Florence and the Machine

Music Awards.
Sometimes they get it right. Let’s start from something I usually don’t consider.

Florence (the singer) and the Machine (her band) have been hyped since last summer Glastonbury appearance by any UK press as the hottest 2009 tip in music.

They have been in the BBC’s sound of 2009 list, had a cover of the Guardian’s Guide with just one single out and recently won the prestigious Critics Choice at the Brit awards.

Florence and the Machine have just finished touring the NME Shockwave 2009.
They opened the gigs ahead of three highly tipped bands.
White Lies (recently number one on the chart), Friendly Fires (nu-rave-electro-something coming next on liveon35mm), Glasvegas (months ago the next big thing today a very big thing).

I have been photographing the NME tour every year for a while now and it happened quite often that the opening band is the one destined to the biggest success. In the past editions appeared in this role names as Coldplay, The Coral, Franz Ferdinand, Kaiser Chiefs and in 2008 the hugely successful Ting Tings.

Florence got the 2009 slot and be sure, she is going to maintain the tradition.

Her performance, I insist on the word performance, was by far the best of the night.
For a band who published just three singles (one being a cover by the Source, my ignorance, I never heard before) it is already an achievement.

With the debut album not coming out until summer this tour provided a road test for the unedited material. Eight songs have been played tonight to warm up the audience with a stunning half hour of sheer intensity which won’t be matched by the following bands.

For the fans (already quite a lot), the setlist was written down as:

Coffin song
Girl With one eye
Kiss With a Fist
Dog Days
You Got the Love

For the curious, her music is one of those cases adding up so many opposite influences that the result is inevitably new. Good thing it is very refreshing too.

Florence openly loves the White Stripes. As any other band in love with the Detroit pair but unable to recruit Jack White, F&TM lack that guitar. They took from them that “garage coolness” that looks sincere and believable.

Florence openly loves Kate Bush as well. Despite her deep voice is much closer to Patty Smith; Kate Bush’s influence is present and gives the songs that “floating-in-the air” lightness that keep away Florence timbre from falling into depressive tunes.

This is supported by a hippie, floral, sunny look that generates a sense of happiness scattered along the stage. Flowers hanging from the instruments, empty bird cages on the floor. Colours.
The Machine are going to be the magicians to brings the sun at rainy British summer festivals.

As a counterpart there is a dark side.
Florence wears it. Black clothes, black make-up. She sings it.
The combination delivers much more than the sum of the parts.
Dark song titles and lyrics about boys building coffins don’t come everyday.

“My boy builds coffins he makes them all day
But it’s not just for work and it isn’t for play
He’s made one for himself
One for me too
One of these days he’ll make one for you”

[My Boy Build Coffin’]

She must love PJ Harvey. Not just in a musical sense. In the artist’s approach.
Everyone into PJ knows how her dedication is fully committed to the final product: the music. As PJ doesn’t care of anything else than producing what she has in mind, uncompromisingly, Florence on stage showed the same attitude.

She gets so involved in her performance to look in a supernatural, mystic state that only being “into it” can give.
Glasvegas , 2 hours later, looked exactly the opposite. Bored to death of playing those songs and willing to end their headline as soon as possible. So soon their set was just one song longer than F&TM opening.

To Florence the band, the audience, the stage, the lights are all functional to her goal.
She is not performing, she is the performance. She is not singing songs, she is the music.

Better don’t get in her way. Girl With One Eye is a good metaphore (I hope it is!) for what you encounter hampering her path

“She told me not to step on the cracks
I told her not to fuss and relax
Well, her pretty little face stopped me in my tracks
But now she sleeps with one eye open
That’s the price she paid

I took a knife and cut out her eye
I took it home and watched it wither and die
Well, she’s lucky that I didn’t slip her a smile
That’s why she sleeps with one eye open
That’s the price she paid

I said, hey, girl with one eye
Get your filthy fingers out of my pie
I said, hey, girl with one eye
I’ll cut your little heart out cause you made me cry

I slipped my hand under her skirt
I said don’t worry, it’s not gonna hurt
Oh, my reputation’s kinda clouded with dirt
That’s why you sleep with one eye open
That’s the price you paid…”

[Girl With One Eye]

Obstinate rhythm dominates. Thanks to that, Kiss With a Fist has such a captivating refrain that the Ting Tings could kill for.
The plus is that here everything is played by living musicians and not by an Apple powerbook.
I know I sound retro but I still believe live music means real people playing real instruments.
Singing over a drum-machine/electro-noise base it is not live music it is called karaoke.

