Beatrice Dillon’s latest album explores her interest in control through machines, her show last week showed how this can be done with humanity.
Although Dillon’s latest album Workaround was released a month ago, the event last week (March 7) felt like a personal launch as it took place in Somerset House, where she is a resident artist. The event offered a glimpse into the panoply of artists who collaborated on the album, which range from techno producer Batu to kora artist Kadialy Kouyate, whose samples Dillon bound into her tracks.
On entering, the room was somewhere between a massage parlour and an ayahuasca ritual. Bathed in a tangerine light and the scent of essential oils, the black-clad audience sat politely on the floor to the dubby sound of TTB.
After half an hour, the lights dimmed and a spinning wheel reminiscent of computer delays was projected between two white pillars. With a quiet smile, Kuljit Bhamra introduced the evening with a dexterous performance that saw him range across several sets of Indian drums – tablas – and cymbals, while somehow looping segments of his music simultaneously.
As a key artist on Dillon’s “Clouds Strum” track, Bhamra represented the crowd of other artists heard on the album. The deep staccato of the tablas was an apt aperitif for structured space in Workaround, while the meditative feel of his half-hour show was at once complimented and offset by the winking graphic behind him, a nod perhaps to Dillon’s use of machines.
The last time I had been in the vaulted neoclassical room was for a partnership between Dillon and visual artist Haroon Mirza in a performance examining the street outside Somerset House, which also explored the combination of reflective music with gentle yet mechanical visuals.
After another 30-minute break – the evening had a luxurious pace one step away from lethargic – Dillon finally stepped up. Her distinctive silhouette was black against a backdrop of a single coloured square, itself bold as a Mark Rothko painting, her laptop somehow shedding no light.
She launched into the set with a few percussive jabs, brisk as a knife. The audience were on their feet by this time, shuffling and head-nodding, unsure whether they should dance – despite the album pace averaging at 150 bpm.
The abiding impression from the opening was of airy beats in space, with a cushion of bass that sounded much richer on speakers than on headphones. The crowd warmed as Dillon skipped between the intricate tracks of Workaround, which teeter at times on the brink of techno, ambient and dubstep.
Dillon occasionally injected a heavy dose of distortion to whoops from the crowd then cut the music for a breath, her creative shaping of silence and vibrations having an unexpected but vitalising impact.
As she rolled into the glittering shards of ‘Workaround Eight’, a slight commotion in the centre of the crowd parted a circle. Movement artist Eve Stainton and a partner performed a dance with echoes of bird mating rituals – mirroring each other’s movements – ending with a hand on the other’s brow.
The dance helped to place an unusual genre-defying electronic album that manages to be both fierce and compassionate.