Daemonia Nymphe

O2 Academy, Islington

23 June 2018

As the doors were about to open I joined a worryingly short queue that looked nothing like either the rock or the folk audiences I'm usually a part of. For a start, I was probably the oldest person there, and nobody had a t-shirt from any band I recognised. I'm not sure what audience Daemonia Nymphe attracts, but it seems to be very young, and very diverse.

And in the end, it was a large audience. The room filled up quickly just before the show, so it wasn't just me and 20 people as I was beginning to fear. But the small queue did mean I was able to get a spot at the front and fairly central, which turned out to be a good move for a show that was very visual and had to be seen as well as heard.

Prometheus and the Satyrs opened the show. I didn't know anything about them beforehand. They are ... well, I'm not sure what they are. They're rather unique. Dressed in heavy monk robes and scary masks, they have a double bass player, a sleight-of-hand magician, and a dancer who looks like she's going to climb out of your television and kill you in seven days. And, uh, some chanting in the middle. Probably—no, definitely—the most unusual act I've ever seen in concert, more performance art than music. It was entertaining and engrossing, but I'm not sure I would go to see them again—though I think everybody else should go and see them, just to experience it.

Darkher isn't at all theatrical—she just stands and plays music. She doesn't even speak, in fact she barely acknowledges the audience exists (I think she smiled once when we clapped), but that's ok. it's the music that counts.

If I'm totally honest, Darkher (aka Jayn Wissenberg) is probably the reason I'm here, as I've been looking for a suitable time to see her in concert and the pairing with Daemonia Nymphe seemed too good to resist. When I read that it was to be a solo acoustic set, I was surprised and a little wary, as her music relies heavily on distorted guitar drones and doom-metal beats. But she made it work. The drone is supplied by a floor pedal, the 12-string guitar playing is intricate enough that it holds your attention and makes the music sound rich and full even without other instruments, and her singing is spine-tingling. Literally, when she started with Hollow Veil, I got goose bumps. Her voice is extraordinary, and even better when experienced live, wrapping itself around you in an echoey whisper of sound. Simply perfect. She played for around 40 minutes, and left a high bar for Daemonia Nymphe to live up to.

Well. Daemonia Nymphe live up to and surpass any bar you care to set. Even though I knew I would like the music, listening to CDs doesn't prepare you at all for how incredible the live performance is. I'm not really into theatrical bands—I go to gigs to hear music, that's it. But Daemonia Nymphe's costumes and masks and dancing and props, not to mention light show, perfectly complement the music, while still keeping the music firmly front and centre.

There's so much going on that you scarcely know where to look, with sometimes as many as nine musicians on the stage, creating a full and dense wall of sound. Spyros and Evi lead the band (though neither of them speak much to the audience) and handle guitars, lyres, percussion, pandoura (Evi), bagpipes (Spyros), and vocals. The rest of the band consists of two double basses, a bowed Cretan lyra (I think?), several drums, a dazzling array of percussion, and multiple vocalists. At times there are five different people playing different forms of drums and percussion, up to five or six different people singing with a beautifully complementary range of voices, and ... just so much going on, it's almost overwhelming. The mood swings from menacing to exhilarating, to heartbreakingly beautiful—and that's just the music, I can't comment on the songs because they are, literally, all Greek to me.

You'd think that nine musicians would be enough, but somehow the stage also accommodates two dancers, a puppeteer, and a variety of props for the dancers (swords, chains, ropes glowing hoops, bowls of fire...). The dancers impress not just by the inventiveness with which they interpret the music, but also for their stamina in doing it non-stop for ninety minutes, and also the agility with which they navigate the extremely cluttered stage. And all the spectacle never distracts from the music at all, it just enhances it. It is, honestly, spectacular.

However good Daemonia Nymphe are on CD, they are a thousand times better live. I still can't quite believe how good it was. I'd watch it all again tomorrow if I could. Best concert I've ever seen.