Nils Frahm Live at The Apollo, Hammersmith

Review by The Boy from That London 

From his base in Berlin, Nils Frahm is best known for his unusual combination of classical and electronic music, most often created via experimentation through a mix of pianos, synthesisers and drum machines. Frahm’s latest album, All Melody, recorded in his own studio built from scratch and released in February this year, has recently frequented the “Top 10” album lists for 2018 as published throughout UK print and digital media.

If one is to organise a vinyl shelf by oeuvre rather than alphabet, Frahm’s records would sit comfortably alongside the likes of Max Richter, Peter Broderick and Ólafur Arnolds. Indeed, he has collaborated on and released a number of works with the last-named.

Those not familiar with Frahm’s work may however aware of an annual celebration created by him: Piano Day. Observed on the 88th day of each year since 2015, the event has been embraced by the afore-reviewed organisers of Daylight Music. Frahm himself has previously performed on the Union Chapel stage as part of the Saturday afternoon sessions, something that has been recalled fondly by all involved.

This evening, however, my destination was the Apollo Theatre in Hammersmith. With an unusually early start time for headliners of London gigs, Frahm was scheduled to take to the stage at only 8.25pm. Support was to be provided by new wave electronic outfit Szun Waves; though the prospect of classical music being punctuated by loud stomach rumbles necessitated a large burger to be prioritised by this reviewer, not least for the sake of those who were to be seated within a few rows.

I need not have worried. From the opening moments of his set, Frahm manoeuvred himself energetically around a stage which, with a little more space could have become a museum of retro pianos and home-made instruments. Transitions were seamless between heavy bass riffs, gentle melodies and synthesised effects, which complemented each other when overlapping.

It is difficult not to be impressed by Frahm’s raw talent, often demonstrated as he played and even improvised on multiple instruments simultaneously. This is not simply a party trick, as without the coordination of a solo player, the complex rhythms and harmonies would have fallen apart and all excitement lost.

The well-paced set culminated in Says, introduced by the composer as “the song that took me up to this level of fame, even though I don’t see it as a song”. Championed by BBC Radio 6 Music’s Mary Anne Hobbs and various live versions featuring regularly within her playlists, this was understandably a crowd favourite.

Frahm briefly commented on the illusion of time and how this influences the traditional structure (or lack thereof) in his writing and performances. Indeed, the two-hour set flew by. Further, not one to waste a moment, Encores 1, 2, and 3 were performed after a break lasting all of seven seconds.

No solo performance I have seen has been more deserving of the standing ovation received. A dynamic and exciting performance that will not be forgotten quickly.

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