I like surprises. The very act of catching you off-guard can make an experience more potent; more memorable. On arriving at the O2 Academy in Oxford in the hope of seeing Little Dragon - after dull bus journey, a 20 minute queue for tickets and several arguments with a cash machine - a surprise is just what I received. Half an hour in of alcohol consumption and discussion on the fact that choosing not to wear thick-rimmed glasses, ear tunnels and a cardigan actually placed you in the minority, someone quietly slipped up to the small array of equipment on the stage. Later, I’d learn that she went by the name of Holy Other. Now I’m not supposed to know her gender, she’s one of a breed of artists who prefer to let the music speak for itself, but based on my fine tuned knowledge of forearms (the rest of her body was cloaked in a black hoody reminiscent of the Nazgul from The Lord of the Rings), posture and how different genders use smileys on Facebook, it was kind of obvious. Take that as an exclusive: you heard it here first.
In the end though, none of this matters. What does matter is that the music swelling out of those speakers was absolutely sublime. It began with bass so thick it seemed to pour out onto the crowd, pulsing hypnotically as those caught up in it swayed without noticing. Echoing percussion and fragmented vocal samples peppered this tide of sub-bass, inviting comparisons of Burial and similar connoisseurs of low frequencies. Minimalist yet engulfing, those open to it - and there were a surprising amount considering that it was primarily a Little Dragon gig - could hardly contain themselves. In short: Holy Other was damn good.
Now it wouldn’t often be customary to begin a live review for a band by declaring your undying love for the support act, but in this case it had a huge effect on Little Dragon’s performance. See, in comparison Little Dragon’s mixture of synthpop, indie and soul came across as rather bland. The bloated quartet (they’ve begun dragging round an old band member when they’re on tour) certainly showed their worth on stage, though nonetheless their performance settled just shy of the bar set by Holy Other. The set took a while to get going, with the band choosing to stick to the material on their most recent album (Ritual Union), but by the time the single of the same name rolled around the crowd of curious students was well and truly won over. Smooth rhythms, ripe layering and the liberal use of cow-bells had a lot to do in steadily coaxing the crowd out of the mood set by Holy Other; begging the question as to why they chose a support act with a vastly different tone in the first place. With choosing to play their most recent material, however, they shied away from the slightly less catchy but more organic tone of Little Dragon and Machine Dreams. A move that I would personally have avoided. Equally confusing was the decision to leave the best song off Ritual Union, "Little Man", to the encore.
These small issues were invariably forgotten as soon as the first few chords of "Twice" chimed in; and it’s amazing that a single song can immediately make you fall in love with a band. This swan song is arguable the best single of the past 5 years, effortlessly captivating the crowd with its steady rise of piano and string synths. Beautifully understated, it’s tragic that it sets itself so high above Little Dragon’s other efforts, and a set full of songs of that caliber would be truly unforgettable. As it is, a lot of Little Dragon’s back-catalogue settled into the role of acting as intermissions between the fan favourites. Creating a pleasant, if only disappointingly short of great, performance.
Both Little Dragon and Holy Other are currently touring venues in the UK. For more details, see their Facebook pages below.