18 Jul Saatsuma ‘Floating’ Single & Video Launch, Live at The Toff in Town (9/7/16)
Saatsuma are a Melbourne-based collaboration between Memphis Kelly, Cesar Rodrigues and Joel Ma on the recording side, but the group transforms for the live shows to a five piece — Cesar and Memphis perform, along with Maddy Kelly (sister to Memphis), Andrew Congues and Lachlan Stuckey. With support from Eilish Gilligan and OCDANTAR, they put on a beautiful night of electronic music at The Toff in Town to celebrate the launch of their sublime video for ‘Floating’. Dream Kit (Declan Kelly), sometime collaborator with Saatsuma and brother to Memphis and Maddy, provided solid vibes throughout the night DJing in between the acts.
Singer/songwriter Eilish Gilligan and her live band (consisting of Max Dowling and Lewis Coleman) had just started when I arrived, and were firmly setting the scene for a night of ambient synth and rich dance tracks. Gilligan’s emotive lyrics and vulnerable performance style created an intimate atmosphere immediately for people walking through the door, drawing people in with her powerful vocals. The earlier songs in her set tended towards a similar structure and sound, and while they were engaging her real strength as an artist came through in the final two songs. She played her beautiful single ‘All the Time’ second to last and it was the standout, captivating the crowd with haunting lyrics and sparse beats. Her last song, which is new, was less beat heavy and was exciting to see as a signpost for how her sound might expand to add more variation to her catalogue.
During Gilligan’s performance there were moments of slightly overzealous lighting, particularly the incidence of a brief green strobe breaking the spell she had over the audience for a minute to give way for laughter from crowd and band alike. Unfortunately the distraction from the lighting continued into the start of OCDANTAR (Joshua Delaney), before calming to give the artist space on stage. It was great to see someone trying interesting effects, particularly at the Toff which hasn’t always had the setup to do so, however it was overbearing at times.
OCDANTAR started ethereal, with minimal vocals and then ebbed and flowed impressively through deeper bass without losing momentum. He played a cohesive set and made excellent use of samples, both of his own voice and others. I would love to see him headline, because although there were a few people keeping the dancefloor going it seemed like people took his set as a chance to have a dance break and enjoy his music from afar and he was in turn less engaged with the crowd.
People were still taking advantage of the break in music to get in drinks and cigarettes when the screening of the video began, slightly ahead of schedule. It’s a beautiful film clip, with minimal action and a focus on choreography and movement which reflects the push and pull of insomnia explored in the lyrics of ‘Floating’. The video was projected onto the back of the stage, and would have benefitted from a more dramatic setting with lower lights so the crowd could see the indigo colouring more accurately.
After the curtains closed on the stage, Dream Kit started playing tunes again and the crowd jostled into position, ready for Saatsuma to play. The atmosphere shifted from cheerful anticipation to a bit antsy, as the wait between the video and their set was just slightly too long to hold the excitement over from the screening of the video. Nonetheless everyone was there to see them, and when they took to the stage all was forgiven.
Occasionally electronic acts seem awkward or lacking in a live set, as they can struggle to find a way to translate sample and effect heavy tunes to the stage. Saatsuma beautifully navigate this, with an altered lineup for the stage and a real depth in their live performance. Memphis Kelly is a captivating front-woman and the addition of live drums and Maddy Kelly on backup vocals give richness to both their sound and performance live, keeping the live show interesting and something special. The lighting for the rest of the night made more sense now, as the changes and intensity were used to incredibly good effect to draw focus back to Memphis where needed, and not overwhelming while there were more people on stage, though still occasionally clunky in parts.
Their set peaked beautifully towards the end, playing their first single ‘Storm’ which got the crowd dancing and then new song, ‘Breathless’, which was a satisfying change and a good choice for between their two best known songs. ‘Floating’ was of course their closer, and exemplified the mood change from their recorded songs to live in a beautiful way. There was a lot of love in the room, the band clearly impressed with the majority of crowd singing along and all of the crowd dancing. Vocals start dominating at the end of the song, music fading for Memphis’s voice to ring out over the crowd sans accompaniment, with a split second break as though the crowd were awed into silence before many cheers and fierce applause.
As soon as the red velvet curtains closed, Dream Kit began playing again to a satisfied crowd. Saatsuma and supports put on a sweet night, and it’s exciting to see them developing a breed of electronic music which is danceable without sacrificing feeling and emotion.