The Joyous Thing 3

OUTLANDS’ third annual survey of experimental music at MK Gallery featured incisive performances from Euso, I Am Fya and a specially-commissioned suite from Coby Sey.

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Mat Smith is a Milton Keynes music writer for Electronic Sound, Clash, Further. and Documentary Evidence. Mat has written sleevenotes for Mute, Cherry Red, BMG and Our Silent Canvas. He lives in Woburn Sands with his wife, two daughters, four cats and too many records.

Brighton-based Euso (Talyn Sandhu) delivers his set backed by footage of a first-person shooter game whose colours had been subject to harsh redaction, leaving large expanses of white and the tracest outlines of cable cars, gun-toting fellow players and scenery. The visuals were representative of his music, where the only predictable element is a sense of unpredictability: fragile, skewed melodies become suffused by bone-shaking beats; loops present themselves but are rapidly flipped back and forth as if randomised; rhythms stumble and trip as if denied their expected forward motion. At the end of his set, Sandhu offers up a sheet of enveloping white noise that hangs oppressively in the air before giving way – in a moment of insouciant genius – to a twisted, manipulated UK garage cut.

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Fellow Brighton-based artist I Am Fya began her set with mellifluous birdsong, over which she added live-looped vocal textures, their exultant framing giving rise to an uplifting euphoria. Like Euso, I Am Fya does not trade in the calculable, however. Those vocal utterances are swiftly replaced by intense dancehall rhythmic workouts that are rarely static, and always subjected to the harshest of dub treatments. Childrens’ voices pop up and are promptly shut down by a brutal web of ribcage-bothering bass and oppressive reggae and hip-hop rhythms, looped handbells and woodblock percussion.

At one point she ponders, “How are you going to make space in this world?” The question hovers, unanswered until the end of her unbroken set. “Build your own space,” is I Am Fya’s eventual response to her own enquiry. “Do it your own fucking way,” she adds over a sample of a woman being asked to mute herself and compromise. There is no compromise in I Am Fya’s music, just joyous, and necessarily unsettling gestures.

I Am Fya at MK Gallery
Coby Sey at MK Gallery

If one similarity connected the artists performing at ‘The Joyous Thing 3’ it was an unwillingness to be pigeonholed stylistically. Coby Sey epitomises the idea of an artist unbounded by convention, rules or what may be expected of him. ‘Check Rain’, the OUTLANDS-commissioned set, might have its roots in 2020’s sedate and delicate ‘River’ EP, but its sonic scope and vision was far, far broader.

On a darkened stage, accompanied by drummer and percussionist Metta Shiba and saxophonist and multi-instrumentalist Ben Vince, Sey navigates the trio through pieces that leaned into jazz, muscular jazz rock, minimalist gamelan-style melodies, leftfield electronics, soul, poetry and rap. Each successive piece arrives with an unexpected shift in direction – a captivating a capella vocal might usher in a menacing bass-heavy groove, or a slowly-evolving synth sequence subjected to harsh angry distortion and filtering might form the basis of an angular, non-linear rhythm.

Coby Sey at MK Gallery

The highlight of ‘Check Rain’ was a piece of brutal, vital intensity. Rising out of a seemingly formless synth improvisation, the piece began with delicate, ephemeral texture and finally, through a series of rapid tweaks and shifts, at a squalling wall of noise over which Vince and Shiba delivered militaristic percussive barrages not unlike a vintage Einstürzende Neubauten track. For all its moments of subtle melodic levity, Sey’s set was no stranger to such sheets of aggressive noise – an earlier piece found Vince offering bursts of expressive, urgent saxophone bleatings in a three-way duel with Sey’s punk bass and Shiba’s cyclical polyrhythms.

Sey’s suite was an object lesson in sharp pivots and uncompromising attitude, each taking their place in the centre of an expansive breadth of vision parallel to the likes of Sam Shepherd’s elastic Floating Points. To see and hear Sey perform and conduct his likeminded musical accomplices is, without question, to watch an understated modern genius hard at work.

Coby Sey at MK Gallery
Coby Sey at MK Gallery
Coby Sey at MK Gallery

Photography by Chris Henley.