Digest of pre-blTradaz.mp3">o
Sonic arts performance held at the 291 Gallery, Bethnal Green, in conjunction with Middlesex University MA Sonic Arts
27 June 2003
The thinkers and drinkers were out in medium force last Tuesday for this variable-quality event. ‘£3 for valid experience,’ it said. Unfortunately, my experience had begun pathetically earlier, with my presuming that the venue was somewhere between Stoke Newington and Shoreditch but no amount of pacing back up and down and convincing myself that I had finally found it would work. Back down the Kingsland Road, right and up the Hackney Road and I was there; a converted church with nice bar to the side and huge main hall, good for the acoustics.
I walked into enticing beatless technoid loops coming out the Boses via a Mac laptop. Further waves came via Sonic Variable and Zero Ping (not their real names), a double act again using laptop technology and also guitars/amps as their sound sources. Though similar in style, this took things a bit further, introducing the odd rebuilt riddim under the feedback and loops. After a break, the giant screen was utilised for the screening of Glitch and Freakuency’s Exclorescence abstract short. As it suggests, this was an aesthetically pleasing programme of colours changing shape and form, morphing into nothing then growing again like spores, until finally the sonic loopage ended, the shapes began to wither away and the screen ran red.
Vocal improviser Viv Corringham has been described a ‘tour de force’ in The Wire but she did nothing for me. Twenty minutes or so of moving from holler and shriek to shrill on to mutoid mumble and back again. Sounded like my more bored moments in domestic isolation. Then a quartet of musicians joined her on instruments old, new and made-up. This was the most rounded performance – live image manipulation added to the stew – but the whole effect was fairly uninspiring, bad freeform schizo-jazz.
Typo or pun, the flyer’s ‘Masonic Arts’ legend revealed more about the nature of this type of night, ie, a coterie for people of progressive mind. Nothing wrong with that necessarily, and certainly better than DJ Huge Tunes at yr local disco-house emporium or clinical cultural apathy. Yet Grand Pubah Waveswarm had to shepherd away a pissed-up interloper, who had wandered on to the stage. He had a whiff of unreconstructed lad about him, but the twat looked more in thrall to the sounds – the point of such an event surely? – than someone about to start anything untoward. Sonar Festival
12-14 June 2003
Red. Blue. Green. Red. Blue. Green. What’s this? It’s a software demonstration for a VJ Mixer. Wow! Hang on. It’s a video projector and it’s fucked. OK, it took me a while to work this out but I left after 10 minutes. Walking out of this demo, one of many multimedia happenings that weekend, I saw a festival sign with the words “SONAR? MERDE!” scrawled underneath. Given that the VJ demo wasn’t working and that I’d wasted 15 minutes in a packed room that was difficult to fight my way out of, one can be forgiven for occasionally sympathising with that sentiment.
After all, the festival, now in its 10th year, is just TOO big (although I admit I jumped on the bandwagon 10 years too late). It is a constant fight for either the bogs or the bar (which has to be visited twice due to the admittedly pragmatic ticket system) and even a good place to see the stage or sit down. And that’s just Sonar by Day. Sonar by Night, at the huge Fira Barcelona events arena, was just horrendous. Not surprising given the 22,000 or so people that were there. Huge bus queues. Huge taxi queues. Huge queues outside. Huge queues inside. However, if you can tolerate this (and by the third day you get used to it or find ways to bypass it at least) you will have an amazing time.
There is no UK festival like it. Around £65 for well over 200 live acts and DJs. It is a rare treat indeed to be able to wander from acts like SAFETY SCISSORS to AKUFEN to THE PUPPETMASTAZ to JAGA JAZZIST all in the space of a few hours. Needless to say, the city itself is one of the most beautiful in the world and, if you manage to avoid the many tourist traps scattered along Las Ramblas, it can be relatively cheap (although I spazzed a small fortune). Besides the numerous beach parties, there are some great club nights to be found and rival festivals pop up everywhere. The Wrong Festival hosted a swarm of electronic pranksters such as DJ/RUPTURE, HRVATSKI and DONNA SUMMER. I sadly missed the Versus Festival’s KOMPAKT night as I was probably queuing somewhere.
Sonar by Day is held in and around the impressive CCCB and is divided into a number of indoor and outdoor arenas. The very first act I saw there was LITHOPS at the Sonar Complex. The crowd were treated to a thick dollop of nonsensical 4/4 that was nothing like the sublime toytronica of ‘Uni Umit’ that I had expected. Like a big clown’s pie in the face, it had the seated crowd on their feet in seconds. Jan St. Werner (half of the magnificent MOUSE ON MARS) infused the proceedings with enough real-time knob fiddling to justify the fact this laptop show was LIVE (all too often the PRESS PLAY & DANCE AWKWARDLY approach is the order of the day). I then caught a mediocre PREFUSE 73 set outdoors in Sonar Village (the sound system there was truly incredible) followed by an unexpectedly soulful DJ set from CRISTIAN VOGEL at the Sonar Dome. I then managed to catch global glitch figurehead POLE (although from his appearance I could have been at a televised darts match). An uninspiring start made me run off after 10 minutes. A day or two later I caught another laptop non-spectacle from AKUFEN although this time the tunes more than made up for it. He has a truly progressive sound that thankfully remains tethered to the rudiments of great dance music. His laptop eventually crashed so I made a B-line for THE PUPPETMASTAZ. Imagine The Muppet Show if Jim Henson had been a crack-smoking superpimp with a penchant for the Wu Tang Clan. This was Wind in the Willows gone gangsta and it was very, very funny.
