Even though it was a Sunday night, I had expected that this would be a pretty popular gig, so I was surprised to see the dividing curtains drawn across the room at the Oxford Art Factory, and by the slightly hushed and cavernous feeling that I got as we walked in, regardless of the fact that the place is essentially a shoe-box (said with love, OAF). Cassius Select had already started when I arrived, and my German friend, who is probably more used to the nightclubs of Berlin, commented that the sound quality was a bit lacking. It occurred to me that this was the exact reason for the curtains – a kind of dampener for the hollow, echo-y sounds of a PA system that is on default for a room that is usually crowded full of soft, sound-absorbing bodies. Plus it makes the room look slightly less empty. Cassius Select as support was convincing nonetheless, demonstrating an onstage presence and production quality that should warrant them developing a pretty respectable following of their own.
The interesting thing was, though, that once Forest Swords started, the whole room disappeared, minutes slipped into seconds. They were utterly mesmerising, entrancing – and even NOT wasted, I could not, if my life depended on it, describe a single other person in the room, in terms of age, gender, or manifest interest – they all just vanished. I even managed to almost forget my hot date, for a moment. Forest Swords just draws your attention; soft reggae dub rhythms behind industrial-edged, percussive melodies (suddenly the name makes a kind of sense – it is soft and lush, and sharp and hard all at once). They were also faster, easier to dance to (sway to) than I would have expected, based on what I have heard on their albums; and the promised HD projections – repetitive, anachronous strands of pearls and chain lengths swaying in the background, occasionally interrupted by GIFs of 1920’s femme fatales – were somehow neither distracting nor extraneous. They sort of worked – not quite in the background, not quite the star of the show. It seemed like a short set, and I was genuinely surprised by how late it was when it finished. Sometimes you can be surprised and transported, even by a performance you have high expectations of, even sober on a Sunday night.