Review: Scala & Kolacny Brothers - Union Chapel, London

You could be inclined to think that a 21st Century youth choir meets medieval plainsong was a recipe for disaster - but last night ‘Scala’, an all-girl choir from Belgium, made their London debut to a standing ovation at the Union Chapel in Highbury & Islington.

Their hauntingly innocent voices fill the Chapel walls as they enter the stage one-by-one, leading us to believe that we are in for a heavenly experience. What they haven’t told us is they are about to take us on a journey to some very dark places.
Let’s be clear, this is no Glee club.

Scala is the brainchild of the Kolacny brothers – Steven supports the group of approximately 16 girls with his moving piano accompaniments whilst Stijn masterfully conducts, often whirling round the stage and even at one point leaving completely to allow the girls a moment on their own to show us what they are really made of. Their speciality lies in taking well-known popular songs and creating something other-worldly.

They open with Marilyn Manson’s “The Beautiful People”, an unusual choice given the church setting. The sad, longing tones breathing an eerie sense of beauty into the aggressive lyrics as skeleton images dance wildly around on the projector behind them. They swear, but I don’t think anyone notices, we’re all too busy being mesmorised.

They move through more well known tunes as we are treated to U2’s “With or Without You”, Kings of Leon “Use Somebody” and a particularly spine chilling cover of Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters”. These are accompanied by animations or videos that seem to draw you in further. Their version of Radiohead’s “Creep” is laid bare as the haunting image of a clown appears on the screen behind them. You find yourself transfixed, unable to look away but at the same time feeling that you truly are being “creeped” out.

These well known songs are interspersed with original compositions by the brothers and the atmosphere changes. The audience somewhat lose the recognition that the covers provide but these pieces present an opportunity to sit back and enjoy the ethereal images that are conjured before us. Of particular beauty is the piece “Raintears”, which is accompanied by a strangely charming animation that follows the life of an abandoned child raised by nuns.

It is a truly beautiful yet disturbing experience. Now and again they introduce drum machines and electroacoustic sounds to liven the pace and these are greeted with enthusiasm by the audience who are quickly slipping into the despair and sadness that the voices bring to the production. There is a danger that the pieces begin to sound alike, and you have question whether the introduction of any sounds other than the piano draw the listener away from the original purist message they seemed to send in their opening.

Scala are at their best with the darker, eerier numbers. As the girls walk solemnly around the stage, sometimes even into the audience, you find yourself in awe. Not only is their vocal technique mind-blowing but you have to admire how the brothers have put the performance together. They are not merely performing to you, they want you live their music with them, to feel it and for that you are rewarded with a metaphysical experience. 

Their new album - Scala & Kolacny Brothers, is available now!

Review by Melissa Phillips - (Twiiter @lilmissphillips)