Field Day: Day 1

Field Day Sat

London’s Victoria Park never looked finer than when it played host to a very solid lineup of electronica artists, many of whom I had never seen before. Read on, intrepid festival-watchers (and forgive my camera-phone pix).

Gerd Janson

Epic beard, epic sound, limited crowd. But a few bongos and some spacey disco edits don’t go astray at 2 in the afternoon. Also notable: he was spinning vinyl. However I suspect he was really looking forward to his set at the after-party. Not that we were spared the smoke machine.

Gerd Janson

James Holden live

I feel reasonably convinced that James Holden’s modular synth wizardry is already the best thing I will see all festival. It didn’t start out that way. Nothing sends chills down the spine of a grizzled jazz vet like walking into the dance tent to the sound of an auto sax player jamming to a “funky” beat played by a drummer in a bad hat, with a bit of synth squall unintelligibly roaring in the background. Horrible memories of fusion gone rancid soon left, replaced by some Deutsch rock throb, with Holden’s eurorack setup unleashing a full band’s worth of noise, arpegiatted melody caught in an infinite regression and the sax player actually fitting in for once. (He’ll be kicked out of the overplayers’ union, I’m sure.)

James Holden 1

Even a laptop malfunction that sent Holden scurrying backstage seemed to fold comfortably into the show, like a long drum solo that builds anticipation for the inevitable roaring finale. Holden was a pro through it all, grinning boyishly as the crowd clapped their encouragement. So far, so very very fucking good, Field Day.
James Holden 2

Omar Souleyman

I admit that my scheduling was a bit short on the hedonistic fun-o-meter but Omar Souleyman made up for it. Dec ked out in traditional Bedouin garb and sunglasses, despite the dark tent, Souleyman and his keyboardist – an adept synth performer, putting plenty of melody and feeling into his playing via some expertly controlled pitch bends and octave popping – got the party started.

Omar Souleyman 1

Omar Souleyman 2

The lack of a band wasn’t really an issue; Souleyman worked the stage like a pro, measuring every gesture to elicit the maximum crowd impact. And the tunes from his latest, Wenu Wenu, went down like a shandy on a hot day. (I noted the albums producer Four Tet getting down to the rhythm at side stage. Along with what I think was his mum? Cyuute.)

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Oneohtrix Point Never

There’s that inevitable exodus of all the hot girls whenever someone like Daniel Lopatin announces his presence by emitting a volley of unconscionable noise. Amazingly, his set survived, and perhaps even thrived, thanks to his inventive textures, able Veejay providing flickering echoes of David Lynch-esque landscapes and freak 3D-rendered creatures being distended and torn before our eyes. There’s also his mastery of extreme volume – at times it.felt like a noise show and an ambient set flipping in and out of focus like two TV stations jockeying for the same frequency. And it was a lot more fun than I’m making it sound. Seriously, I would say Lopatin is doing for melody what Apex Twin did for drums, if it didnt make me sound like a pretentious asshole. (Too late.)

Oneohtri Point Never

Blood Orange

Dev Hynes can sing. He can also play guitar, damn well, and his band is formidable. But be honest – it’s all a bit Terence Trent D’Arby, isn’t it?

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Evian Christ

After a quick chorizo sandwich and a not so quick queue for a Red Stripe, the train arrived at the set of this very talented, very young, and mercifully very American dj. I say mercifully because I hadn’t realized how much I needed to hear some cussing over trap beats (it had been several days) until that handsome white-t-clad gent started rapping along to a storming Weezy verse and I suddenly felt the bass hit me somewhere in the back of my throat. He showed some dexterity by dropping a couple of his own, distinctly hard and dry riddims, such that I saw the women in front of me convulse slightly. But when he dropped a fresh Young Chop beat there were right back with him. Sweaty trap party, yes please.

Evian Christ

Todd Terje

I was promised a live set, dammit, and all I got was this not lousy DJ set with cuts from his album (“Delorean Dynamite”) as well as some tasty disco selections. But where were the cascading keyboards, the odd-timed drum freak outs, the interminable bass solos? Nowhere to be found. Maybe Danny Brown had borrowed them. Few spinners are as adept at reading the crowd as Terje, and fewer still have crates as deep, which made his set pleasurable despite the crowded environs and the tilt towards deep house. If anyone’s going to go there, Terje is uniquely placed to do it, and while I was slightly sore about the lack of a live PA I can’t complain about the conflagration of fine sexy ladies in the RA tent that he brought. When in Field Day, do as the girls with the flowery dresses do.

Todd Terje

Until tomorrow, Vic Park…

Crowd Shot

MUTEK Day 3: Git it in your soul

A day late and many miles away, but here nonetheless is my review of Saturday at MUTEK 2011. Would that it never ended.

