Sunday, November 4, 2012

Recent Gigs – Ben Klock, Nurse With Wound and the Mercè Festival

I am a bit behind on everything these days, especially blogging, for multiple reasons. One is doing the radio show is more priority than blogging in big swathes, sadly. Another is I essentially also have two jobs to cover the 35% reduction in salary enforced by the Spanish and Catalan governments to pay for the financial crisis.
"I'm just trying to remember / the days of wine and roses"

But somewhere in there have been plenty of gigs, many of them free and, ironically, paid for in some way with the money taken from me and given to the governments.


Ben Klock – Razzmatazz October 2012

It seems a long time since Ben Klock’s “Compression session” came out and except for a few remixes here and there, some of which turned up on his recent Fabric 66 Mix, there is no signs of anything much substantial coming our way soon on wax.


While Klock may excel more than his colleague Marcel Dettmann in the studio at least, the two are on equal par still in the club. Klock’s arrival in Barcelona only a week or two after Dettmann’s return has meant another long run of techno dominating the big clubs, a change that has been evident for several years now. It is worth mentioning that Len Faki also played Razzmatazz the week after Klock and that the hunger for techno has been attributed to by many the cliché of Spanish feistiness and the Latino lust for the fast and furious.


Klock’s set was consequently and unsurprisingly pretty intense, with driving rain outside and the labyrinthine halls and corridors of Razzmatazz rammed to the rafters until the bitter end. After a hard days drinking it seemed like it took him an age to start, but once he was on, time seemed to stand still for long periods. The only sense that it was passing at all came from a slowly building feeling of intensity and abandon manifest in the shifting lights as the lasers came on and scanned the sea of fists rising from the crowd and in the more raucous dancing that the music seemed to elicit as the knowledge of the end became more palpable. God knows what he was playing though. It always seems so hard to tell in the club, but it always surprises me how different a set seems to a mix CD for example (more on that later).

One thing that was evident in his style, however, was a sense of purity and simplicity. A lot of DJs now feel they need to blend styles to keep it interesting. Indeed, dubstep was a Godsend for average DJs as it meant an easy way to avoid monotony by dropping in a break beat section that still retains the steel and dub saturated palette of techno, while often also giving a shift in BPMs. Klock, however, was doggedly fixed only on heavy techno, not resorting to house subtleties or any break beat modernity. On the Fabric mix, for example, Floorplan’s house-influenced “Never grow old” starts the ease down into the closing tracks, but such delicacies were not on offer at Razzmatazz.

Perhaps this is the key to the feeling of timelessness? Klock’s sets act like a double time clock/Klock to which you adapt your metabolism to. You can measure past, present and future, extending out in all directions simultaneously. That said, towards the end of the set there was a number of structural shifts. Big, monolithic breakdowns started to come into play and just before he wound down he layered one together that seemed like it lasted for nearly half an hour or so. By monolithic I mean the employment of the type of track that you often get on a 12” that can seem abrasive and staccato when listened to out of context at home. They are almost funkless these passages, but this is why they are so brilliant. If you take a step back and look at it from an outsider’s point of view it must seem insane to subject such a large crowd to abrasive, abstract music and see them respond with such fervor. One example is almost Dettmann’s “Allies” which sits in the centre of the Fabric mix.


As far as his mix goes, there is a lot more detail there than in the club and the feeling of shifting between platforms almost, like in a video game, rather than flowing as he does live. There are also plenty of highlights in the as-yet unreleased edits, especially Josh Wink’s “Are you there?” from 1996 and the aforementioned team-up with girlfriend Nina Kraviz.


A curiosity as well of the mix is its use of a more electro and experimentally tinged sound that also doesn’t come across so directly in the club. The starting couple of tracks for example are almost robotic, glitchy even. It is worth here comparing it to Norman Nodge’s recent "Berghain 06" mix which goes even further down that path, almost as if he was self-consciously staying as far away from straight techno as a way of making a personal statement or to keep it fresh. The opening of Oni Ayhun and Mokira is pretty challenging in the sense that these kind of tracks can often feel better in the middle to weird you out, rather than laying down a dirty and fragmented doormat to enter into proceedings. Similarly, the track by Patrick Gråser may be undercut by a rollicking beat, but its anti-melody and feel a little twisted if you aren’t in the mood or want something a little more sensual.


A side point to this is that the Delta Funktionen album was harshly criticized  earlier this year for sounding electro, when in fact it seems a fairly common DJ tool/style to use. But worse perhaps was a certain inherent hypocrisy in labeling the album too retrospective looking and too close to Drexciya when the last years has seen far too much retro-house that sounded too close to Chicago for its own good.

