Music

Bonobo's 'Migration' Tour Is an Exercise in Range

Photo: Ivan Selimbegovic

Famed British electronic music composer Bonobo pulls off another triumphant reinvention and wows the crowd in a packed Budapest Park.

It's no coincidence that Simon Green is often hailed as one of the most relevant electronic artists of our time by critics and listeners alike. It's been 17 years since the 42-year-old signed to Ninja Tune under the moniker Bonobo and embarked on a restless journey toward transforming the way common folk listen to and perceive electronic music. At first a trip-hop aficionado with an inclination toward downtempo and a penchant for broken beats, jazzy and funky overtones, over time Green became mercurial, venturing into more overt jazz arrangements, world music, ambient experiments, even delivering pieces suitable for a chamber orchestra.

An all-around adept composer, Green quickly rose to international fame and won a cult following, especially because of his impressive live shows with full bands where few, if any, melodies and beats aren't performed on the spot. Seldom a Top 20 artist, he nevertheless managed to permeate the mainstream with the unique quality of his music, reinvigorating the perception of everyday electronica soundtracks in the process. Today he routinely sells out large venues and is featured at the top of the bill at festivals worldwide.

Bonobo's sixth studio album, Migration, released in 2017, marks a shift in structure from the radio-friendly vocal tunes of The North Borders, and is Bonobo's first effectively ambient work, considerably more downtempo than most his previous music. Received well by the critics, it was nominated for Best Dance/Electronic Album at the 60th Grammy Awards, while the single "Bambro Koyo Ganda" (Feat. Innov Gnawa) was nominated for Best Dance Recording. The eponymous, mammoth tour, kicked off in February 2017 and to date counts about 115 shows, with about 30 more to go.

Photo: Ivan Selimbegovic

On May 23 this year it was Budapest's turn to bear witness to a Bonobo live show, abundant with new material. The vast Budapest Park, Hungary's largest open-air clubbing and concert venue, is actually a gorgeous construction within a park, just outside the city center. Engulfing some 11 hectares of open space, it's a well-divided and highly practical entertainment venue, with seated terraces at the front on both sides of the stage, large screen, stands and a food court in the back. With a capacity of about 4,000, it's the ideal size - big enough to provide an immersive concert experience, yet intimate enough for every visitor to be able to see and hear the performer well, standing or seated.

The opening act, Poté, is a one-person show, somewhat in the image of James Blake, though live, musically he would fall closer to Bonobo. The 22-year-old Londoner is a fresh name on Resident Advisor, a polyvalent, and a capable live performer, handling beats, melodies, percussions, and vocals himself. The Blake reference comes from his tunes having a distinct haunting quality despite being beat-heavy.

Around 8.15 PM, the lights go out, though it's still early dusk. Bonobo comes on stage and positions himself between several mixers, while capacity crowd flocks in front of him. The show kicks of with "Migration" and a band of six emerges, among them keyboardist, drummer, guitarist, and a brass trio with trumpet, trombone, and saxophone. The sparse piano chords are an appropriate introduction for what on paper is supposed to be an ambient tune. However, the introductory melody does not progress, but rather stays in a manic plateau of repetition, until the drums and saxophone explode and the composition expansively comes into its own. It takes those two and a half minutes for Green and his band to expose and impose themselves as the versatile musicians they are, about to deliver a bombastic show.

"7th Sevens", another new track, is a shoutout to Burial, featuring several overlapping melodies and rhythms, gliding along wild percussions. The tone shifts gloriously once Szjerdene steps on stage. Bonobo's frequent vocal collaborator, responsible for many of the most memorable moments of his triumphant The North Borders tour several years ago, is pure magic to listen to. Barefooted, donning a plain, sleeveless salmon dress with a single set of frills just above the waist, she is an almost fairy-like presence, light in appearance but strong in delivery. She sings on "Towers", one of Bonobo's most glorious songs (off The North Borders), for which she provided the lyrics herself. The hypnotic, looping guitar provides a delicate backdrop for Szjerdene's quiet lament over a relationship gone wrong due to people growing apart, the melody taking the backseat during her luscious vocal delivery - until Green barges in on bass, that is, intensifying the rhythm and eliciting a singalong.

