A blog on gigs, music, art and London.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Broadcast & Oliver Coates/Anna Meredith, Ether Festival, Queen Elizabeth Hall, 21/04/10

I was back at the Queen Elizabeth Hall last night for another concert in what is proving to be an excellent Ether Festival. Broadcast played a rare comeback gig of sorts, with support from Oliver Coates & Anna Meredith. Micachu & The Shapes weren’t able to make it due to the ongoing flight disruption caused by the Icelandic volcano ash cloud.
Oliver Coates (cello/laptop) & Anna Meredith (laptop) opened up, beginning with some still, solo cello (in some ways not dissimilar to Danny Norbury, who I saw at Union Chapel earlier in the month). Roughly textured, processed laptop soundscapes soon took over, sounding close to a scaled down Murcof or possibly Hecq (in his modern classical guise). As their set progressed, the two bodies of sound slowly merged to form an excellent amalgam of minimalist modern classical and ambient experimental electronica.

I have loved Broadcast since first getting to know them courtesy of John Peel in the mid 1990s. My first experience of seeing them play live was at the Sheffield Leadmill in 1996, supporting Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci. I then saw them play a few gigs around 2000 when I first moved to London, and last saw them supporting Yo La Tengo at Shepherd’s Bush Empire around 2005. Since then they have been relatively quiet so I was looking forward to seeing them, intrigued by what kind of set they would play. Tonight they played in their new, reduced line up of Trish Keenan and James Cargill.

They started with a 20 minute long echoing, reverberating wall of diffuse, distorted sound, played on a modest selection of analogue synths and various electronic devices. It was a lot closer to the music of their recent collaboration with the Focus Group rather than their earlier albums. Hazy distortion replaced the refracted, motorik grooves of their recorded music and conventional percussion was relatively absent from their sound. Brilliantly psychedelic ‘audio visual modules’ flickered across the large screen at the back of the stage.

The first hint we get of a recognisable track is ‘What I Saw’, its almost-childlike melodies swamped in a pleasing sea of echoes and distortion. Trish Keenan’s vocals sounded as pristine as ever, slightly detached to begin with but as the set moves slowly in the direction of their more song-based tracks the internally illuminated, soft edges returned to the fore. Other tracks performed were ‘Black Cat’, ‘Lunch Hour Pops’, ‘Corporeal’ and ‘The Be Colony’. Nothing was played from ‘The Noise Made By People’ (the fact that I did not really pick up on this until after leaving the venue was a sign of how excellent the gig was).

Occasionally, synthesised chord sequences recall old library music or possibly some of the current acts on Ghost Box Records – The Advisory Circle and Belbury Poly being two points of reference. In a way I guess you could almost say that Broadcast were a ‘Ghost Box’ band years before the label came into existence, predating the whole ‘hauntology’ movement by some distance. I find the term ‘retro’ not an altogether helpful word to use when talking about Broadcast. Sure, there is an element to their sound that could be labelled as ‘retro’ (specifically the fleeting glimpses of psychedelia that bring to mind The Velvet Underground or early Pink Floyd) but it is all presented in such a luminous, forward-thinking, futuristic manner to almost render the association redundant.

Sometimes I go to gigs and see bands stick to familiar, safe territory but tonight Broadcast were the exact opposite, trailblazing an ambitious, exciting, unmapped terrain. It’s great to have them back.

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