Review: Oliver Coates

First published in The Guardian on 16 April, 2015

Oliver Coates mixes things up: a fine classical cellist who collaborates with Johnny Greenwood and Massive Attack, who reworks music by Squarepusher and Boards of Canada, whose website lists Pierre Boulez next to MF Doom. He’s of a generation of composers and performers whose horizons take in indie, electronica and folk as well as contemporary classical music, all of which chimes happily for those of us whose listening habits do the same.

But genre blending can’t work as an end in itself. This hour-long show staged by Glasgow’s Theatre Cryptic comprises eight short pieces, three with insipid accompanying video art by Laura Colmenares Guerra. With no real meat to the programme, no particular thrust or substance, it is weirdly back at square one, fixated on same labels and packaging it’s so self-consciously in the act of ditching. “Sometimes I feel like I’m wandering through a deserted video game,” Coates told us from the stage, which seemed about right.

The audience sat on beanbags on the floor of Glasgow School of Art’s student union; Coates sat back-lit on a high platform, solo cello treated with looping pedals and swathes of reverb. He opened with Edmund Finnis’s Across White Air: slow, happy throb of lilting harmonics. Larry Goves’s The Clouds Flew Round with the Clouds features hazy, loose bow strokes and warped recorded piano; Squarepusher’s Tommib Help Buss is a cheerful pizzicato ditty; Mica Levi’s Love (from her excellent soundtrack to Under the Skin) is a bleary elegy in mismatched octaves. In two of his own songs, Coates is joined by the pale-voiced Chrysanthemum Bear, Gaelic laments shrouded in misty effects. Michael Gordon’s Industry drives simple elements into moderately dirty distortion; even Messiaen’s spellbinding Oraison felt oddly flat against a film of rocks levitating above lochs and glens.

At London’s King’s Place on April 19