This year’s Ether festival has experienced some inspired programming, but the decision to demote a night of Deep Space Disco to Sunday night at the Queen Elizabeth Hall seemed brave, bordering on foolhardy.
While admittedly far more appealing than the latest episode of Heartbeat, it’s something of a graveyard slot. Yet somehow this cosmic cocktail of arts forms handsomely rewarded anyone gingerly venturing out to dance on a school night.
Certainly any strangers wandering in to the foyer of the Queen Elizabeth Hall at 8.30pm would have wondered firstly what planet they were on, then what century they found themselves in. While fragmented films of Soviet space missions beamed down a massed throng of costume wearers strutted their stuff or played out light hearted rituals, like something from a psychedelic dream featuring the Super Furry Animals, Sly Stone and The Triffids. The dancers ranged from inhabitants of far flung planets to glam disco queens, with all sorts of inappropriate padding, protruding organs and masses of hair.
As a warm up act they were hugely entertaining, the alien autopsies and other such crowd scenes complementing the steady throb of slowed down disco, provided by Orca. This was heady stuff, all chunky beats, catchy riffs and loping bass, all done with a smile.
Over in the hall itself process was more sedate but no less chilled, as Thomas Schumacher and an assembled band of motley instruments cast a spell in deep blue light, using pre-recorded Yann Tiersen guitar lines.
The party was undoubtedly to be had in the foyer, mind, with top billing given to The Juan Maclean, who had flown in from New York that morning. Clearly jet lag is a concept embraced by space disco, as the band proceeded to press all the right buttons and get everyone dancing.
The set was ideally structured and opened with the hyperactive lines of The Simple Life, extra thrills provided by John Maclean himself on theremin. Nancy Whang did a good line as the ’80s-influenced diva, with Maclean stepping into a kind of withdrawn Phil Oakey role, the band’s Human League homage barely disguised.
Ironically it was a track from the last album that made the most impact, Give Me Every Little Thing using its elastic bass line to full effect, but Happy House ran it mighty close. Finishing off the set in extended, 20-minute form, it propelled the assembled throng skywards with joyous recollections of early house, all four of the band finding something to hit or shake with each hand. When finally we slowed to a standstill it was nothing more than a cunning decoy – as the song accelerated for another five minutes of euphoria, finishing the night and the weekend with a rich dose of happiness.
As with all Noise Of Art nights, it was refreshing to report a complete lack of rule making and boundary setting; the chosen acts given total artistic freedom, translated completely to the punters – with joyous results.