AIn just five years of recorded output, outsider South London composer Klein has gone from oblique, depressing electronics reminiscent of Burial to a uniquely singular distortion of classical tropes. Befitting an artist who has released music on both cutting-edge dance labels and legacy European classical imprints, in front of a landmark performance at the Barbican in London next week, Klein is performing at a club in an industrial area of Salford.
The first sounds you hear — under sprayed strobe lights — are the slamming club beats of Klein’s work performed by a lone percussionist banging a bass drum off the side of the stage. Reflecting Klein’s direction of travel, sounds that were once sampled are now much more likely to be organic; last year’s critically acclaimed album The harmattan had been composed for orchestra before the pandemic struck.
Suspended from the ceiling, a single microphone sways across the dark stage, and when Klein uses it to capture his trumpet playing, thick swaths of echo and digital processing make it startlingly grand and expansive. If his recent, wordless, beatless music plays with the conventions of classical music, then that’s the only conventional thing about tonight.
In one of the initially weirdest moments of the hour’s set, a performer billed as Josie — and Klein’s friend — tells a rambling, surreal joke about a snail appearing on Pimp My Ride. It’s disconcerting, before the awkward prank reward is suddenly looped and transformed by Klein – one of the highlights of the set as the strange joke echoes, now unrecognizable, around the club for minutes . “How about those jokes!” smiled the composer, dressed in an oversized T-shirt and a thick knotted tie.
Although Klein has rejected sonic collagist tag, she has an evocative way of fragments, unfurling them in abrupt shifts that can make you feel like you’ve fallen down a trap door. Expanses of celestial ambiance or found speech unexpectedly collapse into a beer drone. Klein grabs the swing mic and starts MCing, which itself dissolves into some of Harmattan’s simpler textures. It’s abstract yet compelling; expectations remain a plaything for one of the UK’s most iconoclastic sound writers.