The art-rockers hit the heights in London's KOKO at the end of their 2023 UK tour
From The Rolling Stones in 1964 to Madonna’s first UK appearance in 1983, Camden’s KOKO has the kind of musical legacy that could rival any venue in the capital. It is in the early 90’s however, back when it was known as the Camden Palace, after the emergence of rave culture in the UK, that the space really found its spiritual purpose. Something in the Grade II majesty of the steeply raised terraces, low ceilinged dancefloor and curved intimate enclosure of the former theatre lends itself beautifully to the ecstatic energy of electronic music. The venue still hosts gigs of all genres, but it is in its electronic/dance line-ups that KOKO really comes alive.
Into this rich rave heritage steps Django Django. It’s been over a decade since the band formed in Edinburgh, grooving onto the scene with their Mercury-nominated self-titled debut, and they are here tonight touring their latest album, Off Planet. It’s their most ambitious LP yet; a loose concept album of 21 tracks split across four “planets”, featuring a range of guests including Jack Peñate and Self Esteem (whose first EP David Maclean produced).
Opener ‘Spirals’ is a statement of intent – with signature exploring synths and propulsive percussion. Dressed in uniform white and adorned in a nebula of smoke as heavy as the bass emanating from the speaker stacks, the four piece perform under vigorously flashing lights, only briefly stopping to enthuse, “it’s f*cking great to be back in KOKO!”. The first big reaction of the night comes with debut album banger ‘Hail Bop’ which segues seamlessly into a cover of The Beatles’ ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’, a stunningly cosmic rendition which has now become a live staple.
The band comprises many influences: dance pop, bluesy Americana, indie and house to name a few, and they exhibit them well in the first half. Another hallmark of a ‘Djangos’ track, and no small part of their charm, are the gorgeous vocal harmonies, alluring enough to make Brian Wilson smile. There is also a particularity to the driving drumming which is evocative of krautrock but also invokes Adam Ant.
The middle section lowers the tempo and features the unrecorded song ‘Somebody’s Reality’, and new album highlight ‘Black Cadillac’, before things get altogether deeper and ravier. Beginning with ‘Waveforms’ and ending with ‘Silver Rays’, the last act sandwiches some live favourites including ‘Default’ and a Daft Punk cover (‘Around The World’) in between. With the room darkened and the lights strobed white, the hypnotic intensity of the performance is almost LCD Soundsystem; three of them briskly orbiting around synths in the corner, the crowd getting down.
The album most represented in the setlist is their debut, which might suggest Django Django are still somewhat beholden to it. However, they have so much brilliant material and nothing to prove. As the band encore with an excellent extended rendition of Marble Skies’ ‘Champagne’, it’s clear Django Django have become one of the best live acts around.