Jutland Station has gone international for this music review, adopting the mantra that when the music can’t come to Aarhus, go to the music. A manageable feat in borderless Europe, as one antipodean found out.

Story originally featured on Jutland Station

By Hannah Spyksma // Photo: Supplied

Serendipity seems to be a phrase frequently thrown around by Melbourne band Hiatus Kaiyote. It characterizes the quartet’s ‘about’ page on their website and it most certainly describes how I ended up seeing this powerhouse of funk-soul music live in Germany. In a twist of irony and a musician’s worst nightmare, it is also a rather fitting summary of their gig on November 28 at Hamburg’s Mojo Club.

I took the opportunity to see Hiatus Kaiyote live after discovering their music several months ago during a slow workday in New Zealand. From Melbourne, Australia to an interview with legendary BBC Radio 1 presenter Gilles Peterson in London, and then podcast directly into my hot little ears in Auckland, it was love at first listen. Admittedly, the fact their single Nakamarra, written by eccentric and beautiful lead singer Nai Palm, starts with an ode to a girl named Hannah, may have initially sparked my interest. Narcissism duly noted.

Not long after listening to Peterson’s broadcast I was accepted onto a study programme that meant moving half way around the world and far, far, away from any chance of seeing the band or any other South Pacific music live for some time. Being a gen-y kid though, one of the first things I did after deciding to move was look up tour dates in Europe for my favourite bands.

“The red earth of Australia’s outback was alive in a Hamburg basement.”

Call it a serendipitous for this traveler, but Hiatus Kaiyote didn’t have any gigs lined up in Denmark. The band was, however, touring all over Germany. And what’s one of the best things about living in borderless, globalised Europe where rail connections, cheap flights and car share’s characterise transport? If the music can’t come to Aarhus, Aarhus can lead you to wherever it’s playing.

Like their musical style, getting to see Hiatus Kaiyote in Hamburg truly was a global affair. After driving across the Denmark/Germany border with a Peruvian, a Thai, a German, and myself a Kiwi, I finally made my way into the basement of swanky underground Mojo Club.

Nai Palm made a quiet and understated entrance onto the stage just short of an hour later than the expected. With little introduction the band started playing. And quite suddenly Palm’s voice, like her outfit, breathed colour into every corner of the room. The red earth of Australia’s outback was alive in a Hamburg basement. It’s quite incredible how together four musicians could recreate not just the sounds but also the feelings of a distant place, strung together with beats and funk and soul.

“It’s got to be a testament to the atmospheric power music creates, that when she did this, the audience snapped out of it’s trance.”

A slow and mellow start with Malika, an ode to the flower Jasmine, set the tone of the evening. The gig almost could have lead itself to a seated affair; chimes and lulls and dreamy music intertwined with pensive lyrics and a husky, soulful voice had the audience in a trance. Then the equipment started breaking.

Nai Palm put down her electric guitar, appearing to be a little frustrated with the sound, and started dancing. It’s got to be a testament to the atmospheric power music creates, that when she did this, the audience snapped out of it’s trance and responded with shaking booties and tapping feet. A new energy.

It was a delight to see the range and power in her voice as she took control of the stage, engaging an audience who had clearly come to see her perform. Drummer and multi-instrumentalist Perrin Moss, and bassist Paul Bender found their rhythm at that point. For a few songs the stage was harmonic. For a relatively new band with just one album – Tom Tomahawk – released, the musicians had an impressive catalogue of songs built up. Each tune had a distinct flavour but seemed to be threaded together by a connection with that far away Australian environment – giving Hiatus Kaiyote a style that I’m sure couldn’t be produced elsewhere in the world.

“With not even background beats by the drummer, the silence on stage was the one sound you don’t want to hear at a gig.”

Then the synthesizer and keyboard really started to cause havoc. Panic rippled from the keyboardist Simon Mavin to Nai Palm to the audience who ate their vibes. Techies darted across stage but after a few songs it was clear something was majorly wrong. The band, stalling, decided to see if their gear could be fixed before proceeding. With not even background beats by the drummer, the silence on stage was the one sound you don’t want to hear at a gig. After a few seconds they bravely, nervously, decided to proceed. But I couldn’t help feeling sad for the band. Despite having an eccentric and hugely talented lead singer who headlines the outfit, it seemed apparent that the musicians drew their strength in playing together as a single unit.

Hiatus Kaiyote confesses they are drawn to the healing power of music; it’s ability to calm. Perhaps their gig in Hamburg should be a lesson in taking a dose of your own medicine. After deciding the show must go on, Mavin playing on a spare keyboard, they drifted into a stripped back version of Lace Skull – without synthesizers. Nai Palm has described the song as lyrically being “about the celebration of showing flaws and inner most vulnerability”.  Quite fitting, given the circumstances.

Lace Skull epitomized the musicians’ stage presence; vulnerable, full of energy, and in tune with the environment. And at that moment – medicated by the music – technical difficulties were temporary forgotten. The audience were lulled back into the trance they began listening to the in. While the band is surely the sum of its parts, Nai Palm carried the set through like a champ. She even came out for an encore, without her band who by that stage had given up hope of the techies being able to fix the equipment.

So, it turned a happy accident of sorts that the second half of the gig was characterized by the utter failure of the equipment – something I’m sure Mojo Club’s techies will need to look at. Why? Because it showed the power of vulnerability, of a band forced to strip back and focus on lyrics. When Nai Palm really got into, what a magical experience it was to be in the presence of a truly talented singer with a vocal range to boot. That is soul.

And that is where the show ended, on a serendipitous note, just like how Hiatus Kaiyote was formed and just like how I came to be at a gig listening to them play.

Hannah Spyksma is a Kiwi journalist and self-confessed lover of South Pacific beats. Before moving to Aarhus she worked for Fairfax Media, New Zealand’s largest newspaper group, covering arts, culture and environment in the country’s largest city, Auckland. Follow her on twitter @hannahspyksma.