Since the advent of pop music, genres and subgenres have branched out as styles evolve and progress. Some are a natural reaction to the changing world, others are direct consequence to the current zeitgeist. While some subgenres have been able to gain some modicum of recognition and mainstream appeal, others have remained somewhat maligned over the years – one such label is slowcore. Starting in the late 1980s, slowcore is a stripped-back, dreamlike guitar pop acting simultaneously as the antithesis of grunge and an inversion of shoegaze, taking anger and aggression away completely, leaving behind quiet, gentle, glacially slow yet emotionally intense music. Slowcore was not a genre that was built to last, but it has made a lasting impression, as the likes of Red House Painters could be considered an early version of post-rock, while a line can be drawn from Codeine through to Sunny Day Real Estate, and the early 2000s emo rock scene. One of the pioneers of slowcore were New York trio Galaxie 500, who were able to craft three albums using 5 chords, in their words “The Velvet Underground at half-speed”. Following their breakup in the early 1990s, Damon Krukowski and Naomi Yang have continued to collaborate and tonight, in this intimate setting, is a perfect backdrop to their sound.
Support is courtesy of ‘experimental’ guitarist dbh. Daniel Bridgwood-Hill is an absolute master of the guitar, with the ability to enrapture the entire Night & Day Cafe in the space of mere seconds, the building gradually growing silent as dbh’s mesmerising Orpheus-like set begins, gently cascading and slowly building up in technical prowess with melodies skirting into each other. Barely saying a word or even looking up, dbh has the entire room entranced, with an incredible range of finger-picking, scales and tunings reminiscent of classical Spanish music, very vivid and full of emotion. While labelling himself as ‘experimental’, the guitarist is difficult to classify. Not ‘folk’ in the traditional sense, and while elements are there within the freeform harmonic structure, not strictly jazz. Put simply, dbh is dbh, something very special, something hard to pin down, and most of all something that must be heard to believed.
As Damon & Naomi take the stage, the first thing to note is the change in instruments from their Galaxie 500 days. Former drummer Damon now playing an 8-string guitar, and bassist Naomi now on keyboards. However, the sound they create is in many ways a natural progression from Galaxie 500, Damon’s achingly sad voice, on par with the likes of Joe Pernice or fellow slowcore veteran Mark Kozelek, made even more beautifully fragile with Naomi’s angelic harmonisation. The set is roughly split between the two in terms of lead singing, but when their voices melt together is becomes something else entirely, a dreamlike haze in slow motion, with added depth and dimension coming from Naomi’s keyboard. It’s almost ironic that two musicians who made up a rhythm section of a previous band now play music without one.
The setlist was written on a napkin, which ended up stuck first to the stage, then Damon’s boot, which prompted a miniature argument/comic moment regarding the benefits of laminated setlists, and having a look across at Naomi’s from time to time. A number of songs featured from the duo’s last studio album ‘Fortune’, which featured as a soundtrack to a film of the same name. It’s here when the dreamy quality of the songs come to life, something that is acknowledged by Damon’s introduction, “this is from a dream sequence”, while ‘Lilac Land’ and ‘Turn Of The Century’ could convincingly work as the soundtrack to Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas- gentle and relaxing, soothing to the point of hypnotic. Finishing their set with a cover of ‘Translucent Carriages’ by psych-folk outfit Pearls Before Swine (covers were a big element of Galaxie 500, with the band often completely reinventing their source material to fit their own sound), the duo transfixed the Manchester crowd, who they noted to be one of the most polite and appreciative audiences they’ve had in the UK for some time. Damon & Naomi’s music is not music that will enlist a rapturous response, it is introverted, delicate, calming. Beautiful.