Monday, June 18, 2007

Well Daft Punk are playing in Hyde Park, Hyde Park

When James Murphy sang Daft Punk Are Playing In My House on Saturday he was about as close to his dream as he could be. During LCD Soundsystem
set Thomas Bangalter and Guy Man de Homem-Christo were yards away backstage pulling on their robot suits and no doubt buffing their helmets to a gleaming shine. The Daft Punk
live experience is 50% about the music and 50% about the stunning visual display they project from within a pyramid structure. I was worried, as I took my place bang in the middle of the crowd, that only half the show would work as, at 8.45pm, darkness was some way off. My fears were cast aside when they appeared in their little robot suits and fired up Robot Rock, that this was one pyramid scheme that wasn’t going to go belly up. The set was a megamix of their hits from the three albums and the visual show was breath-taking with the ‘wow’ factor increasing as the show wore on. My only criticism was that musically the mish mash approach didn’t give you much time to enjoy some of your favourite moments or actually ‘get into a groove’. Da Funk and Alive were delivered in their entirety but other favourites like Superheroes only lasted half a minute. It was a bit like a Prince concert, here’s a verse of Raspberry Beret and now I want to go into a long funk jam before suddenly launching into the chorus of 1999. But, hey, that’s a minor quibble, especially when there is a pyramid that turns into a giant vortex prompting 20,000 to emit a loud, ‘OOOH!’

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Dummy Blog Album of the Week: 'Cendre' by Fennesz/Sakamoto

Between 2002 and 2006, Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto released two albums and an EP of exquisite collaborations on Germany's Raster-Noton label. Sakamoto's sparse, cautious piano phrases were fed through Noto's laptop – sometimes left almost intact, sometimes folded or shredded, sometimes examined closely you could hear nothing but a hum or a drone. I don't usually have much interest in the post-electronic solo piano revival that Boomkat's been pimping for a couple of years, but these works – not in spite of, but because of, their enigmatic minimalism – were inexhaustible stores of glitchy beauty.

So after the success of Vrioon, Insen, and Revep, Vienna's Christian Fennesz was probably a logical new collaborator for Sakamoto; but, personally, I've always been baffled by the adoration that Fennesz's 2001 LP Endless Summer seems to receive. Maybe I just don't like the Beach Boys enough. So although, to me, Cendre never even approaches the extraordinary heights of Sakamoto's work with Noto, you'll probably like it a lot better if you're not as deaf as me to Fennesz's sunburnt charms. Plus, it's bad form to compare people's new partners to their old ones too much.

But I will anyway. Insen was laboratory-clean – the merging of the two instruments was so frictionless, you almost weren't sure if you were listening to a computer processing a piano, or a piano processing a computer. Cendre has a less rarefied palette, with crackles of distortion and swirling strums from Fennesz's acoustic guitar; Fennesz seems to be less of a remixer than Noto was, adding more sounds of his own. But too often, as a result, Sakamoto's melodies float by in the background, when they ought to be the focus. (His playing, too, seems more ponderous, although I'll stop there before I wade out of my depth.) Where those previous collaborations were fearlessly minimal, this one is more conventionally ambient, and so never has the same impact. Still, here we have two performers with unique, unmistakeable sounds coming together yet a third unique, unmistakeable sound - and that, at least, is always a delight to hear.


Out now on Touch.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Throbbing Gristle, ICA, LONDON, 01.06.07

When these performance-art electro-punks last played the ICA, in 1976, their show, Prostitution, caused a debate in parliament and nearly had the venerable arts foundation’s funding cut. Now, over 30 years later, Genesis P. Orridge and co wear specs, speak softly and fiddle exclusively with computers.

This is billed as a public recording session, and the amateurishness of the band, which they have always proudly displayed, is a little depressing to watch in the flesh. They are recording a version of Nico’s 1970 album Desertshore, but seem woefully ill-equipped to do any such thing. It becomes quickly apparent that the audience is simply being conned — an old punk trick immortalised by Johnny Rotten’s heckle from the stage of the Winterland in San Francisco: “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?”

But there’s still interest here, despite the fact that hopelessly inept DIY music stopped having any intrinsic meaning decades ago. It’s extraordinary to see Genesis P. Orridge in the flesh. S/he (that’s what s/he likes to be called) used to be a man, and is now a gravel-voiced, deeply unnerving sort of woman. And their trademark industrial sound, which has inspired countless dance music acts, is still genuinely unsettling. It’s also interesting to hear them take on Nico, who for all her oddness always held onto a tune. Throbbing Gristle aren’t used to dealing with continuous melodies, and the clangs and clashes of their warehouse sound meld successfully with Genesis’ vocals, producing something approaching harmony.

On the other hand, you have to be a die-hard fan to think that this live recording session is worth paying money to watch. Any musician will tell you that recording can be a tedious, repetitive business. It’s especially so when the band members are devoted to cancelling out any modicum of craftsmanship in their music. It seems the punk spirit never dies.