Clean Bandit LIVE @ Somerset House 19.07.14

“So you think electronic music is boring? You think it’s stupid? You think it’s repetitive? Well, it is repetitive”  No, not the words of this reviewer, but the smug opening line from Clean Bandit’s breakthrough single ‘Mozart’s House’; a house beat with an overlay of Mozart’s String Quartet No 21 in an attempt to assuage dispiriting listeners that Clean Bandit’s  juxtaposition of synths and drum machines with live strings can convince them otherwise.

Dance music utilizing strings to elicit emotion is nothing new, Tiesto’s remix of ‘Adagio for Strings’ is regularly voted as one the greatest trance tracks of all time; Rhythim is Rhythim – ‘Strings of Life’ has one of the most famous hooks in house music, and the string quarter Bond play classical pieces with electronic beats and squelchy bass-lines underpinning the string ensembles.  However, Clean Bandit have carved out a niche for themselves where classical music meets contemporary melodic electronica in a slickly produced package.

Formed at Cambridge University, they comprise brothers Jack and Luke Patterson and the classically-trained Grace Chatto and Neil Amin-Smith.  Clean Bandit are, by their own admission, an instrumental band, so the most intriguing aspect of the concert would be how they would command an audience when all of their songs have featured guest vocalists, especially as lead singers act as such a pivotal point when engaging with fans in the live environment.  The answer, it would seem, is to invite as many of the guest vocalists to join you on stage, and have a party in one of the most resplendent venues in London, Somerset House.  Additionally, Clean Bandit blurred the lines between electronic and classical not only with their music, but also with their instruments.  Grace Chatto played an electric body-less Cello and Jack Patterson playing what appeared to be an electric oboe for a solo at one point.

Playing a breathless hour long set of their tracks from debut album ‘New Eyes’, Clean Bandit are polite and inoffensive, some tracks marry elements of electronic music and strings with aplomb, while on others it feels contrived and forced; you can’t help but feel that certain string parts are included to ensure that the violinist and cellist have something to do other than dance awkwardly at the sides of the stage.

‘Dust Cleans’, with its two step garage beat, and new single ‘Extraordinary’ with steel drums and rumbling timpani are good songs, both enticing the crowd into a shuffle rather than a full on dance-floor eruption; but the rest of their tracks seem remarkably short of memorable hooks, especially considering this act is aimed squarely at the pop charts instead of the dance-floor.  Tellingly, the second largest reception of the night was for a cover of Robyn S – ‘Show Me Love’, with the diverse audience all singing along to the classic chorus.  Clean Bandit reserved their best track for a single song encore, the chart topping anthem “Rather Be”, which is an exquisite slice of dance-pop with an exuberant chorus.  ‘Rather Be’ shows the band at their finest, both in terms of song-writing and the fusion of stings and electronic elements, it also reinforces how confused some of their other songs are in comparison.

There are a handful of moments that hint that Clean Bandit can make a collection of songs that is far more interesting than those offered up at Somerset house.  If you do think electronic music is boring, stupid and repetitive, four Cambridge graduates throwing live strings over generic electronica won’t convince you otherwise.

Steve Britton – Hijacker Records