The third outing of the electronic slanted Short Circuit festival has two of its key exponents, Mute and Germany’s Raster-Noton, curating three days in Camden. The latter took over the first day, with Ryuchi Sakamoto and Alva Noto premiering a new work.
The festival would close with Mute staples Erasure, Laibach, Alison Moyet, Liars and The Residents. But, arriving for something of a splash-and-dash on Day 2, we find the foyer of the Roundhouse adorned with racks of analogue mixers, drum machines, keyboards and synthesisers. It’s like wandering into one of Kraftwerk‘s early studios and being shown around by a friendly sound engineer.
In the main space Nitzer Ebb are stirring a sizeable crowd into life. Their synchronized drummers and Douglas McCarthy’s outrageously postured showmanship creates a barmy blend of techno and shouty industrial rock. That this was conceived in 1980s Essex is remarkable, but their sound remains confined to an indelibly dated bubble.
On the eve of the release of his 11th studio album – and book – Destroyed, Moby opts not to air it, instead nestling behind the decks for a DJ set. Reminiscent of his early Mute days, he blasts out heavy techno which immediately gets the main space perked up.
It seems promising (and is perhaps a nod to the evening’s headliner and his old tour buddy Richie Hawtin), but before long it all goes a bit Swedish House Mafia with cheesy electro / progressive house idling across the rest of the set. Had the man known for creating music best served for soundtracks and car adverts decided to play with a full live band, we might have been better served.
A critical period of Richie Hawtin’s gestation from his early days of experimental electronic music to the globetrotting minimal techno DJ he is now was spent in the Mute stable throughout the ’90s. FUSE and Plastikman’s work both emerged from it and by the end of the decade M-nus records was born.
Disappointingly there was no Plastikman set tonight, given the successful reboot of his most famed moniker last year, so a DJ set would again have to suffice. Rather than hark back to some of the earlier more rugged sounds of Mute compilations from the likes of the first of his signature DE9 series, the set was a familiar affair seen at any recent M-nus party with its deep pulsing basslines, massive reverbs, splashes of effects, killer drops and psychedelic visuals.
The flow of the evening was in one sense a chronology of the evolution of electronic music from the ’80s onwards – from the experimentalism of its analogue days to the more expansive, sequential production of modern times. A historical curiosity of sorts, but a reminder of how influential the again-independent Mute has become. Still helmed by founder Daniel Miller, who also stepped behind the decks tonight, the label’s diverse roster also includes acts not represented in the Electronic Music setting provided by Short Circuit. A reminder, were one needed, of Mute’s strength in depth.