by Emma Murphy
A cold November night, the lights of neighboring moored vessels cast light on the Mud Dock and the growing queue. “It’s like Venice,” murmured Mike O’Brien, “But not.” We made our way slowly onto the Thekla, the energy different to any other crowd I’ve ever encountered at a live show. The venue itself was warm, and seemed to emit a hazy blue glow– perfect for the musical experience we were about to have.
Opening for Japanese House was Art School Girlfriend, the project of Polly Mackey. She immediately enveloped the crowd in electronic beats, accompanied by her smooth vocals. The lyrics themselves drip with longing, and soon the crowd was swaying in the delicious light silhouetting her. ‘Distance (Blank)’, and ‘Bending Back’ perfectly set the tone for Japanese House to follow, and as Art School Girlfriend’s set came to an end (as all good things must), a lull overcame us.
What followed was poignant to say the least. Amber Bain’s talent shone through consistently during her performance, as she sang, played the guitar, keyboard and the synthesizer. Her voice cut through the room, as the deep tones lulled the somber crowd to a gentle sway. Crowd favorites such as ‘Saw You in a Dream’ and ‘Cool Blue’ brought the show to a satisfying end. The importance of queer artists like Bain in the electronic music/dream pop scene cannot be downplayed in the current climate. The changes taking place in the industry are exciting, and the artists behind projects like The Japanese House deserve all the recognition they are receiving– and should be celebrated! Bain chose the moniker The Japanese House because of a particularly affecting childhood trip where she posed as a boy, and entered a brief romance with a girl whom she left heartbroken. The brevity of her songwriting reflects the raw emotion relatable to anybody who has been in or out of love. The Thekla was certainly full of some burdened souls that evening. As Bain thanked the crowd and exited the stage, she promised new music in 2019. Her first new single of the year ‘Maybe You’re the Reason’ was released this month, and carries the same measured weight as the rest of her beautifully crafted music.
As we filed out of the boat and onto the Bristol streets, the night held a new gravity.