For his live performance at Queen Elizabeth Hall last Sunday, Djrum leant into the blissful and delicate sides to his greatly expansive sound.
As last summer drew to a close, it seemed like all we were getting from Djrum in 2019 was some consistently bonkers DJ sets, a standalone track on Om Unit’s Cosmology compilation and the odd remix or two. But he came storming back in September with ‘Hard To Say’ and ‘Tournesol’, a two-track 12” that found him coining a curveball genre: ambient gabber. Those expecting face-melters of a similar ilk may have left disappointed tonight, but Djrum’s delicate touch proves just as captivating.
Although boasting a recorded output that veers from jazz to techno to jungle and pretty much anything in between, tonight finds him leaning heavily on Portrait Of Firewood’s piano-led compositions, beefed up on stage by a cellist, live percussion, understated electronics and occasional vocals by the sublime Lola Empire. Djrum had spoken of his desire to bring the album to the stage if he could make it work in past interviews and, with a less is more approach, it appears he’s perfected the formula.
That’s not to say the soundscapes only stick to ambient territory. Breakbeats often bubble below the surface during fiercer moments and sumptuous tracks like ‘Sparrows’ are extended and bolstered by swirling electronics, reminiscent of a gripping film score. It’s the set’s subtleties, however, that live longer in the memory.
Each song starts sparsely, built on the foundation of gorgeous, meandering piano keys or mournful licks from the cello before loops and percussion entwine to create the album’s expansive high points. It’s difficult not to picture the creative process, as if you’re witnessing Djrum piecing together each element for the very first time, meticulously arranging the otherworldly echoes that puncture ‘Unblocked’ or the glitching climb of ‘Waters Rising’.
In the aftermath, despite most of the songs setting a melancholic tone, the overriding feeling is one of contented bliss. It’s meditative, contemplative and music to heal to all at once. Turns out Djrum’s quieter moments pack just as much of a punch as ambient gabber.