Since the release of their Mercury Prize-nominated debut album ‘Knee-Deep in the North Sea’ in 2007, Portico Quartet have been on a journey that has seen both a change in musical direction as well as line-up. Nick Mulvey left the group in 2011 to pursue his ambitions as a singer-songwriter, being replaced by Keir Vine. Post-Mulvey, the band’s self-titled third album featured a greater use of sampling and electronic effects than the largely acoustic tracks on previous releases. This change in direction also saw the band release an experimental pop album ‘Living Fields’ under the name Portico, which they adopted as they considered the work to be a musical departure from Portico Quartet.
While the 2017 release of ‘Art in the Age of Automation’ saw the group return to using the Portico Quartet name, the experimental influences from their time as Portico remain. Off the back of their latest release, Portico Quartet performed at the In The Round festival at London’s iconic Roundhouse on the 3rd Feb, joining fellow performers such as GoGo Penguin and Oumou Sangaré across the 11-day event.
Portico Quartet kicked off their set with the opening track from their new album, ‘Endless’. As the intro looped, the band entered the haze-filled auditorium to a 360 degree cheer from a packed Roundhouse crowd and began to ease their way into the hypnotic number. A key element of ‘Endless’ is the Hang. This unique-looking instrument is an integral part of Portico Quartet’s identity, both musically and visually.
Endless was followed by ‘Ruins’ and ‘Current History’, which served to both showcase the band’s impressive multi-instrumentalism, as well as their development in sound across albums, with electronic instrumentation and sampling present throughout. At this point, it is also necessary to give a shout-out to the Roundhouse’s lighting. Combining seamlessly with Portico Quartet’s unique sound, the lighting created a truly sensory experience: one that can only be experienced live.
During the performance, the Roundhouse was treated to a new track, ‘Double Space’, which drummer Duncan Bellamy announced was from a forthcoming mini-album. He claimed the new material was an extension of the current album; ‘Double Space’ certainly seems at home with other tracks from ‘Art in the Age of Automation’. Portico Quartet fans, you should expect this new mini-album to be with you in April.
After an enthralling set, Portico Quartet returned for a one-song encore: ‘Lines Glow’, which is the closing track on ‘Art in the Age of Automation’. A fitting song for the conclusion of the album and the performance, ‘Lines Glow’ showcases the delicate interplay between acoustic and electrical instrumentation that is a defining feature of the band’s sound.
‘Art in the Age of Automation’ is out now via Gondwana.