Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Plaid & Southbank Gamelan Players / Peverelist, Arnolfini, Bristol, Thursday 10th June

The meeting of musical traditions is fraught with danger. Too often the result is a well-meaning compromise or unholy din.

Luckily, Southbank Gamelan Players are well versed in it. Trained in Indonesia but based in London, they’ve worked with people as varied as Bjork and composer Symon Clarke. Their collaboration with electronica duo Plaid aims to reconcile a 2000-year-old tradition with one that only dates back to the 1980s.

The first half hour belongs to the ensemble alone, using xylophones, gongs and chimes to create cyclical melodies from interlocking parts. Their set takes in ceremonial pieces, sung poetry and contemporary music for gamelan. To the delight of electronica fans, it ends with a beautiful version of Aphex Twin’s Actium, its timeless LFO bassline recreated, impressively, on a pair of three-foot gongs.

Plaid’s involvement starts with an anticlimax – initially their cosy synth textures dull the mesmeric effect of all that struck brass. Thankfully their second piece - written with composer Rahayu Supanggah - is less polite. Rubber Time gets right to the heart of cultural exchange as genres flirt and clash to dramatic effect. In the closing section techno and gamelan become indistinguishable as studio effects transform ancient instruments and western rhythms submit to the fluidity of the East.

As owner of the world’s best record shop (Rooted) and one of its more interesting labels (Punch Drunk), Tom Peverelist Ford is a major player in Bristol. His intricate, reflective take on dubstep should compliment the headliners perfectly but tonight he suffers from DJ Support Syndrome, whose symptom is being ignored by an audience who’ve come to watch rather than dance. Even the epic push and pull of Circling fails to stop the chatter.

For all the distance between London and Jakarta, the chasm between live music and DJ culture seems harder to bridge.

This review originally appeared in Venue magazine.

Friday, 18 June 2010

Free 2hour Luke Vibert set!

Click here to download a 2 hour set from Luke Vibert. It was recorded at the massive Mongrel Vs Agro night at Lakota (Saturday 6th June).

Thanks to Sven at Mongrel for sharing!

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Sleigh Bells / Kites & Flags / Drunk Granny Tuesday 25th May @ The Louisiana, Bristol

It isn’t Drunk Granny's day. Drummer Edie Pain has spent the afternoon vomiting and guitarist Debi Withers gets electrocuted twice in the first three songs. If Young Ones-style calamity explains their stilted performance it's no excuse for material so thinly sketched it might have been written in a free period between P.E and double Maths. Still, there's knockabout relief to be enjoyed in closing number Big Hairy Lesbian Sex Beasts, whose two minutes of angry grunting are the closest this duo get to an articulate statement.

Competence isn't an issue for Kites & Flags - they're studio-slick. Their bitcrushed synths and dub effects suggest fingers on the pulse but the songs are more Crowded House than Electro-House. While the indie-dance moments are well executed enough the two-piece are at their most affecting when their rich vocal harmonies and arpeggiated guitars are allowed to breathe. It’s then that these traditional pop-rock craftsmen are revealed beneath their hipster clothing.

Brooklyn's Sleigh Bells are hair-raisingly intense. In almost total darkness they unleash a pincer movement of disarming art-pop and pulverizing industrial hardcore. Derek Miller’s guitar throws fierce, atonal squawks and slamming power chords at a backdrop of psychotic disco beats and booty-troubling bass. Singer Alexis Krauss moves so relentlessly she defies the Second Law of Thermodynamics and her vocals are no less dramatic. Incendiary punk-rap verses give way to operatic hooks - placing Sleigh Bells in a lineage of infectiously mannered pop from Sparks to Kelis.

Extracting honey-coated violence from new wave, metal, rave, R&B and all styles between, songs like Infinity Guitars and Treats are as refreshing as anything you’ll hear in 2010. Sleigh Bells are what happens when two people inhale the last 35 years of radical sounds and blow the whole lot in your face.

