Sister Bliss Faithless

Faithless at Roundhouse review | The spirit of Maxi Jazz lives on in dance music powerhouse’s live return

Faithless played London’s storied Roundhouse as part of a run of their first live shows in eight years – and their first since the passing of their charismatic frontman Maxi Jazz in 2022. Read our review.

Last night would have been Maxi Jazz’s sixty-seventh birthday. The Faithless frontman, who passed away just two days before Christmas in 2022, left an indelible mark on British electronica. It can be a trite turn of phrase to say someone’s spirit lives on, but with Maxi this is certainly the case – and was evidently the aim at Faithless’ Roundhouse show.

In many ways, his vocals have always added a degree of higher consciousness, sublimating the dancefloor to a place of awareness. Whether it’s as the sleep-deprived wordsmith on ‘Insomnia’ or the spiritual ringmaster on ‘God Is A DJ’ (“This is my church / This is where I heal my hurts”), his spoken word possessed a meditative quality.

If dance music has long-fought for respect over the genre’s capacity for transcendence, Maxi Jazz’s output with Faithless would mount a strong defence all on its own.

Maxi may not have been physically present at Faithless’ Roundhouse gig – the London date of their first run of live shows in eight years – but his presence was emphatic and bold. With lighting direction from Jvan Morandi (a collaborator of Jean-Michel Jarre), Maxi’s figure often loomed large over the set, with visuals of his gaunt, arresting figure from performances over the years.

In his place, Faithless co-founder Sister Bliss cast her synthesised spells whilst surrounded by a seven-piece band (a mark of just how much is required to replace a figure such as Maxi), with their blend of dance-music-meets-live-band adding a rocky edge. 

Tracks ‘Insomnia’ and ‘God Is A DJ’ inevitably received the greatest rapture, a reminder of just how timeless these tracks really are in dance music’s canon. What was more surprising, though, were the number of covers weaved into the set. A rendition of Fred Again..’s ‘Marea (we’ve lost dancing)’ didn’t quite work; with a 27-year catalogue at their disposal, Faithless borrowing such a tune felt like an attempt to jump on a trend.

There was little need to appeal to youngsters here. This show reportedly sold out within five minutes, with the seated area selling out within just one, indicative of a now-older fanbase who had raved to the group in the early 2000s now seeking to rekindle their connection (preferably from a sedentary position).

Similarly, remixed covers of Gnarls Barkley’s chart-smashing ‘Crazy’ and Joy Division’s ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ (even if Faithless had stamped their own claim on the latter with a release in 2021) was slightly more All Bar One than electronic music might.

It was a shame Sister Bliss’s setlist didn’t dive deeper into Faithless’ exceptional No Roots LP, especially with its 20th anniversary arriving just a week prior. The present tetchy political mood would have made a particularly opportune time for tracks such as ‘Mass Destruction’ and ‘Love Lives On My Street’.

Yet keeping things light was clearly a conscious decision, as Sister Bliss reminded us “it’s Maxi’s birthday tonight,” his presence reaffirmed by her present tense; “he would be beaming here tonight,” she added, a follow-up that reminded us of his absence.

The band taking up the reins were definitely value for money, with singer Amelia Fox (who went to school with the son of Faithless’ third founding member, Rollo), giving an assured performance alongside Nathan Ball, who features on a number of tracks on 2020’s All Blessed.

The unifying quality of ‘We Come 1’ – its pure poetry (“All the subtle flavors of my life / Are become bitter seeds / And poisoned leaves / Without you”) and progressive trance ascendancy – was one of the night’s finest moments. Arriving at the end of the official setlist, it stood for the message that Maxi, a practising Soka Gakkai Buddhist, embodied throughout most of his life – the unitary power that music, even if for a night, can hold.

A drum n’ bass rendition of ‘Thank You’ by Dido (Rollo’s sister, to keep this a family affair) for the encore, ensured few would leave without a sense of release to commence their weekend, as Sister Bliss thanked the “special crowd”.

But really the night belonged to one man, no longer on this plane, whose presence could be felt at every juncture of the show. May dance music’s perennial insomniac truly rest in peace, knowing his message is still being delivered.

1 Comment

  • FLV_London says:

    Good review of a fabulous gig. The casual ageism was unnecessary. It is no more acceptable to insult on age as it is to insult on any other protected characteristic. Why do it?

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