Hands up if you like mash up’s? You know, when DJ’s or bedroom wannabees splice together tracks to create a hybrid that makes you wonder why The Strokes and Christina or Nirvana and New Order didn’t record together in the first place.
Or maybe your penchant is for samples; that hook on the latest hip-hop billboard hit, or, top take it to the next level, records by The Avalanches or Entroducing by DJ Shadow which were made up entirely of cuts from other artists work. Or maybe, it’s that moment of genius from a DJ, mixing a combination of sounds which make your ears rattle, legs shake and brain quiver all at the same time.
Either way, you would only be scratching the surface of Amon Tobin’s musical nous. Not only has he just released an album which fuses sounds as wide ranging as motorbike engines to taps dripping to form melodies and hooks (The Foley Room), he’s done the soundtrack for a computer game and released some of the most diverse electronic music around, veering from jungle to hip-hop with a good dose of ambience and jazz thrown in.
To the uninitiated this could pose a problem in a live setting: most of the work on Tobin’s albums is painstakingly put together to the subtlest degree. Hours spent in studios, not seeing daylight, checking and re-checking to make sure things fit. But, anyone at The Electric Ballroom tonight, or who has heard his Solid Steel Presents live album, will be able to testify that, despite combing all the elements of his recorded work into two hours, Tobin can be both innovator and crowd pleaser in this setting.
The secret? A nifty little piece of kit known as Final Scratch – which essentially enables the man behind the decks to twist and turn a digital sample the same way as a hunk of vinyl. So, Tobin can cut up a sixties psychedelic riff, with a air raid siren and a hip hop vocal as if he had 8 decks and the world’s wildest record collection.
And it works. There are three prongs to Amon Tobin tonight: the experimental genius (industrial drum loops, difficult to dance to), jazzy atmospheric hip-hopper (like the soundtrack to an urban apocalypse) and flat-out drum n bass floor filler (easy to dance to).
Running through in pretty much the order prescribed, we get lacerated synth stabs cutting through wall shaking, off beat drums and the occasional random sample of automotives or electrical equipment first. It’s difficult not to move to, but at the same time, almost impossible for even the most rhythmic here to find a beat: time signatures change quicker than the lighting and Tobin makes each track into separate but interlocking strands. There was an emphasis on much of tonight being original and live composition. Rather than play just his own tracks, Tobin is splicing the DNA of music and sound into something that your ears
He’s at his most accessible when he turns to the hip-hop influence: lifted samples, urgent but laid back beats, less abrasive but ultimately easier to move to. There is just as much innovation here, Tobin throws retro rock ‘n’ roll over jazzy brass, but at least the rhythm stays roughly the same.
But experimentalism aside, a live show needs to encapsulate as many facets of an artist’s repertoire as possible. Tobin is also and thankfully for anyone who came here tonight to party as well as ponder, a peddler of upfront drum n bass.
He ends tonight with a series of floor-filling, huge sounding tunes, which in the surround sound of The Electric Ballroom reverberate around your temples and make your feet twitch into action. From the weird to the wonderful and everything in between, you might not be able to predict Amon Tobin’s next move, but there is a good chance you’ll like it.