Street Sounds: Cellists attempt to rock the bow

Zagreb, Croatia-based duo Luka Sulic and Stjepan Hauser, known as 2Cellos, can rock the cello, but does their music rock and roll?

Zagreb, Croatia-based duo Luka Sulic and Stjepan Hauser, known as 2Cellos, can rock the cello, but does their music rock and roll?

The classically trained twosome’s second album, In2ition, puts forth a convincing case for the chamber music mainstay as a weapon-in-waiting; but just lay on the distortion.

2Cellos have some rocking forbears, after a fashion anyway.  There was fusion maestro Jean Luc Ponty wanking out some space jams on his violin back in the ‘70s, as well as Eddie Jobson of British prog-rock band UK doing the same thing in the same decade… And who can forget ELO?

More recently there’s been English classical rocker, Nigel Kennedy wailing on a fuzzed out violin. But do they rock?  Well, they’re playing around the edges of the genre, using its sonic characteristics to expand their palette. Those are violins though, high-end solo instruments.

Cellos, with their lower registers have more force, which is needed when playing guitar-centric songs.

Sulic and Hauser have added amplification and distortion where needed. It works because the cellos possess sustain, bottom end, vibrato and sliding capabilities. Those traits sound great cranked up, as in an electric guitar.

There are some fine moments of ferocity here, especially on Oh Well (early Fleetwood Mac tune), Supermassive Black Hole (Muse) and Voodoo People (The Prodigy). These songs allow 2Cellos to play with abandon and they attack the instruments with power.

Their interplay is dazzling and the thump and chunk of the big instruments is reminiscent of a baritone electric guitar; always a singular sound. For the most part, the material is well chosen.

2Cellos has some big guns on In2ition to lend ears and opinions. Legendary rock producer Bob Ezrin is at the dials and is responsible for the clarity and punch on the tracks.

Elton John sings on Oh Well as well as contributing his classic song Candle in the Wind. Guitar virtuoso  Steve Vai adds some squeal to Highway to Hell, a ballsy but contrived rendition.

The darker songs seem to work naturally as an instrumental Every Breath You Take and Bang Bang demonstrate. The latter song has a vibey, spooky vocal from Sky Ferreira that brings the spirit of dejection that the track demands.

It can be a tough call, playing guitar-based rock on traditional classical instruments. There’s a suggestion of novelty – a project or crossover venture. Perhaps it’s because this type of music (rock) hasn’t been written with those instruments so it’s not a natural fit. And that’s down to the mojo, baby.

— Dean Gordon-Smith is a musician and music critic, based in Vernon, B.C. His column, Street Sounds, appears every Friday in The Morning Star.