Tucked away in Stokes Croft, the Kuumba Centre was the host of tonight’s festivities. I’ve been to gigs in tabernacle churches, working men’s clubs and even on boats, but a community centre based on African Arts was not on that list until tonight. To coincide with the launch of Cousin Kula’s fourth single ‘Working For It’, a fundraiser was held for the charity ‘Humans For Rights Network’ which deals with funding vital work being done in order to protect the rights of refugees. A night featuring three incredibly talented bands followed by a disco, what could go wrong? This is the new age of fundraising, after all bake sales and car washes are so 2009.
Setting the tone for the evening were Brighton based band, Time For T. Playing a blend of tropical rock with infusions of folk and flourishes of afrobeat, creating a set of tunes that could form the basis of your summer roadtrip mixtape. Consisting of flowery riffs and gigantic harmonies, Time For T have the lyrics comparable to Hall and Oates crossed with Paolo Nutini for the right dose of contemporary folk.
Following Time For T were Jouis, another Brighton based band with a whole different sound. Jouis are a trio specialising in abstract psychedelia entwined with folk, delving into synth based sounds. Their set consisted of clear psych-rock-prog elements, transporting the audience back to 1967 despite the fact most people there (including myself) were not born. Jouis left an enchanting taste, which left me wondering whether or not they had stepped out of a time capsule and jumped straight into this millennium filling it with zesty synth and prog-psych beats. If you’re a fan of Grateful Dead or Crosby Stills and Nash, these two groups are definitely worth a listen.
It’s a Friday night, the lights dim, Doug Cave – Cousin Kula’s saxy synth player is the only one on stage. Kaleidoscopic visuals are projected on the backdrop behind the stage with smoke seeping out of the right hand side of the stage. A cosmic synth from Doug follows, building up the tension in the room to an unbearable level. Maybe I’m excited, maybe it’s the cans of Tyskie getting to me. The synth begins to reach stratospheric heights, Doug is joined on stage by the rest of Cousin Kula and the audience erupts in applause. Jordan, Elliot, James, Will and Ollie jump straight into ‘Hesitation’ without hesitation. With bellowing drums from James Vine and a synth driven solo from Will Wells, their first single release from a year ago showed no signs of aging.
Next number ‘Off Your Chest’ began with harmonious vocals from Elliot, Jordan and Will, with a falsetto polish that the Beach Boys would be proud of. These catchy opening lines sticked and really set the tone, “So, you think you love me less? Get it off your chest, get it off your chest”. The cinematic visuals used as the backdrop only emphasised their psych-pop noise, it was a sensory overload of the best degree. A fluctuating tune finishing with a screaming sax and funky bass itched a part of me that I didn’t know needed itching.
A series of new songs then followed, firstly with ‘It’s Natural’. A chilled lo-fi beat with a huge bass from Ollie Horne with an emphasis on Elliot’s voice as the main focal point. A flurry of flanger and distortion added to the mix all fusing to create Cousin Kula’s distinct sound. ‘Set This Alive’ then followed, another new song with a dancy Thundercat bass and tripling vocals from Elliot, Jordan and Will echoing that of Tame Impala. The new material was hypnotizingly enticing and was an absolute treat to hear.
Relatively new number ‘Melting In Melting Out’ was a reverb paradise with a disgustingly heavy bass from Ollie mixed with heavy synthesiser bass from Doug, my notes just said ‘phat’. More smoke began to crawl across the stage in an ethereal manner. As a Pop-y, ‘Praise you’ keys riff gradually gained momentum underpinning the song, Elliot’s voice becoming the centrepiece, topped off with a colourful lead solo from Will on his synth over the bassline, slowly becoming heavier and heavier.
This quadruplet of fresh new songs, hot off the press was ‘Happiness’, which featured just Elliot performing as the band stepped back from their instruments, allowing him full command of the energy onstage. His guitar was so thick with effects that it shook and bounced around the room as his soft voice held steady onstage. This inverse relationship became even more intriguing as Elliot vocals spontaneously matched in unison with his guitar lines, creating a fresh, nomadic sensation.
Then came their most recent single featuring a gutsy bass line and a fantasy-like guitar riff that Elliot uses to biblically split the music like Moses and the Red Sea, ‘Working For It’ is a synth daydream. Captivatingly catchy lyrics such as ‘I’m not accepting of, that this is how I’d need to go on’ give it a really beautiful poignancy that seems to be a consistent theme of Kula’s songwriting. The ending crashed down with a Gilmour-esque solo from Jordan was the right amount of psych-rock to create this otherworldly track.
‘Ode To Lyle’ followed suit featuring delicious drum fills from James and a totally magic synth section. Cousin Kula have a monumental repertoire for the right amount of mix of psych-pop-beat-drop-math-rock, creating the perfect recipe for foot tapping tunes. Starting as quite a classic pop-structured tune, the closing of the second chorus creates a vacuum that the band filled with outlandish modulation, really showing off the jazz roots of some of the talented members.
Finally, to finish off the night was an extra special interlude instrumental, which focuses around an afrobeat loop over which Jordan gave an unforgettable performance where he is allowed to fulfill his prog-rock fantasies. Placing his left hand in front the neck of his guitar, sliding down the fretboard whilst yanking at his whammy bar, to make an expectedly gorgeous chorus of synthesised sounds with a technique I have never seen before, and that is certainly saying something.
This backing is allowed to melt into the last song of the night, their penultimate single, ‘What You Know’. An atmospheric chillwave intro which could easily be a Slowdive bootleg, the night was at its zenith. Frontman Elliot is now guitarless, standing centrestage whilst everyone around is gently beginning to play. Singing intimately as if you were the only person in the world that mattered, leaving the entire room dazed. It was at this point in my notes I wrote ‘could bring a tear to a glass eye’. Elliot then picks up his guitar and the band thrust in unison to the song, the smoke and visuals intensifying the emotional, weeping lyrics. Ending with a low synth section and the lyrics ‘you are, unforgettable’ repeating softly. The night was quite literally unforgettable.
During the night, the framework was laid, the foundations building, cementing Cousin Kula as one of Bristol’s leading psych-pop bands. Keep an eye out for their hotly anticipated debut EP OODLES, releasing sometime in November. There really is nobody cooler than Kula!