Photograph by Sarah Rix, WayHome.
I’ll tell anyone I know to go see English four-piece Django Django live.
Admittedly, I’m quite a big fan of the band and was dismayed at their lack of a headlining Toronto tour date in support of 2015’s Born Under Saturn. They were, after all, a huge highlight at the inaugural WayHome Festival – turning a daytime slot under the covered stage into a veritable dance party.
They’re a band that you need to dedicate a good amount of time to though. Their live set, much like their songs and albums, are propulsive, well thought-out, and – to put it bluntly – chock full of a lot of smaller things that you’ll only pick up on the more you hear it. It’s all, unfortunately, not something a festival set tends to lend itself to. As capable of creating a mass of moving bodies in a truncated timeframe they may be, Django Django’s strength lies in the ability to create a pretty lofty narrative of climactic experiments with their quote-unquote art rock.
Given the proper timeframe, they’re really very good at it. I experienced it the night before when they put on a fantastic show at Philadelphia’s Union Transfer. There, the 17-song set was cohesive; the crowd was up for it; and the band had room to throw a lot of musical and physical energy into their offerings.
So maybe the only reason I was disappointed with their Brooklyn show at Verboten (playing as part of the Brooklyn Electronic Music Festival) was the fact that I had gotten a full serving the night before.
Verboten was, in comparison, tiny. While the band managed to bring in an impressive crowd to the 750-person room for the second last night of their U.S. tour, they themselves seemed crammed onto a tiny stage – ironic, given their beginnings as a bedroom band. The venue generally plays host to DJ sets rather than live shows and, while Django Django certainly fit the “electronic” descriptor, their setup has evolved into something much more complex than a MacBook on a desk.
As they took to the stage for a brief instrumental introduction that moved into the stomping “Hail Bop” (from their excellent 2012 self-titled debut), they proved more than competent at adjusting to smaller confines. For BEMF, they also cut out their acoustic guitars for tracks like “Firewater”, “Slow West”, and “Love’s Dart” – instead focusing on the electronics. It was a smart, calculated move given the festival’s name and audience, but it did seem to affect their set’s momentum. You also knew how much more fun it could be if they just had the proper room and time for it all.
That said, the tight confines lent themselves to 2015 single “Shake and Tremble”, a sinister and slinking bass and drums number. They also fought hard for their crowd with vocalist/guitarist Vincent Neff repeatedly urging everyone on and reminding me of a young, energetic Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand. To his right stood synth wizard Tommy Grace, giving the band much of their Hot Chip feel thanks to an arsenal of electronics. Rounding out the band was bassist Jimmy Dixon and – perhaps the true champion of the band’s dance floor-friendly offerings – drummer David Maclean. To make the stage even busier, a live saxophonist accompanied them for “Reflections”.
“Free your mind and the rest will follow,” Neff said to the crowd before the tambourine-on-tambourine of “Skies Over Cairo”. It would have been a much more impressive sentiment had there been adequate room for both band and fans to free their dance moves. While pockets of the Brooklyn crowd embraced the challenge and move along to both it and the forever fun “Default”, it wasn’t enough to convince Django Django to return for the planned three-song encore. They forwent Born Under Saturn’s “4000 Years” and “Pause Repeat”, opting instead for a sole self-titled offering of “Silver Rays”. Again, it was well delivered. There just could have been more.
All this is to say that Django Django is well worth seeing, full-length set or not. But please do yourself a favour if you have the chance: see them play it proper, where they have the room to do it justice. You’ll appreciate (and probably need that extra time to dance.