Live Review: Thomas Truax + Kate Arnold at Paper Dress Vintage, London

I was asked in a recent interview for our 20th anniversary, which artist most closely represents what Joyzine stands for. It was a tricky one – how to encapsulate the positivity, do it yourself spirit and willingness to follow your own path that, I hope, our little corner of the internet has become a home for. After what for radio probably counts as an uncomfortably long pause, I plumped for Thomas Truax. However, standing before a stage filled with Truax’s weird and wonderful collection of self-made bandmates, I think I may have overstated our position. Perhaps once we get around to fashioning our own web server out of bits of an old radiator and some vintage telephone parts we’ll be worthy of such a comparison.

Before Truax unveils the wonders of his creations though we enjoy a set from Kate Arnold, who finds herself in what must be a rare position of her hammered dulcimer (a trapezoid of tightly stretched strings, played with spoon-shaped mallets, whose origins are believed to lie in 10th century Persia) not being the most unusual instrument onstage.

We are treated to a multi-layered feast of medieval music rewired for the 21st century, fed through effects pedals, stacked up in loops and at times sung in ancient French dialects. Most songs comes with a mini-history lesson attached, many of which celebrate the oft-neglected voices of female artists of the Middle Ages. Whilst clearly food for the brain (and a banquet for music loving history nerds), the ingenuity, skill and clear affection for her craft means these sumptuous sounds feed the heart just as satisfyingly. This is future space music from the 12th century AD and you’re unlikely to find anything else quite like it.

Speaking of unique experiences, it’s time for Thomas Truax. As he stands flanked by his Hornicator and mechanical drummer Mother Superior, the Stringaling hanging out all nonchalant at the back of the stage waiting for its moment in the spotlight, the audience is filled with two flavours of anticipation – those who’ve never seen Truax before wondering what on Earth these strange contraptions can do, and the veterans hoping for the thrill of an old favourite being plucked from Truax’s extensive back catalogue, and itching for the thrill of a new surprise. Both groups will leave with wide-eyed smiles on their faces and a glow in their hearts.

Part theatrical spectacle, part storytelling session, part punk rock show, a Truax gig is always a moment to be treasured. Along with his musical creations he’s built a family of followers, many recognising one another from previous shows, and the warmth in the room going both to and from the stage adds another level of beauty to the surreal tales being spun (literally in the case of ‘You Whistle While You Sleep’) from the stage. It’s an atmosphere that few performers can brew, and it doesn’t happen overnight – in Truax’s case it’s the product of two decades of touring. At one point mid-set he stops to contemplate a world in which his music is on regular rotation on Radio 1 – he comes to the conclusion that it would probably be awful. The spell that we collectively conjure up tonight just wouldn’t be the same in an arena or on a festival main stage – the intimacy of the space is part of the magic (and besides, a venue that size would add an extra 15 minutes of silence to set centrepiece ‘Full Moon Over Wowtown’).

So as we swoon to the beautiful story of ‘The Butterfly and The Entomologist’ and its lead character’s sorry judgement on humanity, bounce around to the apocalypse-defying optimism of ‘Everything’s Going To Be Alright’ and shiver in delight to the eerie tingle of seasonal favourite ‘Everything’s Gone Halloween’, we cherish being part of the out-crowd. Come and join us next time he’s in town.

Find out more about Thomas Truax on his official website

Article and photography by Paul Maps

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