02 Academy – October 3rd
Electronic music has always been guilty of creating icons too quickly. It’s relentless forward momentum and close association with youth culture makes the trajectory of producers unnaturally steep and inexplicably tenuous, creating an endless cycle of power rises and power vacuums until we don’t even know what the fuck we like ourselves. In a scene where 19 and 22 year old duo Disclosure can be considered experienced heads, 37 year old veteran Bonobo has traversed his way through contemporary UK Electronic music with a remarkable amount of staying power. And this year, with the release of his excellent fifth album The North Borders, Simon Green paints an unlikely figure at the summit of a long list of thriving, crossover producers.
Kicking things off with a mercilessly high energy set is Liverpool University alumni Dauwd. The North Wales producer is part of a growing number of artists fudging the lines between house and techno, dressing abrasion in something a bit more approachable by bringing melody into the mix. Drawing largely on the excellent Ghostly EP Heat Division, al-Hilali incorporates that immaculate synth work and those tuneful basslines to create a set rich in aesthetics and diverse in textures.
Live electronic music is difficult. Artists and producers spend careers in the studio trying to make music that pushes sonic boundaries to their limits, utilizing extreme and complex recording techniques to create a sound that ultimately reaches beyond what can be reproduced live. Tonight Bonobo draws on a full band of multi-instrumentalists and rhythm section in an attempt to present one of the most intimate albums of the year to a buoyant and diverse O2 Academy crowd.
Bonobo’s unweaning popularity can be credited, largely, to his ability to synthesize classic electronic music with modern recording techniques, culminating in a sound that is memorable whilst remaining distinct. And unlike many of his contemporaries, he refrains from that kind of show stopping, widescreen production, in favour of keeping things tight and purposeful, like on the twitching, rhythmic Know You and the lo-fi, woozy Pieces. There are dense and intricate layers of textures at play here this evening, yet Green manages to retain that sense of space that makes his recorded output so rewarding. These are subtly challenging songs, made accessible to a wider, crossover audience by their infrequent nods to commercial dance music. First Fires could sit on an Oneohtrix Point Never album if it weren’t for that graceful melodic, verse-chorus vocal line. Emkay paints this ambient, sparse soundscape, but on top of a two-step garage beat making it dance floor ready as the feet begin to move. Despite the technical prowess demonstrated in the studio, tonight’s performance finds beauty in more natural, more humble places. The faint sound of woodwind teased at the end of Sapphire brings the song gorgeously into focus, and the strings that bloom in the closing moments of Ten Tigers offer this timid piece some vitality in a wonderfully moving display of human expression. It is these occasional instrumental flourishes throughout the set that allow these songs to be played live as their own entity, reinventing them as these dazzling arrangements and elevating them above the sum of all their parts.
Live electronic music often feels like an artist desperately trying to shoe-horn a live show into studio productions, playing one beat per bar on an electric drum kit as the rest of the track plays through their Macbook. It isn’t the artist’s fault; the growing popularity of UK electronic music and the decreasing value in recorded music has meant that electronic acts have to tour, have to play at festivals, have to play blog sessions and all the rest. I mean, there is no reason why a producer should be able to even mix live, let alone perform with instruments when an entire back catalogue can be produced using one piece of computer software. Werk Disk’s Lukid recently confessed to Fact Mag that despite being booked for numerous ‘live’ sets, all he does is play tunes through his laptop. There is no clarification on the boundaries and definition on what constitutes as live because largely, you don’t know the extent of this ‘live’ show until you are in venue. The natural habitat of electronic music will always be club nights, with packed sweaty dance floors, 4am curfews and crippling comedowns. Tonight though, Bonobo has embraced the finer, but essential live elements of his album by making it a performance rich in texture and instrumentation, almost as if his collective are a live act trying to incorporate electronic elements into their set. This is an artist who harbours a deep respect for the soul of each sound he uses, whether it is synthetic or from a live instrument, allowing the songs to become physical in a literal sense and creating a show that is undeniably human.