This review originally appeared in Venue Magazine
Alexis Krauss photographed by Ellen Doherty

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Bronnt Industries Kapital / Jasmina Maschina / Squeeze Me Macaroni @ Bristol Folk House, Friday 30th April

Gig-goers may recognise Serena Cavalera from irrepressible art-punks Yoshy! but it’s her sensitive side on display tonight. As Squeeze Me Macaroni she serves up a warts and all post-rock that’s all the more beguiling for its imperfections. By turns menacing and melancholy, layers of delayed guitar create a glorious muddle that often threatens to turn violent. Her voice, used sparingly, brings to mind Stina Nordenstam at her most spooked. With no backing track to pin it down each song is constructed in the moment, lending a rough physicality to even the dreamiest sections. When she lets rip it’s truly unsettling.

Jasmina Maschina is easier on the ears but less compelling. Prozac-sweet vocals meander around nursery rhyme chord progressions and a laptop full of ambient textures. The arrangements are prettily atmospheric but many of the songs are so light they’re in danger of floating away in a cloud of whimsy. While this would no doubt be charming in small doses, over a whole set it can get a little numbing.

There's always been a soundtrack aspect to Guy Bartell's work as Bronnt Industries Kapital. Even his most straightforward electronica is informed more by the mysteries of cinema than those of the dancefloor. Tonight's selections are drawn from 2007’s Haxan, Bartell's soundtrack to a controversial early Swedish film about witchcraft. Fortunately, the music speaks for itself, evoking moods from creeping unease through gut-level horror to a sort of pagan rapture. The four piece band offer up synthesisers, french horn, flute, guitar and drums as sacrifices to Bartell's bonfire of sonic treatments. The result is subtle, powerful music that’s equal parts intricate melody and thrilling cacophony. As always, Bronnt’s vision is unique. They bring to life the repressed folk memories bad dreams are made of.

This review appeared in Venue Magazine on Friday 7th May
Guy Bartell photographed by Matt Collins.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Guido - Anidea (Punch Drunk Records, 2010)

If dubstep was the kick up the arse Bristol’s bassheads needed, they continue to return the favour. One of the most exciting sounds of the moment is the vivid urban psychedelia of Joker, Gemmy and Guido. Guido is the first to put it to the album test, which Anidea passes with flying colours.

While Joker's Digidesign was an anthem in 2009, Guido's Orchestral Lab / Way U Make Me Feel twelve (released the same week) was just as impressive. Anidea proves it was no fluke - Guido's music is more than just another mutation in the long fallout from jungle. Forgoing dubstep's austerity and grime's aggression in favour of melodic excess, Anidea sounds like the light at the end of a long, dark tunnel.

The key to Guido's accessibility is balance. While the alien arpeggios of videogame music have inspired countless producers, (not least Ikonika, whose delirious Contact, Love, Want, Have is effectively a gaming concept album), Guido compliments them with conventional sounds. For every circular bleep melody or otherwordly synth swell there's a horn, string or piano hook that evokes 70s orchestral soul or ornate 90s R&B. Cat In The Window sounds like Isaac Hayes gone Italo (via the theme from Out Run). It's stunning.

Second single, Beautiful Complication, is just as good - pairing the breathlessness of Aarya's voice with brain damage bass and slamming kicks, it's a perfect synthesis of imagination and accessibility. If the world worked properly it would have been a massive hit last year.

The other big vocal tune is a re-edit of Way U Make Me Feel, showcasing Bristol's go-to girl, Yolanda. A voice as strong and rangey as hers should be a challenge for a producer as melodically dense as Guido but the slow-building arrangement does her proud.

If all that wasn't enough, the vicious snares, staccato squelches and big room strings of You Do It Right reveal fearsome dancefloor skills. Likewise Tango, which updates the heady latin-dub of Sabres Of Paradise's Wilmot for a new generation. Shades of Blue is a brooding stepper lit up with technicolour raindrops in the vein of DJ Wonder's grime classic What. All of these sound great on headphones but will slay through a Function One.

The album closes with Tantalized, a synthesiser masterclass that takes in Curtis Mayfield strings, synapse-shredding guitar and just enough wobble to win over the students. Gemmy and Joker both have albums due out this year (on Planet Mu and Hyperdub respectively). It remains to be seen whether either of them will match Anidea's ambition, confidence and emotional power.

Consider the gauntlet thrown.

Blood Red Sounds rating 9/10