Sitting down in a pub to enjoy a varied range of music from lives acts would usually be interrupted by glib comments to friends, trips to the bar and a general distraction from other noises around you. The third installment of Southampton’s Charged night invited guests to become immersed in its performer’s sounds by only allowing you to listen to the music through headphones: a gimmick which nevertheless proved to be the perfect way to indulge in the many talents of the five acts at the Platform Tavern. Sitting cosily around tables with our headphones plugged into adaptors on tables with our own individual volume controls, it was an intimate yet extremely personal way of listening as a group.
First up were Brighton three-piece Restlesslist. Armed with two keyboards, a guitar and samplers it felt odd to be told to “put your headphones on” given the sight of a band in the corner of a pub ready to perform. A sweeping and measured first piece allowed us to settle into these strange surroundings and you realised that once the music had started it focused people’s attention to only their headphones and the acts on stage. The atmosphere can best be described as being sat on a commuter train with everyone listening to their ipods, yet the bands they are listening to are actually performing in front of them on the stage. Most people seemed entranced by the direct feed into their ears — much like said commuters on a train! After the warm up tune, Restlesslist launched into their demented fairground style of up-beat polka-ish fun which had heads bobbing and feet tapping. The publicans probably wondered what we could hear, but at least they could see the energy these boys were putting into their music. Definitely an act to see in their more comfortable, amplified setting, although they revelled in this setting too.
…including jungle and vocal clips mutilated out of recognition
Next up was A Lily, AKA James Vella, who took us on a dreamscape journey and provided the best example of how listening through headphones could provoke a myriad of different feelings for different people. His gentle ambiance, tentatively performed using guitar, accordion, soft vocals and a laptop, were a joy for the mind to explore. No one could have experienced it in the same way as you became immersed in the sound cushioned to your ear. Altogether more challenging was Winchester electronica man rude_NHS and his twisted, effects-filled jaunt. He forced fed our ears with a more aggressive style including jungle and vocal clips mutilated out of recognition. If the casual beer-swillers had heard this they probably would have called the (noise) police.
…another Charged Plugged could be just around the corner
Left Turn Only turned to their toys to sooth us back to reality, producing poignant themes and melodies accompanied by children’s electronic instruments. Free from a specific song structure they have a more organic method that brings a relaxed contemplation of their work as a whole. Again, the headphones brought us closer to the ideas behind the music than the casual amplification experience ever could. Finally, Ross Flight took to the stage on his return to Charged after an impressive debut at the event in March. A master of layering instruments, he was reaching his peak as acoustic and electric guitars, flute, samples and effects were brought in one by one to the joy of the listeners. Sadly a technical fault robbed us of the hugely anticipated pay-off and the magic was lost. The good news, however, is that another Charged Plugged could be just around the corner, and Ross Flight will get the chance to shine.
Despite the many curious, confused and mocking looks from outsiders, Charged proved that headphones gigs should not be the butt of ridicule. They are ideal in a warm and welcoming setting with the right styles of artist. Check one out if you can!