Published on The Fly online, February 2011
The Lexington, London
Whatever happened to trip-hop? The Bristol-based scene had a brief flicker of glory in the mid-90s with the heyday of Portishead, Tricky and Massive Attack. But by the 2000s, the likes of Morcheeba and Sneaker Pimps had given it a bad name. In the Lexington on this chilly evening, though, it’s like the 90s never went away.
Anika was a Berlin and Bristol-based political journalist and music promoter when she bumped into Geoff Barrow, the driving force behind Portishead, now running a new outfit, Beak>. (No, that’s not a typo. Don’t get us started.) They soon holed themselves up in the studio and quickly bashed out Anika’s self-titled debut, and you only needs to look at the singer to understand her appeal. Tall and slender, with a permanent pout lurking under shaggy blonde hair, she’s Bardot with a brain, and her nonchalant, Nico-like delivery gives tonight’s show an air of hazy 60s sultriness – retro covers like Skeeter Davis’ ‘End Of The World’ only enhancing the nostalgic effect.
But pouty disinterest is only sexy for a few minutes; then it just becomes dull. As the 50-minute set winds on it becomes clear Anika is something of a blank slate, providing a light melodic sheen on what’s really an instrumental project. And Beak>’s instrumentals merit attention; a jarring combination of heavy bass, synths and grungey guitar samples, it’s an evolution of the sound Portishead found on their 1997 self-titled second album. But that’s really the problem. A lot has happened since 1997, and the rise of dubstep has raised the bar for rhythmic sophistication. Barrow’s new take on trip-hop, despite a few nice sonic touches, becomes plodding after a few songs. Some 90s trends just aren’t fit to be revived.