Live Review: Willow Beats + Stoney Road DJs + Ocean – Spectrum, Sydney (08.06.13)

A smoky room with damp blue lighting and black leather sofas doesn’t seem the ideal spot for a dance gig where the stickiest floor on Oxford St was home to the Willow Beats EP launch. But the venue was strangely cosy and, despite their niche work, it was a sold out show for Sydney.

Stoney Roads DJs warmed up the crowd with sing-a-long favourites. The set first channelling the venue’s retro aura with MJ into Dr Dre then Tame Impala and plenty of new Disclosure.Towards the end of the set the dance floor was packed, everyone was up and ready to witness Willow Beats live (who turned up on time).

Willow Beats kicked off their set with “Space Oddity”, off their first EP and quickly took over the stage with an eccentric loud show,, introduced by warped voiceover and otherworldly effects. In a live situation, Willow Beats are even more unconventional and create room to let loose and go wild.

Kalyani Ellis (vocals, songs, keys) enjoyed her role as front woman – following most songs she proffered much praise for her audience, crying “best show ever” and “I love you guys” – soaking up the vibe of the intimate tight gig or overwhelmed at the sold out space. She connected with the audience and a mellow venue such as Spectrum is the sort of place where the band hangs out at the bar beforehand.

The vocals were often swamped by the heavy production, but she managed to belt out her part. The smoother vocals tones on their new record became sharp, strident and experimental, adding in yelps and freestyle. The visuals were up for a few songs, abstract projections of colour and light, but did not play a major role.

Despite the tour centering on the newly released EP Alchemy, Willow Beats kept their fans happy and played most of their original Willow tracks. “Franky” was a family favourite and lured the last of the bar lingerers onto the dance floor. There was a fair balance of old and new – and a mix between high-energy tracks and the slower, more obscure productions such as the “Blue” and “Elemental”.

Narayana Johnson (beats, synth, production) took it upon himself to climb onto the speakers and flap his arms like a bird, swooping over the crowd hanging out to the drop. They rounded up the show with textured hypnotic track “Grom the Destroyer” and the crowd went ballistic. For a moment there Willow Beats almost became Willow Smith in a hair-whipping frenzy.

The cosy venue size eliminates the indifferent to create its own scene (never mind the mysterious black doors) but at the same time, it could be a mate’s house party. Willow Beats’ performance is as much about creating a space to share the beats as putting on the show itself. The stage was no barrier and the live aesthetics bring humanness to their music.