Five years is a long time to anticipate seeing an artist live. Adrenaline and expectation churn together, slowly simmering, before coalescing into the perfect drug: hype. And really, if any artist in the downtempo, trip-hop scene deserves that kind of accolade, it’s Emancipator. Douglas Appling’s studio work has been nothing short of immaculate, overflowing with rich textures, vibrant compositions and a smooth, smoky haze you can taste on the tip of your tongue. But that’s in the studio. One question hung heavy throughout my evening: could Emancipator’s live show capture the sound-room magic?
Yes. Emancipator’s sound engineering was, in a word, phenomenal. Guitar, bass, drums, violin and all computer-generated effects were clearly audible throughout the performance, with only minor obfuscations. Appling’s music has always been lush and densely layered, and the mix effectively brought these nuances to life. “Greenland,” one of Appling’s sharpest openers, came through with crystal clarity, bringing me back to the first time I ever heard the cut. Nostalgia rarely felt so sweet.
Even when Emancipator played heavily into cuts I’d yet to develop keen feelings for, the feeling of nostalgia never truly went away. That’s largely owed to Appling’s strength as a songwriter. Regardless of where the cut came from – the chilly lilts of Safe in the Steep Cliffs or the organic swells of Seven Seas – they each struck their respective cords. Whether playing it cerebral, emotive or some murky concoction of both, Appling and his crew turned in a remarkable set covering the full-range of Emancipator’s sound.
The crowd seemed to appreciate the set even more than I did. Couples, friends and lone wolves danced to the beats, swaying and snaking along the beats in constant motion. One girl in front of me seemed as though she’d entered a trance – hands rising and falling, hips sliding and head shifting; she completely lost herself in the sound. Emancipator had his audience in the palm of his hand, and, really, he earned it. Together, Appling and the Ensemble brought Emancipator’s smooth vibes to life in brilliant fashion.
Downtempo and trip-hop may seem like a peculiar live experience to uninitiated curiosities looking for a “lively” event, but don’t fall into that trap. There’s nothing boring about the Emancipator Ensemble’s chilled-out vibes. If you’re looking for an evening to shake loose on strong rhythms, go. If you’re looking to space out into the rafters and cascading lights, go. And for those who want a night of exceptional music? Go. You won’t regret a moment.