Live Music + Gig Reviews

Max Cooper @ Barbican, London

5 April 2024


Electronic producer takes inspiration from Italy to deliver another maximalist, pulsating spectacle

Max Cooper at the Barbican (Photo: Michal Augustini)

Max Cooper at the Barbican (Photo: Michal Augustini)

Since emerging back in 2007 Max Cooper has proved himself to be a producer capable of delivering hard-hitting, conceptual techno, whether on record or in the live environment. From early albums like 2014’s Human to his last full length record, 2022’s Unspoken Words he has maintained a consistent aesthetic that foregrounds pulsating electronic sounds which has resulted in him becoming an increasingly in-demand and versatile artist, equally at home at venues like the Barbican as outdoor festivals. His latest EP Seme takes inspiration from Italy and sees him slightly expand his sonic palette, allowing room for other instruments and sounds to enter the mix.

Tonight’s show at the Barbican may have been presented as the UK premiere of his Seme project but it also bore all of the classic Cooper hallmarks, a maximalist and frequently frenetic audio visual spectacle that further consolidated his reputation.

The early moments see Cooper accompanied on stage by soprano Kim Sheehan, cellist Niels Orens and pianist Tom Hodge to play, Palestrina Sicut, the opening track from Seme. The wordless, classical vocals of Sheehan offer a moment of reflection and stillness as the digital and human are briefly blended. It doesn’t last too long however, with Cooper soon taking centre stage from behind his synthesisers. Other moments from Seme follow, namely the pulsing, ricocheting electronica of Cardano Circles and effervescing, vibrating mass of Fibonacci Sequence which sees sounds collapse in on themselves.

Max Cooper at the Barbican (Photo: Michal Augustini)

Max Cooper at the Barbican (Photo: Michal Augustini)

As always with Cooper live shows the visuals are striking, opening with a set of trippy and psychedelic imagery that suggests corrupted media and frazzled technology. As the show goes on rotating, tessellating geometric light shapes find a parallel in the music. Later, more overt references to Renaissance Italy appear across the screen, whether related to the country’s art, architecture or geography, contextualising the music that appears on Seme (the visuals are provided by multi-disciplinary design studio Architecture Social Club, Yoshi Sodeoka and Davide Quayola).

The music and visuals for the most part are well integrated, although there are moments, perhaps understandably, where one overpowers the other. There’s a passage where quotes from the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein flash across the stage, culminating in a form of text overload, while clashing and propulsive sounds play out around them. Later, images of wrestlers morph into classical statues and then again into digital forms as slowly figurative imagery starts to outweigh the abstract. Musically, more in the way of textural, electronic manoeuvring follows, a sort of digital, monochromatic language that offers precision and impact.

The two hour set is broken up into pieces, each punctuated with applause from the audience. It certainly offers value for money but an element of sprawl begins to creep in towards the later stages and it feels like it could have benefitted from a couple of edits here and there. There’s also a couple of ‘false endings’, including where one opportunity to go out with a bang is missed, thudding beats arriving alongside accelerating electronic accents to provide what appears to be a striking finale, only for the music to resume seconds later. Yet, these feel like minor quibbles about a set that once again proved that Cooper is extremely good at what he does, an ambitious artist capable of delivering memorable musical and visual experiences.


buy Max Cooper MP3s or CDs
Spotify Max Cooper on Spotify


More on Max Cooper
Max Cooper @ Barbican, London
Max Cooper – Unspoken Words
Max Cooper @ Barbican, London
This Music Made Me: Max Cooper
Max Cooper – Human