Words by Abby Kearney
In the hour before Siinai performed at Soup Kitchen I was at work, in a bar which is harshly lit and extensively carpeted and generally smells of bleach and stale beer. For that hour, my boss was angry. He had noticed I hadn’t used a ‘work core phrase’. A ‘core phrase’ is something like ‘Hey guys/girls, ever heard of Corrs? It’s quite light and refreshing!’ which, according to the bar training manual, lets the customer know you find them ‘interesting’. And I hadn’t sold any Privilege cards, which are subtly disadvantageous for the prospective owner and probably a form of market surveillance. I was told off and when I left to see Siinai I was in a bad mood I thought unshakeable.
Siinai are a Finnish group. Their music has been labelled neo-Kraut-rock, but this is more an easy moniker for critics to use than actually expressive of their sound, which is a kind of Vangelis tinged post-rock, if imaginable. Their first album ‘Olympic Games’ is a rousing, expansive, sonic epic meant to mimic toil and triumph, as in sport, or ‘life’. The second is concept album, ‘Supermarket’. In this, the band recreate the numbing experience of a supermarket visit through monotonous, repetitious synth and bass work, till noises and droning vocals.
At nine precisely Siinai take to the stage. There are around fifteen people in the audience, all conscious of the floor’s empty space and imperceptibly but surely moving away from the stage into the back wall shadows. After a brief time tuning Siinai begin.
I’ve often been suspicious of people who cry at gigs (unless the music is legitimately connected to, or evocative of, a ‘bad’ of ‘good’ personal event) but tonight, on some level, I understand. Because Siinai’s set is transcendental. It is ‘the affective power of art’, music as religious experience.
Siinai play from both albums, but merge the pieces into a sublime uninterrupted stream of noise. Certain parts are distinctive. The stirring climb and roaring, uplifting climax of ‘Anthem’, the drilling bass of hypnotic ‘Shopping Trance’. But it is the cumulative impact that is important. It lures you in, it is trance-inducing, immersive.
The group build from minimalist synth playing and quiet rhythmic drumming, with everything very delicate, neat and deliberate, through sprawling, meandering psych, to an increasingly urgent, electric, mad crescendo. At which point, the two drummers play standing, heads thrown back, sweat flying, and the bass is madly attacked. When everything threatens to break into chaos, they bring it back from the brink. It dissipates into calm, with the soft clang of a spun triangle.
Throughout, Siinai manipulate sound. Microphones are moved about and inside the drum set. A trumpet is played, sometimes maracas, an upturned cymbal beaten, and in more meditative moments, the triangle. It is highly textured, tight, ambitious and painstakingly performed. The audience is still and unblinking.
After the show, I immediately bought ‘Supermarket’, hoping that by listening I could conjure some vestige of the performance. I couldn’t; somehow even the LP felt insufficient. Thus, this review can only be entirely deficient in describing how incredible the Siinai live experience is. They are next playing in Estonia and the price of a ticket to Tallinn to see them live is seriously well worth it.