Submotion Orchestra – Live Review

Stuart Forward

Submotion Orchestra – The Wardrobe – Leeds – 13.11.2013


There was a point over the summer that I became thoroughly lost in the haunting dub-electro of Fragments, the second release from 7-piece band Submotion Orchestra. Having heard their name muttered in hushed tones with increasing frequency over the last couple of years, I jumped at the opportunity to see the band live. Despite reports back from friends at festivals of the incredible live experience the band put on in their sets at Latitude and Bestival, I was admittedly uncertain about how the quite select sound of the band would convert to a live audience. Describing Submotion to my friends as dub-electro-ambient-jazz, they were equally anxious about what would follow as the band performed at The Wardrobe, Leeds.

Opened for by Capua Collective, a Leeds based band who offered up a striking mix of intense dub beats and piercingly sweet vocals, the night was clearly one beyond the usual expectations of your average gig. The Wardrobe was packed in anticipation and seemed to revel in Submotion’s frequent switches between powerful dub crunches and the hauntingly downplayed ambient sound of the interweaving songs. The night explored both Fragments and the band’s debut release, Finest Hour, as well as some new material. All in all the crossover worked well, playing the clash between lead singer Ruby Wood’s striking vocal and the overlapping, and at points overpowering, dub and jazz beat to great effect.

A personal highlight was ‘All Yours’, a tender and brilliantly layered slow tune which left the crowd chanting along with Ruby. It was refreshing to see a band who were entirely about the music, crafting their set around their strengths, with particular focus on the great trumpet instrumental that brought an incredible extra layer to a number of tracks.

Despite the band’s sound not automatically encouraging as energetic a crowd as you would find at other gigs, there were frequent moments of high intensity which brought the crowd to life, allowing them to get lost in the powerful and trippy beats of their majestic high-tempo tunes. It was one of those close-your-eyes-and-shuffle moments where the music just overtakes you. Think Portishead but with more emphasis on the fun.

The night closed on top track ‘It’s Not Me, It’s You’ which was mixed up by the band to send the crowd into one last rapture. You felt like skanking and floating at the same time.

Submotion Orchestra’s setlist toyed with the audience and showcased the full breadth of their back catalogue, as well as a promise for the future with fresh sounds and real potential to affirm themselves in the public consciousness. My friend noted that it was the kind of music that you would expect to hear playing at 4am, once the facade of the night is gone, when you look a mess, and you’re down to the bare bones of just enjoying yourself with some spaced out tunes. This is totally true, but should not be a limiting factor on the band as their sound could find a place on any club’s playlist.

You get the sense that this band are going places and doing it their own way with an alternative and thoughtful sound that prioritises their multilayered music above all else. While the night did have some slow moments where ambient tunes didn’t quite hit home with the crowd, should the band ever have a DJ set with an emphasis on their dub-electro beat, I would be all over that as would many others. They made believers out of me and my friends, and I would encourage you to check them out on the remainder of their tour.

Submotion Orchestra play Bristol Sat 16th Nov, Brighton Sun 17th Nov & Kiev Thurs 21st Nov. You can find further information here.

About Stuart Forward

Recent graduate living in Leeds. Lover of the Caribbean, obscure books, beer and things people don't give a toss about. Aspiring publisher. Wannabe Belgian. @StuForward