Photo: Ivan Selimbegovic

The show continues in an equally unpredictable fashion - the subdued but beat-heavy excerpts from Migration mix seamlessly with Bonobo's earlier, more visceral work. Green knows that live it is the faster, multilayered songs which work best, in no small part thanks to his outstanding band, who leave no melodic thread underperformed and almost no sound echoing on playback. "Cirrus" is always a sublime listening experience, a smooth, almost silky mosaic of percussions accompanying a xylophone loop. As with most tunes Bonobo performs live, this one also bursts into loudness without a crescendo, the slide bass enhancing its "space house" feel and prompting the crowds to dance. "Kong", a true masterpiece off of Black Sands and the highlight of most shows, here somewhat drowns its perky guitar with a more forceful beat, but the audience is elated and as responsive as ever. "Bambro Koyo Granda" and other Migration songs are also uniformly well-received, especially the upbeat single "Kerala", likely because of its movement-inducing quality.

For unknown reasons, the magnificent "Antenna", one of the best new songs, is left out. While "Black Sands" is sorely missed as a closer, the electric "Know You" is a fitting ending to the astounding 90-minute long display of musical diversity. Confetti erupts all over the place and the crowd bids a heartfelt goodbye to the producer extraordinaire. Luckily, the very next day it was announced that Bonobo will also be performing at Sziget on Thursday, August 9, so whoever missed seeing him live locally will have the chance to correct the mistake soon enough.

See Bonobo's remaining European tour dates on his official website.

Music


Books


Film


Recent
Film

Alastair Sim: A Very English Character Actor Genius

Alastair Sim belongs to those character actors sometimes accused of "hamming it up" because they work at such a high level of internal and external technique that they can't help standing out.

Music

Joe Hertler & the Rainbow Seekers Head "Underwater" in New Video (premiere)

Celebrating the first anniversary of Paper Castles, folksy poppers Joe Hertler & the Rainbow Seekers release an uplifting new video for opening track, "Underwater".

Music

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith's New LP Is Lacking in Songcraft but Rich in Texture

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith's The Mosaic of Transformation is a slightly uneven listen. It generally transcends the tropes of its genre, but occasionally substitutes substance for style.

Music

Buzzcocks' 1996 Album 'All Set' Sees the Veteran Band Stretching Out and Gaining Confidence

After the straightforward and workmanlike Trade Test Transmissions, Buzzcocks continued to hone their fresh identity in the studio, as exhibited on the All Set reissue contained on the new box-set Sell You Everything.

Books

Patrick Madden's 'Disparates' Makes Sense in These Crazy Times

There's no social distancing with Patrick Madden's hilarious Disparates. While reading these essays, you'll feel like he's in the room with you.

Music

Perfume Genius Purges Himself and It's Contagious

You need to care so much about your art to pack this much meaning into not only the words, but the tones that adorn and deliver them. Perfume Genius cares so much it hurts on Set My Heart on Fire Immediately.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Confinement and Escape: Emma Donoghue and E.L. Doctorow in Our Time of Self-Isolation

Emma Donoghue's Room and E.L. Doctorow's Homer & Langley define and confront life within limited space.

Books

Political Cartoonist Art Young Was an Aficionado of all Things Infernal

Fantagraphics' new edition of Inferno takes Art Young's original Depression-era critique to the Trump Whitehouse -- and then drags it all to Hell.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

OK Go's Emotional New Ballad, "All Together Now", Inspired by Singer's Bout with COVID-19

Damian Kulash, lead singer for OK Go discusses his recent bout with COVID-19, how it impacted his family, and the band's latest pop delight, "All Together Now", as part of our Love in the Time of Coronavirus series.

Books

The Rules Don't Apply to These Nonconformist Novelists

Ian Haydn Smith's succinct biographies in Cult Writers: 50 Nonconformist Novelists You Need to Know entice even seasoned bibliophiles.

Music

Siren Songs' Merideth Kaye Clark and Jenn Grinels Debut As a Folk Duo (album stream + interview)

Best friends and longtime musical collaborators Merideth Kaye Clark and Jenn Grinels team up as Siren Songs for the uplifting folk of their eponymous LP.

Music

Buzzcocks' 1993 Comeback 'Trade Test Transmissions' Showed Punk's Great Survivors' Consistency

PopMatters' appraisal of Buzzcocks continues with the band's proper comeback LP, Trade Test Transmissions, now reissued on Cherry Red Records' new box-set, Sell You Everything.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.