Electronic music and live performance cross over each other in a grey area. With the generalised boom in the possibilities and exposure of this sphere – one that’s seen a plethora of artists ranging from James Blake to Skrillex to Tim Hecker rise to prominence over the last decade – the codes and conventions of what connotes a performance of this nature have been up for interpretation, redundancy, innovation, and bastardry in equal measure.
One drizzly night in Bristol, Mount Kimbie and oOoOO accordingly offered two vastly polarising approaches to the medium, performances that provoked questions and echoed far beyond the confines of The Fleece.The former? An intoxicating fusion of the tools of the trades (samplers, synths, pedals etc) with the propulsive energy of organic, live instrumentation. The latter meanwhile felt alienating and even disengaged, oOoOO inadvertently trying the audience’s convictions about the authenticity of his music in a live setting.
Spending much of the set on the floor of the stage obscured from view, leaving only the peak of his New Era and a brief loop of projected imagery in his wake, oOoOO’s set felt both idiosyncratic and wholly predictable. Intermittently he’d briefly emerge again, wielding a controller in hand almost as a declaration of proof. This isn’t to say his music – imagine How To Dress Well produced by Haxan Cloak, blisteringly stark bedroom R&B – isn’t a nuanced honest affair, or that his performance wasn’t made up of an intricate series of triggers, sequenced loops, and live mixing when down on the decks. It couldn’t help but feel though, that any specific craft or intrigue was lost in translation as, when finally stood upright, oOoOO wandered about on stage as if playing Bop-It whilst watching paint dry. In a room that wasn’t ready to move, his set ought to have worked harder to either instigate that movement or pour the concrete into their shoes.
Mount Kimbie on the other hand, immediately set about capturing the Fleece. Opening up with Crooks and Lovers key cut ‘Carbonated’ inevitably turned the dial up a notch, but Kai Campos and Dom Maker just kept twisting. Material drawn from CSFLY has been worked through over the last few months so that it possesses a tangible fullness, a weight, which comes from combining their deep production – bass that’s almost biological in its depth, throbbing, pulsating – with the live setting of live guitars and drums, to create these sounds, not just pressing play.
In that vein ‘So Many Times, So Many Ways’ and ‘Blood and Form’ are absolutely stonking live. As a pairing they showcase the key components of 2013-era Kimbie: their flexibility of reach between post-Fly Lo jazz grooves and minimalism, between experimental, dissonant textures and an abstract club-readiness. ‘Blood…’ in particular really pounds off record, and it’s down purely to the human element, the introverted mantras of the subdued dual vocals counter-posed with the pummelling drum beat to exhilarating effect.
Unexpectedly, the one slight down-point was ‘Made to Stray’. Having extolled its virtues to all and sundry all year, expectations were perhaps exorbitantly high, but it undoubtedly felt a couple of notches quieter this time around… slightly slower and drawn out in the live setting so that it crept its way in and snuck out again. It’s a less utterly absorbing but still intriguing re-interpretation, undoubtedly still a song of weird, unfathomable frazzlement, steeped in encompassing atmosphere and intoxicating haze.
So where does that leave us with electronic music in live performance? Well, anticlimactically, at the nub of music in the first place. There cannot and should not be a diktat, but with such a transient happening, in such a finite setting, you ought to take that time and the tools you have in order to act, to be felt, to leave make your mark.
CHRISTOPHER T. SHARPE