Sunglasses at an indie night

A review of the Kinemastik International Film Festival opening concert, featuring Dolls For Idols, Capitol K and Dark Horses. An edited version appeared on The Sunday Times.

Image is really everything nowadays, huh? Which probably explains why British neo-rock outfit Dark Horses took to the stage with some half a dozen hired groupies in tow, all sporting obligatory black get-up and sunglasses post-10 p.m.

But let’s backtrack to the start. This year’s Kinemastik International Arts Festival included a live performance by three acts – Dolls for Idols, Capitol K and the above-mentioned Dark Horses at the Floriana Ditch. The venue was a stroke of genius and lent the event a quasi-festival air, with people chilling on the grass. So nice to see the area being used for something legit as opposed to the shady goings-on it has become known for.

Dolls For Idols – Photography by Gail Banavage

Dolls For Idols kicked off the evening. At this time, the crowd was still rather thin; many had opted to catch Skimmed, Dripht and The Rifffs at the Beer Festival before heading to this event. With the alternative music scene being so small it is a shame when gigs clash, although sometimes unavoidable.

I’m not sure to what extent attendance contributed to this, but it felt like the band started off on the wrong foot. Some technical glitches around the fourth track continued to hammer the nail and I almost thought the guys would give up. They didn’t; by the time their biggest crowd-pleaser, Rave ‘n’ Roll, was on they had found their pacing. The second part of their performance boasted their trademark energy and by the time they left the stage everyone was revved up quite nicely.

I was really looking forward to the second act, a performance by the Malta-born, London-based Capitol K (Kristian Craig Robinson). Fresh from the release of his sixth album, Andean Dub, this artist is credited with re-inventing electronica fusion.

Capitol K – Photography by Gail Banavage

This was the first time I was catching him live and I was surprised to see how understated his stage presence is. This is someone who lets the music do the talking and talk it certainly did, masterfully. Sitting down at the front of stage, playing his keyboards on the floor, he held the crowd in sway with an intense sonic experience.

I am wary of so-called ‘fusion’ musicians and I find that many artists are more concerned with hyping up the ‘exotic’ pedigree of their instruments, with the actual music taking second place. This is certainly not the case with Capitol K. Every instrument, every beat, every effect is used with purpose, creating a tableau that merges east with west, electronica with rock, psychedelia and a hint of folk. The end result is simultaneously mesmerising and rousing – although it was rather a shame that the next band on the bill decided that it was fine to test their projections and place their ‘human props’ on stage while the artist was still performing. Very shoddy behaviour.

Which brings us to this ‘next band’, Dark Horses. This rather mysterious outfit has attracted numerous rave reviews and what I heard of their material prior to the gig suggested that these are entirely justified. This is a five-person band, however, they chose to recruit another half-dozen people to literally sit pretty with them on stage, dripping fake cool in their black outfits and dark sunglasses while adding zilch to the performance.

Dark Horses – Photography by Gail Banavage

Maybe this choice has something to do with the fact that Dark Horses think of themselves more as performance artists than simply musicians, but it comes across as ridiculously pretentious.

The contrived visuals become even more pointless as soon as the music starts. These guys are damned good and really don’t need any frills to prove themselves. Front woman Lisa Elle has very strong stage presence, with a level of sex appeal that had the crowd eating out of her hand. Although the sound was far from perfect, the eerie, throbbing tracks that are this band’s trademark were well-executed, with the band presenting a perfectly cohesive front that translates into one seamlessly-choreographed artistic experience, rather than a succession of tracks. The artistic input of video director Wiz probably has a lot to do with this.

By the time my two favourite tracks, Alone and Boxing Day, came on I could really see why this band has captured the imagination of the industry. Their music is raw, sexy, haunting; it reaches out to the darker recesses of the mind. And even if they take the myth surrounding their image too seriously, the music they make is so incredible that we forgive them for it.



  1. Gail (Stuart Murdoch's potential wifey) says:

    Gawd!!! The random hipsters wearing their shades on stage – Seriously? How much did they pay you to stand there looking like complete plonkers?!