She Robot Assimilates the British

Images used with kind permission of

Gail Foster.

 

Summer Sunday afternoons in the beer garden of the British; it’s a Devizes thing, a ritual stretching back long before I anchored on these shores. Yet it’s unusual for an android to be found there. In all truth, if any kind of automaton did start socialising on the pub scene, the British Lion would probably be bottom of the list. There’s nothing modern or chic about this favoured watering hole, no ultramodern silver-plated décor, just a good bunch of humans, the odd canine, a happy atmosphere and casks of affordable drinks.

The name of this Devizes Arts Festival free fringe event somewhat misleading, I expected She-Robot to be mysteriously mechanical, and gregariously unresponsive, akin to a robot, even if it was to be that she wasn’t really a robot. I suspected weirdness, machinelike repartee, as the name suggests. Instead, Suzy Condrad is most definitely human, affable, humoured and inspired, wearing her heart on her sleeve regarding her art, and modest with her talent.

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Queen of the Boss loop station, this multi-instrumentalist, one-woman band interlaces, effects and autoharp, glockenspiel, thumb piano and random objects to produce a unique sound, reflecting synth-pop and electro of yore, yet with a twist of contemporary ambient house like a strong bassline, and perhaps most poignant, her echoing voice and beatboxing.

She Robots hails from Bristol, her loose, avant-garde repertories remind me of Portishead, least the Bristol techno downtempo scene, to an extent, yet it’s more inimitable and individual. Captivating the audience to silence as she glides through her own compositions, and discretely reassigned covers like Kate Bush’s Running up that Hill, and one I virtually missed the source of through her own take, KRS-1’s Sound of the Police.

So yep, there’s something unquestionably electro-80s about Suzy, archiving influences I suspect from Depeche Mode, Joy Division and Yazoo, to perhaps the Art of Noise. Yet, here’s the thing, the style, the namesake gave me this preconception it’d be Kraftwerk-stiff and structured, Art of Nose secretive, but the sound flowed stunningly, ambiently and she spoke with poise and ease during prolonged breaks as she aligned her technology and instruments to perfection; far more down-to-earth than your typical robot.

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She jested, with accounts of previous gigs, such as excusing malfunctions in her loop-pedal as mud from a festival, or recounting an amusing episode gigging in Camden where the sound of an ambulance siren got caught in the loop-pedal. See, robots don’t do that, they cannot articulate socially, joke and frantically dance like a raver, with all the joy of presenting her music unto us, and that, was the most appealing part of She-Robot’s show.

So, I could argue her one-woman-band was not the master of a particular instrument, more so, the skill is the precise timing, using that loop-pedal like an instrument all of its own. I pondered what atrocity of unorganised clamour I’d create given half a turn on the thing! Yet to turn away, you’d be forgiven for thinking there was a full band up there.

Aptly, and prior to her encore, Suzy finished on Blue Monday, pure and effective nod to her principle influences, and doubtlessly as it’s an irresistible foot-tapper. But along with her genial charisma, and immense skill, it was the individuality which allured me, and her use of the ukulele, in particular, to bless the otherwise electro-synth pop sound with a reggae skank; trust me to pick up on that!

If I was informed in the past, the free fringe events of Devizes Arts Festival often failed to attract attention, it was not the case here. I hope I’m getting through those who may wear this out-of-date typecast of what the Arts Festival is about, because let’s not name and shame, I’ll admit I was once like you, but now I’ve seen the light.

 

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