WHYTE are Scots duo Alasdair and Ross (both with the surname of the band title, but not related), with the former controlling the electronic rhythm and tempo through his keyboard and laptop, while the latter adds soaring vocals in the Gaelic language. With their debut album Fairich, released last October, the pair breathe new life into all-but-forgotten 17th and 18th century folk songs and have brought it to the Edinburgh Fringe accompanied by a stunning video reel of visuals encapsulating the rugged, untameable beauty of northern Scotland.
In the past, the duo have drawn comparisons with Icelandic post-rock gods Sigur Rós and it’s easy to see why. Ross’ atmospheric electronica swells to similarly grandiose heights as the Nordic lads, especially on opener Gaoir (which sets the tone well for what’s to come) and on third number Leis a’ Bhàta (which comprises perhaps the most upbeat and energetic offering of the afternoon). Title track Fairich is a relaxed, instrumental piece which soothes and destresses even as it pulsates with latent energy, while closing brace Cumha Ni Mhic Raghnaill and Cionran finish things on a more sombre and subdued note.
Meanwhile, Alasdair’s powerful voice is put to good use right from the start; it’s only on the aforementioned Fairich that he cedes centre stage to the instrumentals and his soaring vocals carry us along, even if the lowland infidels in the crowd haven’t the foggiest what’s coming out of his mouth. Indeed, this breakdown in communication constitutes one of the major gripes of the show; while it’s certainly atmospheric and moving and makes for excellent background music, it’s not always entirely clear what sentiments are being communicated. The visuals are indeed beautiful examples of what Scotland’s countryside has to offer, but their grainy images do little to express the music beyond “Scotland’s awfy bonnie, is it not?” for much of the performance.
At the show’s close, Alasdair advertises programme notes on sale upstairs, which can provide a narrative aid to the meaning behind the melodies. It’s a shame that these were not distributed before the performance, thus allowing the audience to follow the evolution of the album more closely, and also that a fee is being proposed for interpreting the music at all. Furthermore, live performances of electronic music can often feel a little underwhelming, and despite the imposingly shadowy presences of the two performers onstage (and Alasdair’s excellence in singing), it feels like Fairich would have hugely benefited from live strings as well.
That being said, it’s definitely a moving experience brimming with significance and slow-burning dynamism. It just could have benefited from some clarification on what that significance constitutes, and from a few more rousing moments to maintain the momentum over the hour-long show.