Piknic 01: Floating Points, Simon Called Peter, Terry Lee Brown Jr.

Funnily enough, it took going to Montreal to make me really understand how British people feel when the sun pokes its way out from the neverending clouds. Stumbling into a sunny clearing in Parc Jean-Drapeau to find UK DJ Floating Points turning out a crowd with a funky edit of The Whatanauts� �Help Is On The Way� (you remember this one) scraped the residue of Toronto�s grey, miserable hell-spring outta my soul. I think the pictures pretty much tell the story.

Despite his billing as a lover of Detroit sounds�never the slickest aesthetic by any stretch�Terry Lee Brown Jr. was a little too smooth and �funky� for my taste. By the end of the weekend I was becoming downright snobbish about certain mainstream sounds�more on that in a sec. But Simon Called Peter improved things substantially with some necessarily techy roughness over at the second stage. I don�t think I was the only one who was spurred on to head down the gravel path to the GURU stage when Brown Jr�s gear conked out for a minute, letting Simon Called Peter�s mixing tempt our ears, Pied Piper style. Only a late-set cameo by an unnamed and unskilled keyboardist put a slight damper on things. Then again, a gentleman with no shirt and a rainbow choker gave me a welcoming smile during this interlude, so I can�t really complain.

 

A/Visions 04: Deadbeat + Lillevan, Pole

I came late to Deadbeat thanks to a line stretching around the block�the first of the fest, to the credit of the organizers�and left early from Pole�s set, so I won�t pretend to journalistic integrity in my assessment of either. Suffice it to say that Deadbeat isn�t quite my cup of chillout/downtempo/dub/what have you, and that while Pole is a lot closer, not least because he does spectacular things with noises that other producers edit out, I can�t imagine actually paying money to hear either of them. I�ve never agreed with Simon Reynolds� assessment of the likes of the Warp roster as being too refined for the dancefloor yet too laid back to be truly exciting. And yet, the description seems to fit both acts. The only caveat is that Pole sounds better the louder his music is played, and this was very loud indeed. Who needs a melody when you find yourself with a pattern of syncopated white noise stuck in your head?

 

Nocturne 04: Rocketnumbernine, Four Tet, James Holden

I don�t want to fault Brit duo Rocketnumbernine for not being exciting, not least in a venue where the sound man was almost certainly focused on the wholly or mostly electronic acts that were to follow. The fact that the drummer and synth-ist had an actual dynamic range seemed to confound the venue, such that when they kicked things up a notch volume-wise, the drums seemed to turn into an unpleasant roar that overwhelmed whatever groove they were developing. Still, it wasn�t quite magnetic stuff. That said, and not to pat myself on the back, but I think I did hit on something with my theory that Four Tet is a remarkable collaborator because he listens to people; when he joined Rocketnumbernine for a collaboration, things improved enormously. Evidently, he heard what was needed and provided it in spades; in this case it seemed to be artfully constructed washes of static and bursts of samples, which mingled deliciously with Rocketnumbernine�s resident synth player�s blips and barks to form something like music.

Praising Four Tet himself is almost beside the point. His own performance was so seemingly effortless, spinning the already-hypnotic gems from There Is Love In You into epic dancefloor throwdowns, that you forget he probably works just as hard at it as the others. He really does know exactly what he�s doing, while giving the impression of making it up as he goes along. The breakbeat behind �Love Cry� was a boulder, starting an avalanche that eventually took the mountain down with it, all while this grinning head of thick hair bobbed and weaved over the gear like it was all part of his plan. The only disappointment of the set was the encore, when �Angel Echoes� seemed to cut off just as it was getting going. Pshhh. Festivals.

When James Holden came on, I felt the same as I do at this very moment: I wanted to give up and go get a sandwich, but something made me keep going. Whatever it was, it wasn�t the description of Holden as a purveyor of progressive house, as misleading a genre tag as ever I heard. Anyone faced with the Teutonic synth barrage and hard but still fairly spare drums nudging them along throughout the beginning of his set would call them tech-y, if not techno outright. Holden doesn�t need more cred, given his DJ Kicks and general reputation, but the man does deserve his due for being smart enough to select tunes right on the borderline of various subgenres, and fiendishly patient enough to fool whoever writes bios into thinking he�s not after the same brain-melting relentlessness that your Surgeons or your Dettingers win tech-purist plaudits for. By the time Holden�s wave of sheer intensity started to crest, dear reader, I could hardly leave, even though I could hardly stay. Or stand. So I meekly swayed, grinning, until there was no other option but to crawl home and hope I didn�t miss too much. As I thought then, I write now: There�s always next year.