The Surrey Vaults, Bristol
3 February

Tucked away between Bristol’s Cabot Circus shopping mall and the city’s liberally-minded Stokes Croft area, The Surrey Vaults is a welcome retreat from the faux-rustic decor and bland music policies that dominate its fast-gentrifying locale. 

Visit on any given night, and you might find DJs playing Oi-punk, skate film screenings, or ear-splitting experimental noise blaring from out its intimate upstairs room. Entry to gigs is usually conducted on a free or donations basis, and while The Surrey Vaults might be small, it’s an important DIY space where exciting things can – and often do – happen. 

Tonight, presented by Surrey regulars Schwet, the venue hosts Berlin-via-Melbourne artist Carla dal Forno, whose LP You Know What It’s Like was one of Blackest Ever Black’s stand-out releases last year. The upstairs room is packed to the rafters – quite literally, with people clambering onto benches and spilling up the staircase for a better view. Carla dal Forno stands below a tasselled lampshade lit by a single orange bulb – a scene reminiscent of the eerie tableau that adorns You know What It’s Like’s sleeve artwork.

Opening with a wave-break of white noise, the show begins in earnest with What You Gonna Do Now? The close confines of the room lend the performance a real immediacy, with each repetition shifting the refrain from rhetorical to interrogative. On title track You Know What It’s Like Carla dal Forno’s vocals swirl in and out of the mix, sometimes obscured by reverb and cacophonous drums, but during the following track – a cover of Blue Morning by cult New Zealand folk group The Kiwi Animal – her voice cuts through bell-clear.

Ambivalence is a theme common to Carla dal Forno’s lyrics, a quality lent weight by her ability to simultaneously evoke a sense of both glassy-eyed detachment and closeness in their delivery. Back downstairs after the set, the mood soon eases back into the atmosphere of the Friday night pub fug. But for a moment there, during Carla dal Forno’s closing lines of Fast Moving Cars (“Now we’re along what will we do/ Yeah we’re alone just us two”), the crowd are totally transfixed.