Live reviews

L.U.M.E (Lisbon) vs. LUME (London) at EFG LJF 2021

Lisbon Underground Music Ensemble, Purcell Room

LUME, Hundred Years Gallery

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(EFG London Jazz Festival.  14 / 16 November 2021. Live review by AJ Dehany)

The theory of thirty (*) is a phenomenon which, according to comedian Bethany Black, explains what happens when the size of an audience grows beyond thirty people. In terms of social psychology there is a de-individuation that occurs when a group of individuals turns into a crowd. She says she can even feel it online during her daily twitch shows. A little switch, a little change-up, and you’re no longer your self. So what is going on when a group is smaller, when it’s a group of, say, fifteen? 

The EFG London Jazz Festival is a social experiment of sorts, at a vast scale involving thousands of human lab rats offering experimental (but still how tentative) proof that an often maligned specialist music can metastasise into the biggest music festival on earth. 365 individual gigs over 10 days is a special kind of mania, or madness. On Sunday and Tuesday I put on a non-existent metaphorical white coat to explore the experimental difference between two different experimental music operations at two different scales: one a band of fifteen people in the sprawling Southbank Centre, the other involving an audience of fifteen people. I don’t mean to embarrass anyone, quite honestly the smaller venue wouldn’t even fit the big band in, let alone an audience beside.

Cath Roberts and Ruth Goller. Photo courtesy of LUME and previously published on Instagram

A specialised form of specialist music of a special kind, LUME is an uncategorizable experimental improvisation night in London organised by polymath saxophonists Cath Roberts and Dee Byrne. Since 2013 they have organised hundreds of events all over, originally at the sensationally named Hundred Crows Rising, of late at the Hundred Years Gallery, Hoxton’s beloved crucible of experimental sound art. The LUME nights also intersect with the BRÅK Improv nights in a beer shop in South London, which are specifically dedicated to duos (REVIEW).

LUME’s London Jazz Festival event on Tuesday involved free improvised music with the duo of Ruth Goller (electric bass) and Cath Roberts (baritone sax), the solo drums of Will Glaser, and a trio set from Oli Kuster (modular synth), Cyrill Ferrari (guitar+effects) and Dee Byrne (alto sax+effects) celebrating the release of their album ‘Motherboard Pinball’ (Efpi Records). The music drills down into the physicality of playing and listening. It was as impossible to deconstruct as ever. LUME is, as John Peel said of the Fall, “always different… always the same.”

L.UM.E. Ensemble, (Lisbon Underground Music Ensemble) in the Purcell Room. Phone snap by AJ Dehany

On the Sunday on the other side of town, a different L.U.M.E. brought a postmodern big-band sound to the overground in an expansive set exploring imaginative and musical scale. Lisbon Underground Music Ensemble is an experimental big band created and led by Marco Barroso. Over several albums they have explored an eye-watering range of styles. At the Purcell Room at the Southbank Centre, their zany Zornian stylistic jouissance could barely contain mad dashes of frantic cartoony caper music and noisy leg stompers. Exciting, original, and entertaining, L.U.M.E. pack a punch very different to the swing-era stereotype of most big bands: a more niche proposition perhaps.

It’s interesting. L.U.M.E. and LUME are both underdogs, but they bark very differently. L.U.M.E. has the support of the Portuguese Republic – Culture / Directorate-General for the Arts, but this was still their only performance to date in the UK, and they were only over for one night. It’s a big crew. LUME on the other hand is supported by almost nobody—well, the Arts Council a bit, and a handful of dedicated fans who believe that what  these musicians are doing is important. Maybe it’s the direct contact of artist-audience connection that firmly resists deindividuation, that places it at oceans’ remove from the ironed-out stadium rock faux universalisms that are often cited when the ‘value of the arts’ is expressed in the cold hard (albeit impressively bloated) figures of contribution to GDP.

Talk about a labour of love. Back in the day, LUME had a sitcom-esque comedic relationship with their hosts at the coffee shop Long White Cloud. They would pack out its limited size despite the nature of their work, yet somehow they disappointed the hosts who were expecting… what? Whenever politicians bulldoze a venue they say don’t worry we’ll put in a newer bigger one. But no-one wants that. As Frank Black pleaded when his people kept putting him on at venues too big for his cachet, all an artist wants is for the room to be full. While higher profile events can deindividuate to the point of emptiness, L.U.M.E. and LUME feel full to bursting.

AJ Dehany writes about music, art and stuff. 

LUME’s next London event is 10 DecemberLINK

(*) Nobody has ever actually used the term theory of thirty, I just made it up but the concept is real. I can’t find the  sources though, and admit my shortcomings as a sociologist…but do give Bethany Black a follow HERE

1 reply »

  1. Nice article. I was also at both of those and thoroughly enjoyed the bonkers avant-garde big band jazz of L.U.M.E. as well as the more low-key LUME night of improvised playing.

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