There are surely few subgenres as patronisingly or pretentiously named as Intelligent Dance Music or IDM. Do you need to prove your IQ before you’re deemed worthy of listening to it?
One thing that must be said is that artists often lumped together beneath this ill-fitting banner are those who are subverting or simply ignoring the 4/4 rules and twisting electronics to create their own unique sound. Tonight’s main draw, Squarepusher, is one such artist.
Warming up the crowd beforehand though is Mark Bell, aka the remaining half of veteran techno duo LFO. The sounds he unleashes are angry and banging as harsh electronic beats writhe and squirm out of the speakers. At times it may sound like someone has stuck a couple of bricks and a synth in a washing machine and it’s certainly not for the faint hearted but its also truly hypnotic. Bell then airs eponymous anthem LFO, the defining moment of the early ’90s Sheffield bleep scene. It still sounds amazing and, in spite of old Radio One DJ Steve Wright once calling it the worst record hed ever heard, stands as one of the truly timeless electronic tracks.
Bells whirring techno apocalypse is over soon after and the man behind Squarepusher, virtuoso bass player Tom Jenkinson, emerges onto the stage to an enormous cheer. Kicking off with Star Time 2 from new album Just A Souvenir, choppy beats and jazzy organ are overlaid with Jenkinson’s dextrous slap bass.
Its unclear to start with just how live the set is with Jenkinson seemingly just accompanying a fixed laptop backing track, but the moshing crowd don’t seem to care. Theres an element of fragility to any melodies as they dart underneath the bruising breaks in danger of being crushed until one melody bursts through on its own, beautiful in its isolation.
A live drummer then comes to the stage for the chipper and mildly ridiculous vocodered new track, A New Woman. Its the next track that showcases his amazing machine-gun drum skills though, with uplifting chords helping to form a crazed, jazz-like workout. Jenkinson’s music seems formlessly freestyle at times but more often the hyperactive layers of sound gel together to create something that not only makes sense but also has the ability to mesmerise.
With a multitude of effects pedals allowing Jenkinson to create huge ambient sounds and textures, giant screens display graphics that react to every sound spurting out of the speakers. He ends the set with a big bass jam, which is both technically and musically exhilarating.
The encore involves stomping, tribal acid techno and old skool rave before another extended improvised solo proves Jenkinson is not simply playing along to a pre-sequenced backing track. The swansong comes in the form of old favourite, Vic Acid, with its soaring, roaring chords and epileptically drummed backing.
Jenkinson confirmed tonight that he is undoubtedly an exceptional talent, a true one off, but his music is too inaccessible to garner widespread appeal far from his current, intensely passionate fanbase. You get the feeling that this is exactly how he likes it though.
Overall tonight’s performance left the audience dumbstruck with elements of Squarepusher’s set containing a whiff of twisted genius about them. If this truly is IDM Tom Jenkinson must have at least a Masters in it.