You’ve never heard about La Chaux-de-Fonds, and why would you? It’s a moderately important town from Northern Switzerland. They make watches there. Aaaand that’s about it.They do have a pretty cool music venue called Bikini Test, and even though the name’s still a mystery, the band playing there tonight are no strangers to that part of Europe.
You might have never heard of Birdpen either, which wouldn’t be really surprising but is a lot sadder as half of its members is part of Archive. Archive as in the collective, of course, not some random archive. Why would I write about some random archive? Anyway, point is: no one really cares about either Archive or Birdpen in their native England, but they are quite big in continental Europe – especially France, for some reason no one can quite pinpoint. Makes sense, then, that they would play in French-speaking Switzerland about two to three times a year, which some might consider an unnecessary amount for such a small country.
There is no denying that the place is perfect, though; straightforwardly rustic with a colourful edge, quite similar to Birdpen’s mesmerising drone-esque prog rock. Their third album, In The Company Of Imaginary Friends, came out in May and they’ve been touring around central Europe to showcase it for the past few months (though, to be fair, they never really stop touring anyway).
As the lights go out and people start cheering, Mike Bird and Dave Pen (Bird…pen… yeah) walk on stage, no frills and no fuss, promptly followed by their backing band, which consists simply of a drummer and an additional bass player. It’s that calm strength that really defines Birdpen: they’re not here to be idolised, they’re here to play tunes. And just like that, they open with Like A Mountain, the monster of a track that was the first song on their last EP, quiet at first and then monumental.
As the band goes through a very solid setlist – with old and new songs in quasi-equal proportions – their no-nonsense policy is even more evident; they look happy to be here but don’t fill the occasional silence with unnecessary chatter. Singer Pen does make an exception, though, and gets real really quickly: “we’ve been on tour for quite a while, and sometimes it’s hard. But today, I looked out the window of the tour bus, saw the beautiful, snowy landscape and I knew I was doing what I’m meant to be doing.”
Is there anything to add to something so sincere? Not really. There’s really few things better than the simplicity of great musicians playing great song in a great atmosphere, and tonight was just that.
Words by Jillian Blandenier