The Machine music is based on directness in the best indie tradition but beyond the classic guitar-bass-drum line up there are few interesting bits to spice things up.

A girl plays a synth and gives the songs the electric edge unavoidable these days, she has a good vibe.
A harp (it is the first time I see a man playing a harp) is responsible to bring the bucolic touch beyond the stage design into the music. It is not folk, we are not in the Arcade Fire space. We’re in London, Canada is thousands miles away.

Florence sings herself out, and I am pleased she does. With a voice and an energy unmatched at present days is good she does not distract playing any instrument. A floor-tom sporadically helps her keeping the beat, though.

The rough, straightforward, uncomplicated arrangements complement the most plain-spoken lyrics I heard since Jagged Little Pill.

“…you hit me once
I hit you back
you gave a kick
I gave a slap
you smashed a plate
over my head
then I set fire to our bed

My black eye guess
no shirt on
your all I see
no place
your slaps don’t stick
your kicks don’t hit
so we remain the same
well love sticks sweat drips
break the lock if it don’t fit
a kick in the teeth is good for some
a kiss with a fist is better than none
a-woah a kiss with a fist is better than none

broke your jaw once before spilt your blood upon the floor
you broke my leg with your touch
sit back and watch the bed burn
well love sticks sweat drips
break the lock if it don’t fit
a kick in the teeth is good for some
a kiss with a fist is better than none
a-woah a kiss woth a fist is better than none…”

[Kiss With a Fist]

She chose You Got the Love (The Source cover and latest single) to close the set in style. With a key verse that goes like:

“… Sometimes I feel like throwing my hands up in the air
I know I can count on you…”

Florence salutes the audience her style: jumping on them, crowd-surfing over their heads as long as the security required to get her back to the pit.

A star is born and it is worth you check her soon.
Florence and the Machine [myspace] and [website] are here to help.

Photo tip

I talked about art and “being into it”, let’s get a bit more philosophical.
Quite few Live on 35mm readers wrote to me asking why I shoot a lot of tilted images.
So here’s an answer to all of you.

First, obvious and most important, I like them, so why not?
I like unusual angles. I like giving my images a dynamism which, if taken either horizontal or vertical, don’t have.

Without getting to much into Kandinsky’s attempt to rationalize art rules and composition in his “Point and Line to Plane”, it is clear to anyone that a rectangle sitting on the long side “feels” more stable than the same rectangle sitting on the short side and definitely much different from a rectangle posed on its angle.

This sense of instability, to me, fits with the liveliness of concert photography.
The same way as blurred shots catch the energy of a moment more than the “sensation of security” that a razor-sharp image gives.

It is linked with disclosing, revealing.
The more details you give in a photo the less the viewer can fantasize about it.
Rock music is about dreaming, imagining, impersonificating with a star so, to me, better less then more.
Don’t disclose everything, keep a part of mistery.
(This also partially answer the other question I am always asked, why black and white).

Than there is a practical reason. I don’t like cropping the negative (which most of you don’t even handle), being the human figure linear, shot on a diagonal fits more of it.
A tilted frame leaves less empy space than a vertical/horizontal one, especially if a guitar goes with it.

It also comes handy that most of tilted frames look OK both displayed horizontal, which is much better for a computer/monitor use, and vertical which is what magazines tend to prefer.

In the end it is a personal thing and I change opinion depending on the bands.
I am mostly driven by my eye. I can feel if I got a good picture straight after taking it and, without having the chance to look at it on the LCD display on the back, it is very often confirmed when I see the developed negative.

~ by Valerio on February 28, 2009.

7 Responses to “Florence and the Machine”

  1. I love your site! :)

    Experiencing a slow PC recently? Fix it now!

  2. I was waiting for this one so eagerly… :)) glad she blew away everyone else!

  3. These pictures are beautiful! You really captured her passion and soul. Thanks for sharing! I love Florence.

  4. Hi Valerio, been meaning to come back to you about these brilliant shots, I’ll drop you a line by e-mail about what we discussed. I think,of all the great artists you’ve captured so well, Florence will ultimately evolve into the most widely applauded and deeply significant, and you’ve brilliantly caught her at what was evidently such an electrically charged, protean stage in her evolution…fabulous work…

  5. Oh, and by the way, I wholeheartedly agree with you on the use of diagonal composition and blur, both in terms of practicality and expression, I always think this approach offers a more direct link between viewer and subject matter than more (for want of a better word) ordered orthodoxy, which often seems to act as interference rather than conduit. Ooh, get me with the big blah…

  6. Thank you, Alan!

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