I was pleased to catch the T.RAUMSCHMIERE set on the first night. His sound is very much his own: a farting 4/4 electro punk sludge. Standing and crawling all over his equipment, his performance was pure rock’n’roll. But even so he failed to trash the sound system! Shame on him! A highlight for everyone else that night was BJORK. I could just about make out a black flouncing blob jumping around and shouting. Probably very special but I just couldn’t be arsed. I missed APHEX TWIN although I had seen him once before. He apparently ended a characteristic jungle/gabba set with 30 minutes of Backstreet Boyz classics. On the second night I managed to catch JEFF MILLS. Bumph-bumph-bumph. Fuck I’m going to die. Go and have a lie down. OK. I’d recovered somewhat for SIDERAL. Who he? A big Spanish DJ apparently. Best music of the night. Why? Must be the drugs and the fact I’d effectively morphed into the bass bins.
The MATTHEW HERBERT BIG BAND, a satellite event staged at the classy L’Auditori de Barcelona, was an undisputed highlight of the festival. The fact I was sweating like a rapist from what seemed like 20km away with a bitch of a hang over was akin to watching him from inside a microwave while wearing an apesuit. Stepping into the spotlight in the vast darkened auditorium, he unpacked a suitcase, pulling from it a trumpet. Giving it a quick polish, he put it awkwardly to his lips and spat a feeble note from it. Then, lifting it suddenly to the microphone, dangling it away from him as if it were a soiled nappy, he hit it with a stick. Cling! The sound repeated and he threw the trumpet to the ground. A huge cheer erupted and the looping noise builded into a cartoon house rhythm. Then the band appeared. What followed was one of the most progressive big band gigs ever staged. Throughout, Herbert liberally processed the band in real-time through an assortment of strange effects. Watching the vast horn section tearing up copies of the Spanish right-wing rag ABC in time with the music and showering themselves in the resulting confetti was hilarious. The audience themselves joined in the fun when asked to use their cameras' flash in time with the music. A standing ovation and encore followed. And what a finale! A big band version of “The Audience” with the night’s guest vocalists – ARTO LINDSAY, DANI SICILIANO and JAMIE LIDELL – prancing about like drugged-up lab rats (albeit very well-dressed lab rats). The wolf-whistling alone for Dani’s earlier performance was more likely to give me tinnitus than anything else that weekend. But still the audience wouldn’t go home. This was truly spectacular stuff. Herbert himself was surprisingly self-effacing but it is clear from both this concert and his growing oeuvre that he is driven by a pure conviction to open people’s eyes to the possibilities of music and its role in politics. He is now a key player on the world’s musical stage who, unlike Christ-posturing car-selling yoghurt-eating fuck holes like Moby, really has something to say (and to an audience that’s willing to listen). I just hoped ABC had sent some polo-necked cunt to do a review.
Sonar is a unique and unifying event for the global electronic community. It may indeed become a victim of its own success, but nevertheless it is a privilege to be a part of and is very much about what you make of it. It does have everything. Sun. Sea. Sand. Great music. Girls and boys. Everywhere. Sonar? Merde!? Absolute rot!www.sonar.eswww.thewrongfestival.infoQuantic Soul Orchestra
Camden Jazz Cafe
14 June 2003
Chief Quantic man Will Holland is one of the leading lights on Tru Thoughts, turning in over the last few years two good albums and numerous remixes and singles for the Brighton beats label. But Holland was keen to expand his range and repertoire beyond the bedroom computer funk of 'Apricot Morning' and 'The 5th Exotic'. The answer lied as it does for so many in getting real, feeling the funk and in his own words "putting something back". Well you've got to haven't you (no). Quantic morphed into the Quantic Soul Orchestra (QSO) and the 'Stampede' LP (cover: wild animals in a '60s/70s style faux-naïve graphics package) was all tight-as-fuck new funk and covers of - here's the twist - modern dance tunes such as 4 Hero's 'Hold it Down' and the MAW mixes of 'Babarabatiri'. It worked well, offering more substance and reason to return to a Tru Thoughts product than the usual club-beats fodder for the baggy of jean, liberal of mind and beatnik of outlook.
