Live Review: Roosevelt with Ela Minus at U Street Music Hall, Washington, DC – 3rd June 2017

By on Tuesday, 6th June 2017 at 2:00 pm

Having two great gigs to go to in one night is a good problem to have. Last Saturday, I was able to see Blossoms at relatively new venue Songbyrd Music House in Adams Morgan before jetting back to the U Street corridor. I wanted to catch electronic man of the moment Roosevelt and his band at U Street Music Hall at a late night show. I missed him play DC9 last autumn (long story) and was ever so pleased he was making a return to Washington. Funnily enough, I found out from Blossoms’ frontman Tom Ogden earlier that night that they’d met the Cologne artist at Governor’s Ball in New York the day before, and they knew of him because he’d remixed one of their songs (‘Getaway’). Small world.

Ela Minus is electronic artist and producer Gabriela Jimeno, born in Colombia but now living in Brooklyn. In a black tank top and leggings, she looked relaxed, as if she was about to go to the gym. (Turns out this wasn’t just for fashion, as she got quite a workout on stage and in the crowd, bopping along.) However, the words on her tank top told another story: “Young | Latin | & | Proud”. In these less than enlightened times, the phrase was not so subtle poke at our Commander-in-Chief and his cronies who would love nothing more than to divide us. On pink gaffa tape and in black Sharpie, her mixing desk proclaimed, “bright music for dark times”, which was in strange, almost too perfect synchronicity to the power of popular music Ogden and I had agreed about, how important it is for musicians to keep pushing on and making music for the masses to enjoy during these difficult days. Life might get you down, but it’s been to the credit of dance music to give us the excuse to dance like no one’s watching, sticking it to anyone who dares to silence us.

Ela Minus at U Street Music Hall, 3 June 2017

Both Roosevelt and Ela Minus’ music is the perfect medium to facilitate all of that. As a drummer in a former life, the percussive nature of Ela Minus’ sounds feels well done, not for showmanship but for artistic sake. On record, this provides refreshing contrast to the female electropop artists Jimeno is inevitably compared to Lauren Mayberry of CHVRCHES and Grimes, thanks to her self-described “(apparently unavoidable) childish voice”. Jimeno’s soundscapes will appeal to the more purist electroheads like myself who didn’t fancy ‘Art Angels’. There’s a childlike innocence to some of her music, too: the bounce of synth notes sounding crisp and fresh is so different from the overblown dance pop productions that make the charts these days. Every Ela Minus show is different, as Jimeno explained in a Red Bull Music Academy interview recently, “I basically plug this [all] in, push play and have fun”.

Ela Minus at U Street Music Hall, 3 June 2017

Those not familiar with electronic music have this impression that these artists’ live performances is boring and buttoned up. I mean, how exciting can a person stood over a laptop for an entire set be? Until you have watched one of these masters at work, fully interfacing with all their gear – invariably a full tabletop of synths, keyboards, drum machines and sequencers with a dizzying array of buttons, switches and dials – you would never know how wrong this assumption is. Gone are the days of artists being tied down to their tables: they prowl around the stage and jump down on the floor to be with their fans. Jimeno, feeding off the sold out crowd’s energy at U Hall, grinned from ear to ear each time she cued up a new number from her “magic suitcase of synthesisers”. Have a listen to ‘Juan Sant’, a track she released earlier this year.

It’s not often I’m in a venue and think I’m going to witness a riot. However, Roosevelt, the stage name of Marius Lauber, this evening with his band in tow, was this close to causing one, taking the stage over 45 minutes later than scheduled. The more restless gig-goers left in frustration, I guess in search of a party elsewhere; others wondered what was wrong, fearing the worst (incapacitated/drunk band members). However, those who persevered found the group were well worth the wait. Lauber and his crew were all dressed in white down to their trainers, in what appears to be the Roosevelt uniform. My guess is that this is emblematic that the colours of the music should be allowed to speak for themselves, with minimal focus being given to how the players look. It’s a bold statement, especially considering the twenty-something Lauber could easily be a bedroom pinup, with plenty of female admirers in the crowd.

group photo of Roosevelt at U Street Music Hall, 3 June 2017

The high octane set that never really let up mixed the old and new, with Lauber’s earlier days as Roosevelt in ‘Elliot’ having aged well when played alongside numbers from his Balearic beat-driven eponymous debut for Greco-Roman last summer. Another older song, ‘Montreal’, shows Lauber’s flair early on for commandeering disco beats and reining them in for a sophisticated result. The downtown funk of ‘Night Moves’ from ‘Roosevelt’ is a natural evolution from there, pulling you in with its infectiousness.

The lightness of the synth bounce on mid-tempo hit ‘Fever’ was satisfyingly effortless live. The single is currently being used regionally in a tv advert for Hershey Park, no doubt for its hedonistic summer vibe. ‘Belong’ was another live triumph, the driving ‘80s vibe steady and strong. An unexpected treat came in the form of LP ender ‘Close’, the first of two songs of the encore. Performing alone, the slow jam served as a reminder that Lauber is the mastermind of Roosevelt, expertly turning dials and pressing buttons and not rattled by the fact that a full house was watching him. He might not have envisioned Roosevelt becoming a live act, but the horse is already out of the barn as us, the electronic music listening public, are all the better for it. It might take some time for his second album to surface, but we’ll be here. Catch up on all of TGTF’s past coverage on Roosevelt through here.

Roosevelt at U Street Music Hall, 3 June 2017

After the cut: Roosevelt’s set list.

Roosevelt’s Set List:
Wake Up
Colours (extended version)
Moving On
Holding On
Night Moves

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF was edited by Mary Chang, based in Washington, DC.

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