IRFAN is a band from Bulgaria that does not play live very often but their music and especially the atmosphere they create while on stage, is unique. Audiences had the opportunity and pleasure, to see IRFAN perform at the Schauspielhaus in Leipzig during WGT in 2012.Since then, the band has released their latest album entitled ‘The Eternal Return’ which was closer in terms of style and musical references to the debut album entitled ‘Irfan’ and quite different from ‘Seraphim’. The influences in the sound of IRFAN are many and craftily combined to create a unique sound that has elements from eastern liturgical chant (more prominent in the debut album), eastern folk music and neoclassical/ethereal music.
It is not often that I am impatient about a gig, but this was one of those times. IRFAN is a band whose music style does has an audience in this country but this audience is very rarely given the opportunity to watch such a band play live. Taking this aside, the fact that a band like IRFAN would play live at the notorious (for jazz gigs in the late 40s and for punk gigs during the 70s) 100Club, would inspire someone to write a surreal poem…or that’s what I think. And yet, all these unlikely events happened on a magical September’s night.

When music annuls or rather transcends the character of a venue…

The small delay in the beginning of this gig was not noticeable as there was a dedicated DJ who took great care in creating a playlist with songs of appropriate style and atmosphere. During this time it was pleasant to watch the audience silently, almost ceremoniously, finding its place in the unusual setting that the longitudinal stage creates in this space.
IRFAN is a band that creates and spreads feelings of serenity and lightness. It is also a band that captures the audience’s attention and transfers the mind to places for contemplation, carelessness and elegance. Our ‘paths’ towards a refreshing ‘lightness’ passed through ‘Burana’, ‘Return to Outremer’, ‘The Eternal Return’, ‘In The Gardens of Armida’, ‘The Cave Of Swimmers’ with Kalin Yordanov and Darina Zlatkova at the vocals. An important aspect of the atmosphere that the band creates and the feelings its music ‘transmits’ from the stage, is the quality of the sound as it helps the audience become immersed in this atmosphere. Apart from the sound engineer, the quality of the sound depends on the musicians and the way the different instruments are played. This defines whether the sound that the audiences hear is perceived as gentle or harsher. The percussion are a key element of IRFAN’s music and the way the different types of instruments are being played is gentle and ‘conversing’, complementing rather than competing with the vocals. IRFAN are narrating a story through their music and lyrics and the meaning and impact of this story would be completely different if Peter (Todorov), Yasen (Lazarov) and Ivaylo (Petrov) were playing the different types of drums, wind and string instruments respectively in a ‘cold’ and rough way. It was the gentle delivery of the lyrics by Darina and Kalin and the warm sound that was created by the whole band, that focused everyone’s attention on the band in defiance of the quite ‘cold’ space of 100 Club and the quite cluttered stage. 
The elongated stage meant that Kalin and Darina had to be away from each other on opposite sides of the stage. Moreover, Peter and Yasen also occupied the opposite edges of the stage so one could only focus on one side of the stage each time making it a challenge to actually appreciate the performance as a whole. This would be problematic for some bands, but IRFAN created a serene and beautiful, lyrical atmosphere in defiance of all the challenges that the venue presented.

Dance as an enhancing element of the performance

Around the middle of the gig, the band had a pleasant surprise for us. A young tribal dancer found her place in front of the stage and enhanced the mystifying element of the performance with her movements. There is a very thin line between mysticism and kitsch when it comes to tribal dance, especially when combined with music that has many influences from folk music styles. IRFAN have made an excellent choice of including Bianca Darkwoods in their performance as she knew and more importantly she listened to the music that was played and her movements were aesthetically and rhythmically appropriate and relevant, not to say, respectful of IRFAN’s music style. Moving in a serpent-like way, it seemed as though she was conversing with Kalin’s more austere body language at the back. Often tribal dancers, draw so much attention on them by being significantly different from the music that is played, that the result becomes quite confusing. In this case, Bianca nicely channeled IRFAN’s mood and style and translated it into movement. She appeared a few more times before the audience also loosened up and started to dance.
If you have been in the audience in ethereal/neoclassical gigs especially of bands that combine medieval rhythms and traditional instruments such as the bagpipe, hurdy gurdy etc you would then know that a gig is deemed to be successful if it makes people dance with each other, the atmosphere becomes charged with a kind of Dionysian/festive spirit and the audience is truly relaxed. This is exactly what happened during this gig and after a point people started smiling and being gently euphoric. As the evening progressed, the audience reacted in different ways to the melodies and the stories narrated through the lyrics. I noticed two people at the back who were ‘dancing’ only by making hand gestures as a response to the sound or the verses. Their movement ascribed more and different dynamics to what the band was communicating. There were other people who seemed to have been possessed by this feeling of ‘lightness’ and calmness, and were wandering around changing dancing partners every now and then. Somewhere else, an emotionally generous listener was gently dancing around the space, inviting a different person to join her every once in a while. It was a pleasant surprise to see Spyros from Daemonia Nymphe in the audience as it is quite rare, outside of festivals, for a musician to be attending the gigs of fellow musicians and we were quite excited to hear about the possibility of a joint gig between Daemonia Nymphe and IRFAN in the future. We can only wish that this does happen and more importantly that it happens at a bigger venue in London…
Before the end of their two hour set, we enjoyed one more surprise, a beautiful cover version of Dead Can Dance’s song ‘Salamander’. Many people from the audience rushed to the merchandise to have a chat with the band, buy cds and congratulate the musicians and dancer, extending the warm atmosphere that the music has created.
I think that such gigs are very precious moments in London’s chaotic and extremely busy music scene. 100Club was transformed into a meditating and warm space even though it was in the middle of the rather cold and corporate Oxford Street. Not everything is brutal and loud and noisy in this city after all. Thank you IRFAN for coming to London, we hope to see you again soon!

Blaue Rosen box

You can see more photos from this gig here:

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