Sunday, July 8, 2012

Recent gigs – Sonar 2012

First post in a while and hopefully the first of a few to come in the following week or two.

For Sonar 2012 you can find my official round up over at Cyclic Defrost. Thanks to Bianca de Vilar for all the great photos, many more of which will appear in the print edition if you happen to be in Australia. But here just a few added things to complement the main text.

Starting at the top: my favourite individual show this year had to be Mouse on Mars which was something of a surprise. Why should it be a surprise? I was always a big fan, even of the unstable “Niun Niggung” and “Idiology” albums which threw a lot of people, perhaps more so those who’d entered the group more from the post-rock side of things via their connections to Stereolab and the Too Pure label, but who knows? Their recent album “Parastrophics” was also great, always rewarding a return listen with new details and new thrills. Perhaps it was more of a surprise to see the trio perform more of a dance set, underpinning everything with varied but quite driving beats and of course a strobe which compounded the intensity. Watching them career wildly through what seemed like all of “Parastrophics”, but little old material, also brought home how much these guys paved the way for that new breed of chaotic producers who excel on labels like Brain Feeder, Hyperdub and 50 Weapons. More striking about this was how MoM seemed to have something else, something new that said “We are still ahead of the times”. Perhaps it was watching them master this kind of music, this dance music, from what is ostensibly still a band set up? Perhaps it was the sheer sense of logic in the billowing chaos that they conjured? I can’t put my finger on it. In any case, there was a raucous cheer anytime the group came anywhere near what seemed like a pause and especially at the end. Brilliant.

This was perhaps the best track of the show, although in the end you could pick almost any one.

Cooly G was another surprise for different reasons. Without having paid any proper attention to her music before, I found her show to be the one that left the deepest mark. Perhaps as evidence of its power of persuasion was that I was at the back and kept trying to move nearer, but had just met a work colleague by chance. She was as surprised to see me as I was to see her. But despite the tangle of conversation, it was Merissa Campbell’s music that dominated, her lithe song forms floating across the crowd to the back of the Lab stage. It was hard to pin down her sound live, but it seemed like the whole set was a kind of ribbon, unravelling slowly, never overburdened with bass or beats, and yet never so light as to lose its presence. Her debut album should be out in a few weeks on Hyperdub where she has already released a handful of 12”S.

I also had the pleasure of listening to Brackles’ new album on Rinse in the week after Sonar. Here the vocals are shared between guests Lily McKenzie, Cherri V and Terri Walker, with Rob Kemp providing the music and production.

The two albums share many similarities, being essentially song based bass music. Both rely heavily on vocal mantras and a more massaged rhythm section, but both triumph by making the pop song format work. There are many significances to this: one is the direct threat to commercial chart music as these sounds are genuinely accessible without shying away from quality or invention. Surely it’s only a matter of time before someone crosses over and does more damage than Magnetic Man? The other importance here is the marked contrast between this type of gentile dubstep compared to the heavier, “blokish” type that seems to be spreading like wildfire, at least in the US. Crowd surfing at Cooly G? I can’t imagine that. Those in defence of this new, rougher trend should check out FACT mags 10 best “wobblers.” Over at Resident Advisor Jordan Rothlein also makes the important point that this kind of real singing (at last!) might herald something of a reprieve from the cut, pasted and stretched vocal technique reintroduced into bass music from its roots in Hardcore by Burial. Certainly this has become one of the most over used techniques in electronic music over the last few years.

One other interesting point was the predominance of dubstep everywhere. It only seems a few years ago that dubstep was making its humble debut on the Lab stage, whereas this year it was perhaps the most dominant music. Day and Night time shows seemed to depend more on bass and a breakbeat template than the straight four-four of house and techno, even if many of the bigger acts still adhered to these styles.

I only managed to catch the last half of New Order’s set due to arriving late, but the version of “Temptation” they did as the penultimate song was one of the most emotive moments of the festival. Many people had been bad mouthing the group from the crowd before the show and I had defended them without ever having been a big fan. The pent up emotion and fragile beauty of “Temptation” proved me right with its strange beginning ripped from Lou Reed’s “Street Hassle”.

However, there was also plenty of fuel for the opposing fire in their choice of performing “Love will tear us apart” as the finale. A better version might have been half forgivable, but turning it into a kind of sweet up-lifting anthem without even a trace of the bitterness that makes it so poignant merely wipes out the meaning.

I have read in a few places some veiled murmurings about the excessive need to have a “show” in order to be able to present at Sonar, or indeed probably any festival. There is a dangerous divide somewhere here. Many will remember the rather bland years of watching a nerdy man hunched over a laptop (or decks even) with shivers. However, the opposite extreme is also possible, where the show becomes more interesting than the music. I can’t say that there was any one example of this at Sonar 2012, but I did feel a little for Squarepusher who somehow seemed swamped by his banks of lights and LED helmet playing to an ok, but relatively small crowd (why were they all at Fatboy Slim I will never know). It seemed a far cry from the bearded Tom Jenkinson who I saw from only a few metres away in a dingy club in Perth, Australia a decade ago. Nonetheless, Squarepusher’s music and show were great, with the lights  well choreographed with the music, which has a nice ravey twang to it that suited the big Sonar Club stage, even if it was a bit empty.

Perhaps it was ironic then that Nina Kraviz should have closed the Friday night after Squarepusher, armed with nothing but her beauty and her music.

There is definitely a grey area developing here, however, where on one side pure club music lurks in the dark, and the festival musicians who are essentially new media entertainers. In the latter case all technologies go hand in hand.

Just to finish, and still speaking of shows, there must be some form of congratulations again to Die Antwoord who continue to impress, not so much for their music (in my opinion at least), but for their stage presence, attitude and iconoclasm which extends to everything. Nothing is sacred in their eyes which can only be a good thing. One example will suffice for those less familiar with their music. Watching them perform their rap version of Enya’s “Orinoco Flow” complete with masturbatory lyrics and the chorus “Sail away mother fuckers” while dressed ironically (one hopes) as some kind of South African red neck urban musician verges on genius. Not a fan, but always welcome at my festival while they can keep this up.

Sail away mother fuckers, until Sonar 2013!

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