Sylvan Esso: Promoting Electronic Energy Without Electronics

Vortex Music Magazine

North Carolina electronic duo Sylvan Esso busted down the digital wall with a ravishing set at a sold-out Crystal Ballroom. Photos by Tomas Alfredo Valladares

Sylvan Esso at a sold-out Crystal Ballroom on April 24, 2015—click to see a whole gallery of photos by Tomas Alfredo ValladaresSylvan Esso at a sold-out Crystal Ballroom on April 24, 2015—click to see a whole gallery of photos by Tomas Alfredo Valladares

The stage was set simply for Sylvan Esso’s sold-out show at the Crystal Ballroom: a mic with no mic stand, a table with a MacBook and a mixer, and lights resembling large traffic signals, which provided the backdrop. Without the duo themselves, the stage was practically empty.

It didn’t take long, though, for the lights and production to make the room overflow. Sylvan Esso started the show with “Could I Be,” just the first of 10 pieces of electronic heaven that Sylvan Esso offered from their self-titled debut. Right from the start, Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn had us hypnotized. Though the minimal equipment left plenty of room on the stage, the energy of the duo made it feel full. The simplistic light setup turned blinding and flashing as it shifted to every beat Sanborn dropped. Signs around the venue may have warned of intense lighting, but this surpassed my expectations.

Click to see a whole gallery of photos by Tomas Alfredo ValladaresClick to see a whole gallery of photos by Tomas Alfredo ValladaresWhile the lights behind Sylvan Esso captivated the crowd, the light emanating from the glow of the crowd’s cell phones held on high seemed to be a turnoff for the duo. Although Sylvan Esso use electronics to create their upbeat melodies, the core value of experiencing live music without a digital barrier is still dear.

“I have a proposal,” Meath told the audience between tracks. “Get out your cell phones, turn on your cameras, and we’ll pose for one picture. Then, put them in your pockets and leave them alone because we’re gonna dance.”

The crowd was quick to draw their handhelds for a snap, and some even obeyed the band’s suggestion. Yet, the younger members of the crowd couldn’t seem to fare without an illuminated object in their hands—I can guarantee the rest of us had the better end of the deal.

As Sylvan Esso continued their set with the majority of the digital wall broken down, the experience became more wholesome, and the energy between the crowd and band vastly increased as we did nothing but watch and enjoy the music.

Without our cameras to our noses, watching the show through our iPhone screens, we could see the raw talent of Sylvan Esso. We watched the movements of Meath, gliding across the stage in a manner both fluid and robotic. She pierced us with the physical expression of her words, delivering the tunes with her warm, folk-grown vocals. Sanborn provided a visual for every change in rhythm, bobbing his head and swaying his body to the notes of his synth-driven songs.

Click to see a whole gallery of photos by Tomas Alfredo ValladaresClick to see a whole gallery of photos by Tomas Alfredo Valladares

And, with our hands free, bracing the barricade or thrown high with excitement, the Crystal Ballroom danced as the lights and sounds of electropop paradise washed over us all.

When the digital wall between artist and audience is broken, the power of the performance floods the room. Sylvan Esso did it right, and though their energy came via electronic tones, the one-on-one, cell phone-free experience of live music couldn’t be beat.

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