Nodge’s mix is a good counter point to Klock’s more friendly mix, but perhaps it suffers from coming down a bit too soon with Radioactive Man’s “Nastyradio” feeling like a sudden breaking rather than an ease down. Similarly, the spidery, searching feel of "Berghain 06" requires a little more investment to get the return than "Fabric 66".

Nodge, also a lawyer by day, spoke recently to Little White Earbuds  about his mix, GEMA and his upbringing in East Germany.


L.E.M. Festival – Nurse with Wound

The same night as Ben Klock I was supposed to see Arbol (Miquel Marin) play with Julia Kent at the L.E.M. Festival, but by the time we arrived it was sold out. One earlier show I did make it to however, was Steven Stapleton and Andrew Liles who played in the small auditorium beneath the MACBA, the literal underground of the Sonar Day venue. The room is essentially a half circle with strategically placed speakers to give the feeling of three dimensional sound space. Drones were already playing when we entered the room, although the duo had not yet appeared. The room filled and still nothing happened. One man at the front stood up and became quite irate at the attendants who shrugged their shoulders. Then, as if homing in on the man’s negative tension, Stapleton and Liles appeared. Stapleton stayed close to his mixing desk, looping small sounds and playing a small bowed instrument to start with. Liles was initially the more physically active of the two, changing instruments, singing into a microphone and performing all sorts of tricks to distort whatever sound they made. The trajectory of the music was essentially an arc, coalescing, darkening and growing in intensity. At its peak the two seemed to become more unhinged from each other, or in a sense, from the drone that had remained beneath the sound all the while. They shifted, moved and changed with increasing frequency. To hear better and I closed my eyes, letting myself get drawn in. I could hear Liles voice from time to time, but the rest was unrecognisable and constantly shifting. It began to lighten to glide as if layers were peeling off the surface and being torn into a void where they would disappear. There was a sanguineous warmth to the music suddenly, as if an inner heat was pressing out against the rain I knew was battering on the ground above the ceiling. The darkness started to run inwards. Suddenly I was awake, eyes open. The drone had stooped. Stapleton and Liles had gone and the room was applauding the empty stage.


I bought two CDs from the stand after the show. From Nurse With Wound I bought their “Echo Poem Sequence No. 2” from 2005, essentially a long cinematic track of processed female voice and electronics. As expected, it is unsettling as the cover art suggests and can make you nervous, especially after many minutes listening.


From Liles I bought an album called “Mind Mangled Trip Monster” from 2010 which bears many similarities with the “Echoe Poem” although it is more spoken word than sung.


Mercè Festival – September 2012

Going to a few of the free concerts for the annual Mercè Festival reminded me of one thing I had forgotten, though perhaps shouldn’t have: that people don’t like weird music and that all music is essentially weird to most people.

Friday night saw San Francisco punk rockers from the Paisley Underground,  The Dream Syndicate, play in Plaça Real. I had somehow whipped myself into something of a frenzy for the show, listening almost obsessively to “The Days of Wine and Roses” album in the lead up, it’s rough edges and feedback solos as well as its more innocent touches seeming perfect for the optimism of the moment. It was a somewhat disappointing gig in a way, the tougher, quick playing of the album sounding decidedly grungy and dated. Things weren’t helped by being with a group of people who weren’t really interested at all in the music not to mention a show that was too long to hold the interest. The strangest thing is the group do not really seem to be in a kind of revival either at the moment, with the show as part of the Mercè Festival being an apparent one-off. Time will tell perhaps.


Things weren’t much better the second night in terms of crowd. Plenty of people thought that Madrid Krautrockers Lüger were too heavy. While I can see there was a metal tinge to their propulsive and utterly brilliant performance, I would hardly call it heavy. The perspective of familiarity is all so important it seems. Had the group been Nirvana and played the same I am not sure the criticism would have been the same. In any case, their show was one of the best of the year. Utterly bewitching high octane space rock with genuine psychedelic edges reminiscent of Acid Mothers Temple, without being so technically proficient or overloaded. There is a lot of groove in their music too which would be perfect for an underground club.



End of the night was left for Black Dice that was something of a PR disaster for everyone for different reasons. Way too weird for most people, they just seemed to annoy in the way that everyone had to start checking phones and convince everyone there was a better show somewhere else, yet nobody would leave as they knew the time to get there it would all be over. Even for me I found it a little pointless. Not enough texture or synchronicity in the playing, just a mess at times that also seemed to try too hard to be self-deprecating as if it was a safety net for not scaring people too much. Goofy and fascinating, but hardly satisfying. And perhaps something to have better see alone than with a fastidious crowd not really curious enough to learn something. I am glad I didn’t pay for that though, except if that is where my tax money is going.



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