Nils Frahm is a name that often pops up in the more high-brow discussions of electronic music, alongside journalist buzzwords like “neoclassical” and “contemporary avant-garde classical-fusion prodigy of the futurepast”. It is very pleasing, then, to discover that Frahm does not take himself anywhere near as seriously as the press do. On Friday, mid way through his sold-out four gig stint at the Barbican Hall, he had the crowd giggling and cheering at every intermission. He delivered plenty of self-deprecating banter, poking fun at his “failed project” of a pipe organ that sounded too cheery for depressing Germany and England, and that he would always play “the songs with the most clicks on spotify” because “maybe you didn’t like the new album”.
If he came onstage without uttering a word, I wouldn’t complain given the amount he has to focus on. The mind-boggling array of kit is a work of art in itself; the panels of wood and steel frame endless synthesizers, sequencers, pianos and god knows what else. Everything is placed with purpose and the intricacy of a space shuttle interior set inside the Tate Modern. All this is lit by a moody strip of soft yellow spotlights. As Frahm gets in to some of the big songs of the evening, mostly material from his latest release “All Melody”, he puts every square inch of the tech to use. Coordinating loops and beats with every limb and digit, it’s hard to comprehend managing so many components at once, let alone remembering them. I can barely coordinate a coffee some mornings.
Filling the grand auditorium with thunderous waves of percussion and scattering stabs of pipe organ, his newer compositions took on a stratospheric level of intensity; the spotlights leaving the audience hurtling through the cosmos. But the real moments of entertainment are when he is seated for a piano solo, moving from haunting bittersweet depths to peaks of pure joy in a run of keys.
Before finishing, Frahm says he is always happy to play the songs that made him famous, and the crowd is clearly grateful. It’s not hard to see why, as the grand piano erupts in the finale of “Toilet Brushes – More”. He jokes about how his old songs wouldn’t ever be approved by a music teacher, “I play one chord for seven minutes”. He may not be the god-level composer of contemporary revelation he is labelled ad nauseum, but after tonight’s show, I have witnessed few musicians more deserved of their praise than Nils Frahm.
Photo Credit: Tom Howard