St John on Bethnal Green is a 19th Century Church opposite Bethnal Green station. Its dark, cavernous interior was the perfect location for a rare London gig from synth-hero Tropic of Cancer, the solo project of L.A-based Camella Lobo.
I had never been to a gig in a church before, but it seems the space is made for it. (If you want mega-reverb and echo!) St John’s was filled with dark religious portraits of wretched biblical scenes that added to the gloominess of the Darkwave being performed at the altar. Now I’m not going to be trite and say that this was like a religious experience; but with the pervasive, emotional, seemingly omnipotent nature of Tropic of Cancer’s beautiful, synth-heavy New Wave, and with my own agnosticism, it was as close as I would probably get. Lobo performed with one other girl, who stood silently playing synth and guitar, and occasionally moving across to a laptop, presumably to fire off accompanying percussion tracks. The duo played many of Lobo’s tracks from Restless Idylls and Stop Suffering, both released on one of my favourite labels: Blackest Ever Black, the project of Kiran Sande, the Ex-Deputy Editor at FACT Magazine and The Vinyl Factory. My personal favourite was the performance of ‘Plant Lilies at My Head’, which with each building moment echoed around the chamber, making the pew-seated audience lean forward with palpable anticipation.
Tropic of Cancer was excellent, as expected; but no one could have prepared us for what preceded her. The talent of the support, Thomas Ragsdale, was unknown to me until I reached the venue. Fellow AS IF. NO WAY! brother Blake told me that he was a prolific producer of film-scores and ambient music. His set was a powerful, synth-laden onslaught of heavy chords and film samples, that the guy sharing my pew informed me were from the 2015 film ‘The Witch‘. The set was eery but loud, jarring and evolving. Did I mention it was also in a massive sinister church?
Thomas Ragsdale himself was lively to say the least. He spent most of his performance head bobbing and jumping around his live rig, that from the pews seemed to consist of a laptop, guitar and midi controller, and possibly some live synths, though it was hard to see. His frenzied movements sometimes seemed at odds with the beatless nature of the music, though not with his set’s energy, which coursed through the room, reverberating off every section of the vast interior.
Both acts were phenomenal, but for me the highlight of the night came from the discovery of Thomas Ragsdale, the punk-as-f*ck ambient-film-score producer who stole the show from Tropic of Cancer with his energy and audacity.