Monday 2 June 2014

Toy Rokit - Immersive and experimental

Mark Rose
The first rule of Toy Rokit don't talk about Toy Rokit.

Well, I'm going to take my life in my hands and write about this unusual trio of musicians. I have sketched all three before as individuals but not in their current manifestation as an improvising unit new to London's scene. Formed in 2013 by Bill Mudge, Chris Nickolls and Mark Rose their musical patter has developed in this last year with 4 Missions (recorded gigs) and 6 Test Flights (closed door recording sessions).

Each session is meticulously recorded because of the organic nature of their music, its 'Carpe Diem' ethos means that what isn't captured then and there is lost to future generations and quite possibly the musicians themselves. Such was the levels of concentration and plundering of inner reserves that the 3 musicians are unaware of their surroundings whilst playing. I by contrast was very conscious of where I was, and that was at the Troyganic Cafe on the 28th May 2014.

Chris Nickolls
Toy Rokit played two 1 hour sets at this charming venue in downtown Hoxton, it was a sparse but loyal following that witnessed the event. Before playing no one talks of what they will be doing, no one hatches a plan and there is little interaction between the trio whilst in mid flight. There is a touch, a sense of the music shifting and spinning, often within their control but sometimes cascading away from them. Each set consisted of just one tune, yet the chapters within evoked a rich emotive response. In fact it was easier to let the mind wander, turning your back on the trio and watch life outside develop on the streets of London at 10pm on a Wednesday night.

Thodoris Ziarkis
This session is a regular from the Contrapunto Collective who present a night of emerging young artists from the field of jazz and improvised music on the last Wednesday of every month at the Troyganic Café. Tonight the man in charge of the door and overseeing proceedings was Thodoris Ziarkis, who is an impressive bass player in his own right.

Although all three players had conventional instruments at their disposal (Mudge/keyboard, Nicholls/drums, Rose/bass) they also had an array of circuit boards, pedals and technological breakthroughs I was not familiar with. Below I have written a brief impression of the first and most successful set but first let me say how impressive and enveloping it was. It was meandering and inspirational, they unearthed long forgotten sentiments and made you want to come back for more. It was as close to gambling as you can get musically and Toy Rokit's live performances could become equally addictive.

Bill Mudge - Keys
Set 1
Mark Rose digs in, you become aware immediately of your surroundings, the lights spilling in from the roads that line two sides of Troyganic. A late night train rumbles over the bridge from the nearby Hoxton overground. Chris Nicholls punches in his co-ordinates and words tumble out. Snatches of mission control patter is almost tangible and we can distinguish just two brief words "line up". As the monologue pulses and vibrates you cannot avoid comparisons with obscure B-Movies from faraway planets. Nickolls gives our feeble minds something to cling onto with the conventional drums, his head often in his chest, eyes closed, he looks more at peace than I have ever seen him before. Bill Mudge slips in just moments of ragtime motifs like a lone merry-go-round. The music creeps up on you like a Rothko painting, it becomes overwhelming as they reach a total assault after 45 minutes of continuous playing. You think it is coming to a close but Rose flips open his lap-top and he squeezes out a pulsating, groping green ooze which snares us before the final descent.

NB. The whole set was recorded, so follow this link to Bandcamp to check it out.

Still from Ping Pong Paranoia
It is with pleasure I have to lay some of my cards onto the table here. Although this was my first live experience of Toy Rokit it isn't my first encounter with them. On the 13th February 2014 they improvised to the film, 'Ping Pong Paranoia' whilst it was projected onto a screen at the Survival Studios in Acton. The film was made during my Art residency at the simulated mental health ward at Kingston University and St George's University London and uses the voice of Lindsay Shepherd as well as Toy Rokit's propelling music.

The film will be receiving its first outing at the MORPHOS Immersive Video Dome Art festival, Los Angeles, California on the 27th June 2014. MORPHOS is a one night immersive video experience featuring the world premiere of new experimental immersive and interactive video art in the Vortex LA Dome.

If you can't make it to LA then catch Toy Rokit somewhere more local and let yourself be enveloped by the ebb and flow of their improvised music.


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