"Is this the type of music you're listening to all the time?" a woman asked her friend while the tealights were still flickering. Whether she meant Sugai Ken or Kirk Barley, who played first, was unclear, but the Yorkshire musician was more likely to have elicited a "yes." Like Sugai Ken, Barley's music had an ecological bent—there were clips of birdsong, running water, raindrops, ocean waves and rolling thunder. The music, though, was more compact in scope. The melodies were sweet and melancholic. The lopsided grooves came close to downtempo hip-hop, but the intricate drum arrangements of tracks like "Frost," from last year's excellent Whispers LP, were far beyond typical boom-bap. Barley has described what he makes as "textural beats music," which seems the simplest way to put it.
At most gigs, musicians give off some kind of stage presence. Only a self-effacing type, as Sugai Ken seemed to be, could tell us more about himself with a stage absence. Shortly after the start, the artist, wearing a beanie and bomber jacket, snuck through the crowd to ring a cowbell from the back. (In his all-black outfit, he looked ready to tag the trains at Dalston Junction.) There was more mischief: in a scene that looked like shadow puppetry, he fiddled with a synth sound using the track ball of a mouse, which he raised against the beam of a desk light. This was all of a piece with the humour of his LPs, in which mallet instruments and nature sounds mingle with irregular vocals, helium-tone synths and Acme Corporation sound effects. As with much of UkabazUmorezU, the music sometimes suggested specific environments. A jaw harp, for example, rang with the cool, damp reverb of a wet cave. Others might have been transported elsewhere—especially someone seated nearby, head bowed, in deep contemplation. Or was he nodding off? It was too dark to tell the difference.