Fresh from the release of their Water EP, uncle-niece duo Willow Beats kicked off the supporting tour at Melbourne’s Toff In Town. The pair posted to their Facebook page earlier that week about the exciting visuals they were working on for the show, a small teaser of what was to come. Fans would not simply be treated to a lushly intricate sonic experience, but an intense visual one too. Warming the crowd up for the experience was Adelaide producer Oisima.
Producing a mixture of hip-hop infused ambient beats, Oisima certainly created the right vibe. Each different combination of sounds was more intriguing than the last. He wasn’t shy in the use of sampling, remixing artists like Ta-ku and Oliver Tank that were cleverly woven in amongst his shimmering beats. However, he never seemed to have the crowd’s full attention. Perhaps they were only focussed on the main event, or worse yet, many punters were yet to arrive. Despite the lack of audience attention, Oisima’s performance was energetic and he espoused a certain happiness into the crowd with a grin that never left his face.
Kalyani Ellis and Narayana Johnson have concocted a winning combination – her angelic voice fits perfectly into his intricate soundscapes. Willow Beats took to the stage ready to release this supreme combination onto the crowd. It seemed an unlikely arena for them to present their craft; a small, black, dingy-looking room. For a pair so in touch with the world around them and so connected to the elements it seemed like they’d feel more at home playing outside in a garden barefoot. Johnson himself was even adorned in a flower head-crown. Unfortunately, The Toff would have to do for now.
Midway through the set came the track that launched them into the Melbourne musical periphery, ‘Merewif’, accompanied by a backdrop of almost apocalyptic proportions featuring volcanoes erupting into the sky. While at times the heavily layered production nearly swallowed the vocals, it was not so during this rendition. ‘Merewif’ was all about Ellis’ clear and choir-like voice that bounced around the room.
The visuals were perfectly and quite cleverly interlaced into the set. ‘Alchemy’, from their previous EP of the same title, was paired with graphics of chemical reactions. Being one of their more upbeat and bass-heavy tracks, it certainly stirred the crowd into a frenzy of dancing. While the imagery and aural elements blended and communicated with one another effortlessly, something that the performance lacked was a connection between Willow Beats and the crowd.
Whether it was due to shyness or they simply felt like getting on with the show, crowd communication was kept to an extreme minimum. In fact it, was almost non-existent. This made it all too obvious that the crowd were in every way separate from the two musicians onstage. In many ways the obscure collection of samples and sounds, like running water, worked in among the textured production, spoke for itself, but often their performance lacked that necessary level of humanness. The crowd, while feverishly dancing and laughing, did not seem emotionally connected to the neither Ellis nor Johnson.
Bringing the set to a close was the enigmatic, slow build of ‘Chess’ and the perfect high to go out on. Its rapid mixture of frenetic xylophone-like strokes was combined with some bizarre David Attenborough footage; the beats created by Johnson energising and pulsating through the crowd. If Willow Beats’ aim was to get everyone in the room moving, then they certainly achieved this feat – albeit, at the expense of any emotional connection. The duo is certainly capable of captivating a room with their elaborate and unusual sonic creations; however, alas, their live performance still lacks that much-needed level of human interaction.