Live Review: Until the Ribbon Breaks with Flash Frequency at Black Cat Backstage, Washington, DC – 11th June 2015

By on Monday, 15th June 2015 at 2:00 pm

Bands, I am imploring you now: if you can get the attention of a like-minded, like-sounding band and they offer you a support slot in America, take it. While the power of the internet and word of mouth are no doubt important, spreading your music far and wide to captive audiences who may never have heard of you otherwise, night after night, can’t be stressed enough. Why? Because you are going to gain new fans this way. Trust me on this one.

I’m pretty sure Thursday night last week, I witnessed the phenomenon firsthand seeing Until the Ribbon Breaks, the live band experience based on Pete Lawrie-Winfield’s electronic-driven, soulful sonic creations, play their first headline show in Washington. Lawrie-Winfield released his debut album ‘A Lesson Unlearnt’ in late January, right around the time he and band members James Gordon and Elliot Wall were supporting London Grammar on a North American tour. Several people in attendance in DC said to the band after the gig that they were mesmerised with Until the Ribbon Break’s opening set at the 9:30 and were intrigued enough to investigate the band more. However it happens, don’t question it. It’s all good. (It also helped that ‘A Lesson Unlearnt’ was also featured as a First Listen on NPR and the band were also invited into NPR’s hallowed halls for a Tiny Desk concert, which is worth watching if you have a moment.)

I don’t know a lot about Flash Frequency, the opener for the evening. He goes by the mysterious name K.Chambers, and he’s clearly an electronic musician and DJ kind of guy. His Bandcamp says he’s from Texas (the San Antonio / Dallas area) but now makes DC his home, and the music listed on said Bandcamp are tagged with ambient, electronic, hip hop, and psychedelic genres. Beyond that, I thought I’d let the music speak for itself and see if I’d like it in person. As I discussed with beGun, East India Youth and Rival Consoles at SXSW 2015, there is recognition among electronic artists to make your live experience as dynamic and interesting for your audience as possible. A man wearing a tropical print wife-beater and a trucker hat isn’t your usual electronic artiste uniform, so I knew this was going to be…a little different.

I think the tropical print was supposed to tie into the bird calls and sweeping loops of Flash Frequency’s most recent releases on Bandcamp, the trilogy of ‘NON FICTION I’, ‘NON FICTION II’ and ‘NON FICTION III’. There is a definite artistry to dance music: when in the song to lay down the beats, do you continue them or not, when and how do you introduce the drop, etc. Then there’s the question of whether to seamlessly segue one track into another so you have, essentially, something like a new organism that’s been created solely for the purpose of entertaining that one audience on that one night.

Not knowing the titles of everything K.Chambers played and seeing that he is of the ‘segue one track into another and again’ school of thought, I can’t name any song titles, but what I can say is that the percussive and ambient elements of his music worked really well. Actually, the lack of vocals actually allowed me to focus more on the beats than probably would have happened if his mike hadn’t malfunctioned. Nice one, Flash Frequency.

Lawrie-Winfield’s chosen style of music as Until the Ribbon Breaks appealed to me the second I queued up an early song of his, ‘2025’, when preparing for SXSW 2014. It seemed rather apt, then, that this was the song he chose to begin his first-ever headline set in the Nation’s Capital. The song’s lyrics have a cynical bent, but they’re also highly relatable when you consider we all question both the meaning of life and the meaning of our love for another (“Could you tell me when we fall in love? / Or just write it down / Let me know if you find my feelings / Just if you see them around”).

What Lawrie-Winfield sings about isn’t sugar-coated. There are no rose-coloured glasses. These personal reflections are real, and you can feel those emotions. ‘Orca’, a song about “the finality of death, no one is above it” personal to him, was majestic as it oozed with emotions, wrapped up in a slow jam. This one, along with several others in the set, were accompanied by film clips running off a projector onto a screen at the back of the stage, adding another element of interest to their performance.

As does Lawrie-Winfield’s playing of a trumpet at times during the gig. I mean, come on now. How often have you seen a trumpet being played at a electronic concert? When there weren’t, like, a band a whole horn section onstage? When we talk about increasing production values for electronic artists, Until the Ribbon Breaks should be up pretty high on the list of the best, considering they’ve only just started their career ascent. He ended the gorgeously expansive ‘Back to the Stars’ with a trumpet solo, gasping for air at the end. Lawrie-Winfield quipped, “I try and take that song as close to fainting as I can. That was one of the good ones!” Punters laughed and cheered at the remark.

That was the way this show went. The audience was respectful but also laughed at and enjoyed his self-deprecating remarks. Even better, many of the punters sang along – loudly – to the vocals, indicating heavy studying and delight of ‘A Lesson Unlearnt’ ahead of this show. The style of music Until the Ribbon Breaks is famous for is a heady blend of electronic, hip hop and urban pop, bolstered by the hypnotising beats and Lawrie-Winfield’s own sultry vocals. On a track like hit ‘A Taste of Silver’, the sleaze factor is turned up just enough for the full sexiness to be felt, but not so much that it’s uncomfortable. I think some dance music purveyors forget that hey, you know what, women like to be adored and they like to feel sexy, so we’re going to buy music that makes us feel that way. I’m just doling out industry hints, one by one for free today, aren’t I? Ha.

‘Perspective’, another track that caught my attention in my early research in Until the Ribbon Breaks, is another winner in the band’s arsenal. I have no idea why this song isn’t on heavy rotation on all top 40 stations yet. America, Britain, can we fix that please? (The lyrics are really thought-provoking too – how does “Oh no, the road to Damascus is closed for repair / Life is still a ball Cinderella, you can see it everywhere / Nobody ever really dies no, I’m not a medicine man / I don’t believe in heaven, I do believe in holograms” strike you?) ‘Pressure’ is an interesting proposition live, as it’s presented as if it’s the two sides of a coin. First, you get Lawrie-Winfield’s husky vocals, in a softer, contemplative, singer/songwriter-y approach that turns out to be more like the style of the band he tried for success with before going off on his own to UTRB. Then the head bop-inducing beats and scream effects from the recorded version start up, and it sounds more familiar. In some moments, all three band members are bashing away at drums and pads, and everything comes together in a commanding moment of climax.

People sometimes ask me why I don’t like singer/songwriter types. I explain it this way: a bloke sat on a stool with nothing but an acoustic guitar is going to have to do a hell of a lot to entertain me. Until the Ribbon Breaks aren’t an electronic band tied down to their laptops, sequencers or drum pads: these things expand on the live experience and make the show that more dynamic. And if I can choose the physicality of electronic music in how it’s made, coupled with true emotional content, I will take it over a bog standard singer/songwriter any day.

After the cut: Until the Ribbon Breaks’ set list. Stay tuned for my interview with Pete Lawrie-Winfield coming up here tomorrow on TGTF.

Until the Ribbon Breaks’ Set List:
Back to the Stars
A Taste of Silver
The Other Ones
Revolution Indifference
Until the Ribbon Breaks

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