Featured image: Nathan-Whittaker @manc_wanderer
MacBook, mixers, mic. So far, so standard for an electronica set. But wait, what’s this? Local producer and songwriter, Caitlin LM, carries a flute as she parts the waves of the Pink Room’s crowd and clambers onto the stage. Yes, a flute.
She’s also brought Polly Virr along for the evening, whose cello adds a mournful undertone to opener, ‘Kinetic’. It brings a sea of appreciative nods from the early birds, with one guy in a fisherman’s beanie lost in a world of his own, revolving his hips through a full 180° with every other beat.
Caitlin’s gentle bobs become full convulsions during ‘Evergreen’, while she combines singing with sax parps and sequencer stabs on ‘Lost, Dear’. It’s a triumph of musical plate spinning, with a bassline that shakes the floor so much that you can practically see the sound waves.
The final song, ‘Wisteria’, ventures into DnB territory, and reaches such a crescendo that the beanie guy shuffles halfway across the venue in one quickfire burst.
‘The Weeks’ isn’t the most obvious of introductions to Art School Girlfriend. A slow-burning brooder from her new Soft Landing album, it nevertheless sets the scene. Although the alter-ego of Polly Mackey relies more on atmosphere and anticipation than immediacy, there are still plenty of hooks to grapple with.
‘Real Life’ and ‘Heaven Hanging Low’ are standouts, with Mackey strolling in distracted circles, tapping the back of her right hand into the open palm of her left.
‘Bending Back’, the first Art School Girlfriend release back in 2017, shows a gentle evolution in her subsequent sound rather than any sweeping changes, with Mackey exchanging amused raised eyebrows with bassist, Marika Hackman. The rest of the band, including long-time collaborator, Jac Roberts on guitar, are content to sit in the shadows.
But this isn’t about showmanship or bombast. ‘Helm’, ‘Close to the Clouds’ and ‘Diving’ swim with depth and subtlety. Although ‘Blue Sky’ threatens to tip into sluggishness, ‘I Would Die 4 U’ transforms Prince’s synth-funk classic into something verging on a threat. The venue’s lights can’t quite muster a purple hue, but pink is close enough.
“The first album was released in strange times,” Mackey says, referring to the deep house-inflected title track of her Is It Light Where You Are debut from 2021. “So, it’s always nice to play something from it.”
Indeed, Art School Girlfriend’s best moments come when they have one eye on the dancefloor. None are better than ‘A Place to Lie’, which prompts one person down the front to raise his arms skywards, his fingers conducting his own private orchestra, and bringing this sold-out UK tour to a close.