Time then to take it to the stage. Camden Jazz Café hosted their London showcase on Thursday 5 June and by the time The Cull had arrived, the dancefloor was bouncing to the massed band of QSO comrades. Led by Holland on guitar and in sharp suit and a vibes man building up a good rapport with the crowd, the band ploughed their funk furrow fast without missing a note. Nu R&B standard 'Heard It All Before' got the treatment. The atmosphere was celebratory. Talk of it all being a bit Acid Jazz was banned. But people did talk about that, invoking comparisons with their Galliano/Young Disciples of old. But what's wrong with that? Theirs was a post-Rare Groove, postmodern dig in the crates for the quality and vibe of old and so is this. Don't worry about it being retro, like the Breakestra project on Ninja/Stones Throw the Stampede LP is perfect for waking you up of a blurry morning, inviting inquisitive-but-coolly-disinterested inquiries around the dinner party table or, like tonight, just filling a dancefloor.www.tru-thoughts.co.ukwww.quantic.orgThe BUG PA
Part of a Rephlex Records Showcase night
7 June 2003
Plastic People is a tidy little basement club situated in Shoreditch/Hoxton/Mullet Town's Curtain Road. Its bar is relatively cheap and the promoters usually host play-safe broken beat or house music nights on one of the better small-club sound systems. On Wednesday 21 May that system was tested right to its limits as chief Bug man Kevin Martin brought his box of tricks to bear: cigarettes couldn't be inhaled or beer swigged properly as the sonic rumblings pulsated out of the system straight through brain and bodies. Martin, who has pushed the noise envelope (soz) before in acts like Techno Animal and Corn, seems to have found his range with the Bug project, which has done the latest Jamaican reggae offshoot 'digital dancehall' a serious discourtesy. So often the best way: don't pay too much respect to the sounds you're inspired by. To call any of the numbers on the Bug's Pressure album 'tunes' misses the fact that this is more about sonic abstraction rather than pretty synth melodies. Most tracks have the same dancehall beat but that's just the canvas for the Bug to spread his virus all over. Though with tracks like Politicians & Paedophiles and Beats, Bombs, Bass & Weapons there's an inherent conscience as well. Anyway, the PA sped through umpteen tracks and Warrior Queen and Ras Bogle delivered the vocals, the latter enthralling the beparka jacketed-crowd with his doom-toasting. People went home pleased with having got off their lazy midweek arses. So they should be, as for this crowd the sound is a fresh one and surely a more worthy alternative than 'mad breaks', 'twisted house' or whatever descriptive generic joke is current this week. Indeed, the DJ returned to his rota of meaningless repetitive beats straight after.Who hell Howe?
Hammersmith Lyric Theatre
29 May 2003
The Cull popped down to Hammersmith's most awkward music venue, the Lyric theatre, to witness the appropriately idiosyncratic Howe Gelb delight the audience with oblique instrumental and technological interventions into his own sound yarns. The Giant Sand frontman is remarkably resourceful. If you've been exceptionally hungover all day and mourning the relegation to the Lidl League (from the Farts & Spunkers luxury league of fetishised wage packets) of your association football collective, sitting (in theatre seats) to watch a wilfully obscure serial-subverter arse about on stage might not leap out as the most logical evening option.
Yet all that is/was required is/was the light dusting down of cameras prior to proceedings and, Susan's your cousin, you're ushered into a musical and stage style familiar but intentionally distant from the tired play-finish-clap-play-finish-clap orthodoxy. Sounding a bit like Lou Reed (and knowing it) is quite useful and it may not be improvisation in the strictest sense but a beguiling chaos underscored everything and increased my (yes, mine, because I was there and you weren't. If you were there you didn't make yourself known) enjoyment.
Being a sensitive soul, I'd had to break the fingers of a Shrimp Biscuit fan in order to obtain the requisite 18-smacker(miniature Wayne)roonies to watch this freestyle frolic through the undergrowth of popular music culture and, as a result, the support act was obscured by my remorseful tears. Her name was Maria Frank (no relation) and she is Danish. In fact, all of the suitably gifted backing band were Danish as well, something which the svelte-like Gelb was keen to allude to when and wherever possible. Living in northern Europe I do not have quite the same novel regard for a clutch of Scandies but smirked at the veiled cultural superiority nonetheless. Don't worry - I shot one of my testicles off when I left the audio-whore-room by way of punishment for laughing at an American's joke.
Actually, Howe Gelb is very funny. Mention of the 'terrible events of youknowwhen' was limited to a characteristically indirect reference to absence (not necessarily fond) and his mock-rail (not a UK railway company with Shagger Norris as conductor, driver, director and platform prossie) against radio ("it's so insulting; they only play one record at a time") were definite highlights.
Early attempts by some of the audience to casually predict the gaps between songs failed miserably and then all of us could enjoy the rich sounds, not just the seasoned Gelb observers. The aesthetic of his battered acoustic guitar was apt in the extreme and 'the lad' mixed it up precariously but brilliantly.
He would clearly be beaten up in most pubs for being indulgent but it's 306 times more interesting than watching people adopt dickhead personas on stage because that's what they think is expected of them. The sonic meanderings of a pseudo-recluse are the perfect antidote to the faecal metal revisionism that is currently afflicting the scat-boarding, baseball cap-shitting knob-ends who look forward to being tomorrow's administrators.