Review: M83, O2 Academy

Watching anything in the sold-out downstairs section of the O2 is a little bit like spending an evening at a swamp gig. This is partly due to the incredibly low ceilings; partly due to the viscous combination of sweat and saliva that clings to the walls and aforementioned ceilings; and partly thanks to the atmospheric haze that rises from a close mass of overheating bodies. (This could probably all be remedied by turning on the fans a little bit earlier.) M83’s particular band of stadium shoegaze pop misses out a bit when they lose out on the whole ‘stadium’ thing: the sounds are just too big and too full for a space with all of the charm – and space – of a nuclear bunker.

Whiny preamble aside, Tuesday’s gig had much to recommend it. Despite a lengthy technical hitch, the band did some really great things with the space, helped by an army of six MacBook Pros to the left of the stage. The lighting, for example, was some of the more interesting I’ve seen at the venue (a mysterious set of illuminated Stars of Davids clustered at the top made much more sense when I remembered that M83 is actually a spiral galaxy). The performance itself was really quite inspired, and characterized by long – but extremely skilful – instrumental sections, most memorable of which was a clever bit of strumming pizzicato overplaying whistling. Somehow, the group managed to hone in on precisely the right frequency to make all of the hairs in my nostrils (sorry, boys) start to vibrate.

One thing that really could not be faulted in the evening’s performance was their sheer dedication and enthusiasm. They lack the personableness, perhaps, of groups more comfortable with a setting as intimate, but made up for it with lots of cries and whoops of ‘Oxford!’. (Gonzalez’ French accent is much more notable in person.) Actual singing was unremarkable, at least in comparison to the instrumentals, but certainly not bad at all. Overall: a great group, with a great set, in entirely the wrong setting. A jolly good job, though, considering.

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