It's their latest visit to the Northern capital in Ae Mak’s short career. It can be hard for travelling bands in Belfast so the Dublin/Dundalk duo have brought some local support; dreamy pop trio Beauty Sleep are opening tonight. The Metropolitan Arts Centre is thoroughly modern. It only opened five years ago but its varied theatres and exhibition space have already made it a hub of creativity for the whole Island. The brightly upholstered seating is a welcoming sight for those of us who have been wandering the city on this grey Saturday evening
Ugly Ducklings’ ‘Opening Act’ introduces the opening act. Rather than a traditional drummer the bass, guitar and keyboard are backed by electronic beats. It's a setup that complements their ‘80s alternative pop songs, as well as their attire. It's takes a song or two for the mix to settle but after that we get a sumptuous blend of Tom Tom Club, B -52s, The Primitives and even The Pixies’ more consonant moments. They've a new single coming out on Friday and ‘All In’ features irresistible harmonies from both lead singers, Ryan and Cheylene, while bassist Aimee plus it cool a la Tina Weymouth. It's an amiable, accomplished, and unpretentious performance of smooth pop with zero cheese. Excellent stuff.
The five piece backing band start things moving before the hypnotic duo of Ellie McMahon and Aoife McCann appear in high concept, asymmetric white outfits. Their simple but effective movements work in concert with their astonishing voices. The combined effect is one you feel in your gut as well as in your cerebrum. They use their voices as Instruments, playing syncopated rhythms and toying with time, tone, and timbre with an easy virtuosity. Like a pair of early Bjorks, they play music that is intellectually engaging, and technically impressive while making you want to dance. And dancing is what we do. Last years ‘I Can Feel It In My Bones’ sees a substantial portion of the audience abandon their seats to join Ae Mak at the front of the stage.
The sound never stops. From drones and tribal beats to minimalist electro and funky rhythms, the music draws from a diverse well and it's the immaculate and inventively utilised voices of McMahon and McCann that focus everything like a masterfully started lens. The progressive rhythms and the world music influence bring Peter Gabriel to mind. Tuneyards is a big influence on the pair too, and they wear it proudly.
Ae Mak are the most visually striking band working in Ireland right now, thankfully the audio aspect is no less arresting. Their arty pop is without peer. It's like they are dryads who grew up in the forest without human contact and they’ve only deigned to join our civilisation after hearing music drift in on the wind from the local village. It hurts a little when McCann announces that its their last song. They had established a fervent fan base in Belfast before tonight and this performance has secured them further devotees. The merch table is doing a brisk trade too; you could expect as much from a band as design- and image-conscious as Ae Mak.