A Hawk and a Hacksaw @ The Lexington, London 17.04.13

From Albuquerque via Budapest to Islington on a Wednesday night, it has been a long steady road for this accordion and violin duo who have quietly established themselves as purveyors of some of the finest Eastern European-styled folk that one is likely to hear this side of the Danube.

Apr 17th, 2013 at The Lexington, London / By Henry Bainbridge
A Hawk and a Hacksaw @ The Lexington, London 17.04.13 Established in the early 2000’s by Jeremy Barnes (formerly the drummer for cult group Neutral Milk Hotel), and now featuring Heather Trost, A Hawk and a Hacksaw take a currently uniquely traditional approach to representing the melodies and rhythms of Balkan, Turkic and/or formerly-Soviet Europe. They eschew the trendy hip-hopification of Slavic choirs that Balkan Beat Box thrive on; ditch the self-conscious Euro-campness of Shantel; ‘borrow’ less freely than Bregovic; and ignore the Balkan hits which keep many Romani brass orkestars in new waistcoats and fresh moustache wax. The result is a testament to significant marketing prowess as trendy young London professionals squeeze into one of London’s most popular new venues to see a 90-minute set of instrumental folk music. And this is serious muso music, mined and manipulated from the depths of the Balkan Mountains and the remnants of the Silk Road.

Its uncomfortably warm at the Lexington as the first Spring warmth has managed to find it’s way upstairs to the darkened venue and the moustache quotient is high. To little fanfare the duo quietly wander on to the stage and adjust their instruments to a smattering of awkward whoops and claps. The opening number sets the tone for the evening as Trost’s bright and thin vocals wrestle over an age-distorted choir recording, bolstered by heaving keyed accordion and soon to give way to irregular metres wrapped tightly around a strict self awareness. Technical competency is formidable and imparts a hushed beard-stroking trance upon a number of the audience, this isn't going to be one of those hip East-London Balkan dance parties that you’ve heard of. Indeed there is little movement amongst the crowd and the duo hardly command the stage, seeming awkward amongst the bright light of the 200-capacity venue.

The show reaches a climax halfway through as Barnes buries his head into a rickety dulcimer and delivers a staggering melodic workout where notes peel away at tremendous speed and are tremolo picked into a euphoric sound wave that steps outside of time and melts post-work minds. It's a heady feeling that reminds why AHAAH are building such a devoted following; Barnes and Trost are doing things that other bands can’t even touch, and they are doing it with one of the most Spartan set ups around.