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Submotion Orchestra: Live at Warwick Arts Centre

Review of performance by UK group that mixes reggae with jazz

Submotion Orchestra
Submotion Orchestra

“Our music is rooted in dub reggae, that’s our heritage,” says Dom Howard, aka Ruckspin, Submotion Orchestra’s prodigious live engineer. “But then you could argue that reggae has its origins in jazz. So we trace our musical roots back a long way.”

The Submotion sound is as compelling as it is hard to pin down. It is an intimate, at times raucous, fusion of soul, jazz, reggae, electronica and dubstep – the latter being a brooding, bass-heavy style that emerged from London’s underground clubs about ten years ago. Whatever you call it, theirs is a distinctly urban sound. Listen to it and shut your eyes; you can almost hear the rain against the car window as a pre-dawn cab takes you back home through the big city.

The group consists of a quintet of players, plus producer, whose outstanding musicianship is robust bedrock for lead singer Ruby Wood’s exquisite, Sade-like vocals. While more at home delivering their sub-driven sound in the high-octane confines of a basement rave, Submotion Orchestra gave a concert of impeccable quality in the more refined environs of Warwick Arts Centre – an exceptional bastion for the arts, built on the UK’s University of Warwick campus (see more:

“It was the weirdest gig we’ve ever done,” admitted upbeat and heavily-tattooed bassist Chris Hargreaves, speaking backstage. “We’re used to playing in sweaty clubs, not sit-down concert halls. But our music is cerebral as well as physical – so I hope it worked for the audience.”

It worked a treat. The plush concert hall provided an ideal albeit unusual space for Submotion’s moody orchestration, warm synths, spacious dub production and melancholic, muted flugelhorn lines. There were moments of blissful serenity – as well as their usual mix of gritty, faster tunes. The show opened with the piano arpeggios and fragile vocals of ‘Hymn for Him’, its delicate lines cemented by a rumbling sub-bass and syncopated dubstep rhythm. The piece’s intimate mood was effortlessly recreated mid-set too with ‘All Yours’, its sensual vocal melody seeming to emanate from some forgotten R&B 45.

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