Gig Report: ate & heptagram Live in Sofia
Seeing former solo project heptagram live was a low-key dream of mine for the past seven years. This rainy Thursday saw it finally becoming a reality.
When best tour mate ever and Poland-based classic guitarist and drone musician Petar Petkov told me he’s coming to Bulgaria to open two heptagram shows with his project ate I might have hit the roof. Ever since Daniel Ivanov released his first solo album ‘Lucidity’ in 2012 I’ve been hoping that he’ll assemble a band and present his amazing and introvert mixture of alternative, prog and post-rock live. If I’m not mistaken I might have even asked him to join me on Plovdiv shows I’ve played back in the day but of course and understandably to no success.
So, the news he’s bringing his long-time solo endeavour to the live music realm was something I hoped more people would be anticipating. The evening of May 15 proved me completely right.
It’s around 9 pm on a super grey and rainy Thursday evening. We show up at the small room of Sofia’s *Mixtape 5* where there’s already a decent crowd waiting for the rite to begin. First on the bill is ate. Having travelled all the way from the cold sea shores of Gdansk his music sounds exactly as the place where he’s spent the past several years. He’s layering drones with his signature care for melody and harmony, which I blame on his background as a classic guitarist and teacher, plus his love for baroque music. I tend to call his music chamber drone and this is exactly how it sounds—carefully written and always way more powerful when executed live.
Despite the fact ate is just one person on stage, the voices hidden within the thick and beautiful dronescapes are many. He’s sometimes strumming the guitar with fingers or bowing it. The mixture of techniques he employs results in varying textures and elements that shape ate’s vivid sea of drones. People around me are mostly listening with their eyes closed, others are peaking at Petar’s pedal board and are are discussing the way he’s sculpting his sound. I hear a sporadic Sigur Ros or Pink Floyd comparison, it feels Sofia gets his music and it melts my heart. If you haven’t heard ate’s last year album ‘Secondary Drowning’ why not catch up now?
With everything basically set up it doesn’t take heptagram too long to start. The crowd has sufficiently thickened and you can sense the anticipation in the air. And here they are! For this show Daniel Ivanov has picked Pavel Pavlov, who handles percussion but also backing vocals, Petar Yotov on guitar, Kaloyan Mihalev on bass and Boris Malevanov on drums. I have to admit that except for the drummer I’m not really familiar with other bands done by the musicians Daniel has chosen but as soon as heptagram start “Angels’ from the latest album ‘Glass Elevators’ not just me but the whole audience is convinced he’s picked the right personnel for this live debut. They sound absolutely mesmerizing. Right after the first track I switch my brain off and let myself just experience the music without taking the time to actually follow a setlist. I just flow with somewhere out there.
The music of heptagram is dynamic, sometimes pretty complex but very personal and just sufficiently melancholic. They don’t stay in the same emotional state for too long and are not afraid to let it loose sometimes. I talk with the friends around me and everybody’s impressed how tight they sound for a band that obviously haven’t spent years and years together. I honestly don’t know how long have they rehearsed for these two gigs but they manage to sound massive. The show ends as sudden as the news about it hit us some months ago. Of course there’s an encore. And we’re treated with another round of ‘Angels’ because as Daniel explains they are a new band and don’t have any other tracks. Nice one. Actually these are pretty much his only words for the whole show. He leaves us to experience the music without any other intervention than actually performing it. I slightly envy the people who are seeing heptagram and ate tonight in Plovdiv. Maybe this is why I delayed this report as much as I could so I can low-key relive it again today.