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Review / GoGo Penguin @ SWX

Will Snelling reviews GOGO Penguin at their sold out show at SWX

By Will Snelling, Second Year, English

Will Snelling reviews GoGo Penguin at their sold out show at SWX

Intensity channeled effectively in music is hard to find. It often ends up flattened out of alternative music that finds itself reaching the mainstream. Extreme adequate-ness rises to the top (I’m looking at you, Tom Misch, the Mumford and Sons of jazz), while more interesting acts are left to languish in obscurity. Easy listening can be wonderful, but most of the time music ought to jolt you awake rather than lull you to sleep.

This is why it’s exciting that GoGo Penguin have found an audience; they sold out SWX when I saw them earlier this month. The trio do controlled intensity very well; they seem to push themselves to the brink on stage, until it looks like everything might collapse, but it doesn’t. It’s a thrilling balancing act to behold. ‘One Percent’, a cut from their second album, is a prime example from their setlist; its dark, lurching piano chords almost sound sampled from Radiohead’s ‘Pyramid Song’, but GoGo Penguin do something very different with that progression, dialling up the dread and tension as the track progresses, the jittery drums and bass in a state of constant movement behind the anxiety-laden piano. It builds and builds, but rather than crashing indulgently to a close, it concludes in a surprising way: at the song’s climax, the trio begin to imitate a skipping CD, jerkily stopping and starting with almost unnerving accuracy and coordination. It’s a feat you need to see to believe.

The set has other moments of euphoric intensity, like the dissonant crescendo of ‘Murumation’ which satisfyingly drops out suddenly to hushed piano at its close, or the urgent ‘Transient State’, its hypnotic, looping piano hook almost tricking you into thinking you’re listening to an electronic club banger. These songs push the trio to their limits, the threat of implosion just barely kept below the surface, and it’s exhilarating to watch. It rarely becomes too much: solos are rare and and contribute to the song rather than acting as excuses to show off; for example, bassist Nick uses sliding techniques which coax out unexpected voice-like beauty from his instrument.

GoGo Penguin can do restraint, too, like on the gorgeous 'Hopopono'. I almost wish they might try more in that track’s vein; they have clearly mastered the frenetic intensity that works so well live, and it would be interesting to see them write more under that gentler guise, where the musical pyrotechnics are momentarily held back and melody can take centre stage. Ultimately, however, it is hard to complain about such an unpredictable, high-voltage set. I would see GoGo Penguin again in a heartbeat.

Featured Image: GoGo Penguin/ GoGo Penguin

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