For Amber Arcades, the on-stage moniker of Dutch dream-rock singer/songwriter Annelotte de Graaf, 2016 was a good year. A string of support slots, headline shows, and the release of debut full album ‘Fading Lines’. For de Graaf, who works with Netherlands-based refugees and war crimes tribunals when she’s not on stage, thing have never looked more promising. And to kick off the New Year, her four-person live incarnation returned to London and the stage of Oslo in Hackney.
As the upstairs room began to fill up, the event kicked off with a pair of suitably spacey support arts. First came Swimsuit, fronted by a young Ron Swanson ripped straight from his mid-80s party stage, and second came Indian Queens, who featured that Sokovian terrorist from Captain America: Civil War on drums. Both acts nailed the dreamy, slightly-vintage sound that makes Amber Arcades so interesting, and set the scene for de Graaf’s glorious arrival.
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When that arrival came, it was to a rapturous cheer and a few Dutch shout-outs (the crowd, as it turned out, had quite a healthy Netherlands contingent). China-skinned, glitter-cheeked and Targaryen-haired, De Graaf appeared from the darkness like a fallen star, and began with tender opener ‘I Will Follow’. Halfway between Wolf Alice and the Pocahontas soundtrack, this was typical of Amber Arcades’ jubilant echo-jangle style. De Graaf’s ethereal vocals permeate everything like honey drizzled over sponges, harmonised and ringing like the garbled transmissions of intergalactic angels. The dual guitars are Amber Arcades second load-bearing pillar, drenched in old-school reverb and weaving in and out of each other, whilst the drums remain tastefully muted thanks to a few tea-towels tossed over the skins. That conflict of cutting edge and makeshift runs through the heart of the live set-up.
The more sluggish ‘This Time’ came second, followed up by a series of tracks from the ‘Fading Lines’ album. The band ran into each successive song with little to no preamble, with De Graaf barely stopping to take a mildly-curious look at the crowd. This was the right call, not to interrupt the flow. See, Amber Arcades’ music isn’t really something you can dance to, nor rave or head-bop, or even sway with the beat. De Graaf’s tantalising blend of hypnotic echo-heavy soundscapes and the live-band watch-ability and backbone of indie rock mean that her crowd doesn’t groove along so much as stare transfixed like kids at the IMAX. The only real crowd movement was during rockier numbers like ‘Fading Lines’ when the collective trance lifted enough to drift lightly side to side like corn in the breeze. It must have been quite the sight from the stage.
After a nostalgia-pop cover of Nick Drake’s ‘Which Will’, a harder-hitting new track tentatively entitled ‘Rock Song’ and the gig highlight of the sweeping stadium-filler ‘Constant’s Dream’, the crowd bore witness to an Amber Arcades milestone. Their first true encore. “We’ve never really done this before, it’s pretty cool,” De Graaf said with her typical nonchalance, before playing a guitars-only rendition of ‘Apophenia’. Drums and bass returned for another new song, a rousing quasi-electro power ballad which, tragically, doesn’t have a definite name yet. Finally, they closed it all off with the album’s first single ‘Turning Light’ complete with an extended outro of shrieking grunge guitars.
Annelotte de Graaf has come a long way since her days recording bedroom folk in a New York apartment. Amber Arcades has been on a slow but steady rise, playing a wealth of support slots and gradually building a fan base across Europe. 2017 should be a big year, with de Graaf announcing a new EP and a return to London in April to support Grandaddy at The Roundhouse. But right now Amber Arcades is still in the blossoming stage, emerging as a name but still crawling out of the cocoon. Well worth a watch for any fan of dream-pop or softer indie, you’ll find fewer live shows this soothing and cathartic. Amber Arcades may have the rare quality that you’ll leave their shows less tired than you were when you went in.