True originality is hard to come by these days. There are no new chords to play and few genres left unexplored. The best that any contemporary artist can now do is choose their references carefully and blend them assiduously into a sound that, whilst maybe not unique, can at aspire to originality when delivered with verve and passion. Banco De Gaia score heavily in this area.
It may be possible to discern a hint of Sigur Ros or Leftfield here and there, or to hear echoes of Lewis Taylor’s wondrous 1996 neo-soul debut album in some of the band’s slow burners, but the influences are discreet and, anyway, everyone in the sparse but enthusiastic crowd at this intimate venue are having too good a time to be overly analytical. That Toby Marks put together his Banco De Gaia project as far back as 1989 also asks the question of who might have influenced who.
Despite some early industry buzz and a Mercury nomination – for ‘Maya’ in 1994 – Marks has generally ploughed a low profile furrow on the edges of the ambient/trance scene. His recorded output has been extensive and, although this tour is ostensibly a 20th anniversary celebration of his seminal ‘Last Train To Lhasa’ – the title track is a killer here – he draws upon songs from a range of albums in his back catalogue for this set. The initial portents were not promising. An iMac being carefully placed centre stage offered an uncomfortable promise of earnest naval gazing – it’s all James Blake’s fault – but there is nothing reverential about Banco De Gaia.
Marks fronts a dynamic trio, his guitar/sample work underpinned by dynamite drummer Ted Duggan and James Eller, whose bass lines are inevitably up high in the mix. The band sound terrific throughout, no more so than when building layered rhythms on Marks’s trademark Arabic and Eastern samples, which acknowledge both his musical inspiration and political commitment. This was no place for crusading, though, just for laughing, dancing and enjoying as good a live set as I have seen this year. and The band continue their tour intermittently and have some festival and small venue dates lined up. Catch them while you can: Banco De Gaia may be the best band you have never heard of.