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.

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