Granada Studios, Manchester
I’ve always been more of a gig goer than a clubber and I’m certainly not one for going out past midnight these days – I prefer to be off the street before public transport shuts down and it goes a bit Pete Tong out there. However, I’m also a long term fan of Rochdale’s version of Kraftwerk, and in spite of the fact that they’re older than me and make fiendishly complicated music that is impossible to dance to they still insist in playing in an after hours ‘Rave’ setting rather than a regular 8-11pm gig. It’s part of their Shtick, and it’s the environment they feel most comfortable in I guess. It gets increasingly incongruous though, as the years pass and we all get older and their music moves further and further away from anything resembling ‘dance music’.
The choice of venue is intriguing though, we’re in Studio 12 at the former Granada TV Studios (future currently uncertain but next year will be the venue for the The Crystal Maze experience – “start the fans please!”) – where The Beatles played their first TV appearance, quite possibly the venue for the Sex Pistols legendary appearance on So It Goes, Bay City Rollers’ Shang-A-Lang and of course Stars in Their Eyes with Matthew Kelly. On the way up to the gents you pass through an abandoned set of Weatherfield Police station which is somewhat bizarre.
Lee Gamble is the first support. I very much enjoyed his excellent albums ‘Koch’ and ‘Diversions’ – and his set is on similar lines, referencing back to early Drum & Bass and Hardcore but filtered through a gauzy haze with some lovely melodic layers on top of the hefty beats. As he plays I’m struck by how excellent the sound mix is, very powerful and the bass flaps your trousers but it’s also crystal clear and you can hear every detail – it’s loud as feck but it doesn’t hurt your ears.
The notorious Russell Haswell is up next – he’s at the more extreme end of electronica and his set sounds like hugely amplified root canal dentistry. Largely atonal squeals and rumbles with the occasional beat thrown in. Some of the crowd lap it up but I just find it jarring, overlong and dull. (Have you noticed this is sounding like a Jazz gig?)
Autechre take to the stage at precisely 00:45 and their arrival is, as always, signalled by turning off all the stage and house lights. They like their orchestral manoeuvres in the dark you see. There is absolutely nothing to see, the idea is you listen. For all I know Sean and Rob could have stayed at home with a curry and got two members of The Senseless Things or Cannon & Ball to stand in – we’d never know although I suspect the latter wouldn’t know which buttons to press. It’s not completely dark – the Fire Exit signs will always stand in the way of sensory deprivation and of course mobile phones and security guards torches occasionally flicker away. I close my eyes anyway, although we all face the stage since that’s where the speakers are – surprised they haven’t gone for surround sound as that would make perfect sense rather than have us all looking toward an unlit stage.
As ever the live set is partially improvised and features entirely new music (they never play anything they’ve actually released on record) – they’re a bit like a Jazz band like The Necks in that respect – (that word again!) This is one of the more elaborate sets I’ve heard them play. It’s hard to get a hold on what’s going on initially – it’s more like sound design rather than music, huge slabs of bass occasionally drop in but there’s little in the way of anything conventionally rhythmic or melodic but as ever there are odd little musical elements bubbling away in the background. About 20 mins in they suddenly shift into a monstrous ravey groove which causes an outbreak of dancing before it gradually fractures and pixelates. Then we’re off into more musical territory and they showcase their ability to create quite beautifully delicate little melodies mixed with disorientating noisey bits. There’s a bit where they start playing great big stabs of what sound like 300 church organs at once, and the crowd respond by shouting ‘wooh!’ in the silences between which makes me chuckle. Gradually it winds down into more ambient territory and with a slightly abrupt click of a device shutting down they’re off. It’s a brilliant set and given that they’ve taken to releasing live recordings I hope this one is made available as I’d love to have another listen.
Middle aged post-ravers, serious young men and women talking about Max MSP, a few cyberpunky types and so many North Face jackets you could have been forgiven for thinking this was a convention of the Ramblers Association. Unfortunately the gig is promoted by Warehouse Project who are used catering for 18 year old rave monkeys, so the “bar” has Cider, Jagermeister and whatever other crap ‘ver kids drink. The only beer is plastic bottles of Bud at an extortionate £4 a pop. Some nice Ale would have gone down a treat with this crowd I reckon.
It made me think..
I thoroughly enjoyed the performance, and intriguing being in Granadaland with all that history around us – I do wish they’d break away from the nocturnal club format though – Interestingly they played the all-seated Royal Festival Hall in London last week so maybe they realise they need to bring their music to different settings more suited to the immersive listening experience they are going for.