The past couple of weeks have been an excellent time to be a fan of electronic music in London, first with the London Electronic Arts Festival (LEAF)’s return and subsequently with the Convergence festival celebrating technology and media in music across a wide range of venues. The line-up has looked tantalising since it was announced a few months ago, and most of the performances fulfilled that early promise.
Perhaps the most appropriate venue proved to be Village Underground, an intriguing space under railway arches in Shoreditch and one of the backers of Convergence. The venue usually has excellent sound, both for acoustic acts and electronic performers, and its unusual shape draws casual listeners towards the bar, which is some distance away from the stage and main audience area. It provided the ideal location for the opening night party, which mixed DJ sets, solo electronic acts and a muscular live band.
- More from Convergence: Gary Numan @ Royal Festival Hall
Erased Tapes artist Rival Consoles began proceedings with a set that challenged some preconceptions of that particular label’s output, blending their typically crystalline sound with some more percussive and abrasive moments. If Rival Consoles hasn’t quite achieved the same level attention as the likes of labelmates Ólafur Arnalds or Nils Frahm, it might well be time for that situation to be rectified.
After a slightly tentative start, Vessels more than justified their recent surprise shift away from post-rock dynamics in to more synth-dominated territory (as showcased on the excellent album Dilate). Their combination of punchy, relentless motorik grooves (generated by two drummers and an electronic percussionist) and absorbing, sometimes ghostly electronic sound worlds proved both compelling and infectious, the crowd responding with clear enthusiasm. It was also the best example across the week of an act incorporating elements drawn from electronica (and electronic instruments and devices) into a broader, less readily classifiable scheme. The slight flaws around the edges and an occasional tendency towards ponderous exposition might well be ironed out as this new stage of their musical journey progresses. For now, what comes across strongly are the fascinating and successful experiments with cross-rhythms and a fearless intensity that ought to bring them to a new audience.
Whilst Vessels used projections to hammer home their branding, surprisingly few acts made further use of the range of possibilities of visual media. Warp artist Clark at least took the opportunity to showcase a new short film for To Live And Die In Grantham, one of four excellent tracks on the brand new EP Flame Rave. The film, which veers between a gritty and an ascendant aesthetic actually sets the scene perfectly for this particular take on his live set. Clark’s music can veer towards the ethereal at times, but tonight’s set focused on the more attacking side of his recent work. At times, it felt punishing loud and a little harsh, particularly when dominated by high end sounds, but the crowd seemed delighted by his occasionally ingenious mischief making.
The highlight of the week may have been Matthew Herbert using the platform offered by Convergence to relaunch his Herbert moniker. It is worth remembering that his music under this name falls into two quite distinct camps – mechanistic, quite cold house music and a warmer, song-based approach that fuses jazz, cabaret, soul and musical theatre elements. This show largely focused on forthcoming album The Shakes, which very much focuses on the song-based side of his work. After an unconventional introduction, during which Herbert teased the audience with mercilessly brief samples of what was (and what definitely was not to come), the show settled into a fairly consistent groove. “This show is all about kick drums, really,” Herbert offered as an explanation.
This is only partially accurate, however. Tonight’s show really seemed about the songs, particularly the rich, communicative delivery of vocalists Ade Omotayo and Rahel Debebe-Dessalegne (of Hejira, signed to Herbert’s label Accidental) and the crisply articulated horn arrangements, sometimes uplifting and sometimes melancholy. On this occasion, Herbert’s ever ingenious use of sampling and even the underpinning house beats seem slightly distant and restrained. His politics remain, however, especially on Strong, a hugely infectious song for the 99% against the 1% (“you may have the yacht but we still have the water”). As ever at his concerts, Herbert involved the crowd in clever, risky ways, sampling the sound of the audience with a microphone that extended out over the crowd. This added another dimension to the theatricality of the show too. Whilst the subtle, nuanced ensemble sound was sometimes overwhelmed by sheer volume and a muddy mix, The Shakes still sounds highly promising.
Sadly, unforeseen travel problems forced the cancelation of what had looked to be an exciting show headlined by Mouse On Mars. With the headline act unable to reach the UK, the remaining line-up was added to the closing party, this time in the more sophisticated art deco environment of the Troxy. It’s a beautiful venue, but maybe not entirely suited to the late night club vibe. This night inevitably required some stamina, but it more than rewarded the investment.
Arguably, the highlight came early on with a incandescent, fascinating set from Shackleton. Eschewing the mechanistic, atavistic sounds of Music For The Quiet Hour in favour of sharper-edged tones and melodic fragments, Shackleton crafted a set with spellbinding rhythmic intricacy and a ratcheting intensity that never relented even over the course of more than an hour. Shackleton is an artist continually evolving. Whether coincidentally or intentionally, on this occasion he certainly played to the room and the scenario perfectly.
Pantha Du Prince proved a little more predictable, but no less enjoyable for this. Serving up a resplendent, shimmering, visually and sonically enhanced version of the pristine sound of his recordings, each piece was filled with glistening melodies and beautiful. This is dance music well suited to the small hours given that it’s physical but also elegant and well crafted, with plenty of room for contemplation. The set was superbly paced, evocative and dreamlike.
The masked crusader Zomby is impossible categorise, and it’s difficult to know which version of him might show up. There is the artist that crafted a surprising and intricate work of cumulative emotion on Dedication, or there is the arch provocateur. This very late set seemed to favour his naughtier, more mischievous side, with rapid fire breakbeats and abrasive effects. It was an exciting, if jarring end to an intriguing event.
Convergence, from up-and-coming acts such as Kiasmos to bona fide legends like Tricky and Gary Numan, was a brilliant showcase of artistic imagination in electronic music, but it would have been pleasing to see more artists make more use of the multimedia element of the brief. The use of visuals was often limited, or only partially integrated into the performance. Holly Herndon’s video collaborations seem like a perfect contemporary example of how these worlds can be brilliantly unified. Let’s hope that Convergence returns next year, and the organisers consider approaching her, and others operating in a similar field.