell
As the title of the album suggests it is inspired by Dante's Inferno, and many of the pieces on it play on Dante's journey down through Hell, led by ancient Roman poet Virgil. I have had it sitting on my wobbling pile of "to be read" books for a while, but after having the album playing for the past wee while in the house, my 16 year old son has picked it up and got right into it (he tells me that after the Inferno part, Purgatory and Paradise are a bit disappointing). Mixed in with the grand ideas of Dante, the music feels very personal and private. Ghostly vocals and echoes of other tunes bounce about in your head listening to it. There is the obvious spirit of the early electronic music of Daphne Oram and the sound collages of Delia Derbyshire here. Listening to the album I was also thinking back to one of my favourite LPs that I haven't listened to in years, The Eurythmics early nu-wave sound from In The Garden. 

Stephen Pastel, who features on Ela's album, was DJ-ing downstairs at Stereo throughout the evening. Head of Night School Records, Michael Kasparis (Apostille) started things off, with a fierce performance of his own one man industrial-electronic sound. John Lemke (Lost In Sounds) gave us a more soothing, cinematic set. If you judge a person by the company they keep, this augured well for the main event tonight.

DJ set from Stephen Pastel
Ela Orleans often uses the tagline "movies for ears" and the last two occasions that I have seen her perform she was accompanying the visuals of other artists. In 2014 she performed with Swedish artist, Maja Borg at Counterflows in Glasgow. Then earlier this year she provided a live score to the 1929 silent film Lucky Star at the Glasgow Film Festival. That performance was at the beautiful Charles Rennie Mackintosh designed Queens Cross Church in Maryhill. It seemed fitting that for music that engages more than just the ears we were tonight again housed in a Mackintosh designed building. The former Daily Record printworks on Renfield Lane, now Stereo Cafe Bar, may not be one of his most celebrated buildings but if you pay attention there is a feast of elegant features built into the structure. I won't labour the metaphor too much, but I liked descending into the stripped and bare basement of this elegant building to hear the music of a descent into Hell.

Mackintosh's former Daily Record building after dark. Now home to Stereo
On stage against a kaleidoscope of images projected behind her, Ela layered her gauzy soundscape together. It is an atmospheric and immersive sound, but has occasional pop sensibilities and catchy riffs breaking through. The haunting vocals of track Circle One was what I was trying to sing to myself on the way home last night. The influences from a Catholic upbringing in Eastern Bloc Poland, to working with noise artists in New York, to life among her current world of the Glasgow independent music scene have created a unique sound all her own. I hope now that she has signed up to do a PhD at the University of Glasgow, Ela Orleans has been snared by our city for the foreseeable future. She creates so much beautiful work for us that we are all richer for having her here.

Now if my son would finish off Dante's Inferno I could finally make a start on it...

Buy the album here

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