Live Music + Gig Reviews

Warp20 @ Coronet, London

5 December 2009

It’s a wet evening for a party.

For Warp Records’ 20th anniversary, the label have selected Broadcast, Plaid, Battles, Flying Lotus and new signing Nice Nice for the Coronet’s main room.

DJs EASE (Nightmares On Wax), Strictly Kev (DJ Food) and Winston Hazell (Forgemasters) are amongst the names programmed to keep the dancefloor busy.

The Coronet is neither a warm venue, nor is it particularly well laid out. With right-angled bottleneck corners at the end of the corridor between the two arenas – which, incidentally, also host the toilets – we guests of Warp, we Warpees, seem destined to spend the evening acquainting ourselves with battery farming and the smell of stale urine. Nevertheless, the rush quells and the audience settle as Broadcast take to the stage in the main arena. Taking my place, I hear a young man behind me whisper to his friend. “This is, like – proper distorted stuff.”

Armed with the first of many MacBooks on show this evening, the quirkily attired duo’s set gets off to a tentative start. Trish Keenan asks the audience to hold the applause as she fumbles with a video camera onstage, frantically asking bandmate James Cargill, “Why isn’t it working?” With the sensibility of every IT support desk in the land, he replies, “Is it plugged in?” I find the loose end of the cable caught in a mesh of black metal and pass it up to Trish.

Black and white film Winter Sun Wavelengths (from the Ghost Box label) starts up and the band are away. With the musicians swathed in darkness and divided by a large screen, attention is naturally drawn to the mysterious, yet typically Julian House created images as they flicker, hover, and vanish. Cargill generates arpeggios from his Korg synthesiser whilst Keenan holds a pair of microphones to her lips emitting ethereal ‘Aaahs’ through a rack of effect pedals. The haunting soundtrack accompanying the trippy visuals is childlike in both construction and delivery, with Broadcast themselves resembling children in a music room; locked in late after school on a rainy afternoon.

Things improve as the visuals change to warm Technicolor and Cargill picks up his Fender Precision bass. The cunning shift into a less amorphous realm is a welcome relief from their earlier spell: a spell that could have been conjured by the incantation, ‘Anticlimax!’ With the sound at the front swamped by a huge, thudding bass drum, it’s difficult to discern any lyrics. Sadly the set becomes as fractious as a shattered crystal ball – and equally as confusing.

New signing Nice Nice are next, and a drum kit is neatly placed centre stage. Adjacent, a keyboard stand and the entire output of Roland Corp’s Boss guitar effects pedals. Wondering how to get signed by Warp? Buy lots of effects pedals. If Nice Nice are attempting to double up on Keith Emerson’s prog-rocking The Nice, they’ve some way to go. Awaking a crowd zonked into stupor by Broadcast’s drone party (partly by having a drummer), Nice Nice are effectively a two-man Battles without the Math. Heavy psychedelic rock powered by loop pedals fizzes inoffensively from the PA and, like Broadcast, the duo fiddle around with the myriad of boxes and triggers they’re buried amidst. Nice Nice: ridiculously named; the musical equivalent of Ross Noble, but with no sense of irony at all.

On the journey out of the main room, it’s impossible not to overhear snippets of conversation. “Broadcast were amazing” suggests the opening act made an artistic impact. Upstairs and DJ EASE is mixing dub classics for an audience in search of discernible rhythms. The soothing beats provide welcome relief from the screeching awkwardness of Nice Nice.

Re-negotiating cattlegate back to the main arena, it is now Battles that prepare to make their assault. Dave Konopka wanders around the stage in a red-checked shirt playing a repeated riff on his fancy Gibson guitar. Looking a little lost (like a man that’s walked into an audition for an aspiring band of lumberjacks), the rest of the band eventually meander on to rapturous applause before creating a heck of an exciting noise. Photographers flock to photograph drummer John Stanier and his absurdly raised cymbal; the twin guitar licks surge with trademark squeals and yet there is something lacking from the set. Building and dropping in and out of deliberately syncopated arrhythmia is something Battles are unequivocally adept at, and yet not even an extended version of ‘Atlas’ can save the show from its interminable lack of whelm.

And so it comes to Flying Lotus, who’s been especially flown in to “cold ass London” (from FlyLo’s own Twitter account). The sight of one man and yet another Macbook can rarely be said to be inspiring, but on this occasion, and for those of us fortunate enough to bear witness, FlyLo is a truly engaging sight. Flipping between his remixes and his own material, his flesh quivering mix embraces hip-hop, drum ‘n’ bass and dubstep, finally affording the main arena an opportunity to dance. Mashing up Squarepusher, Radiohead and Burial with jaw-juddering basslines earns FlyLo an encore – the first of the night.

After such a heavy, successful set, Plaid take to the stage with a specially prepared ‘Classics’ set. Now some time after 3am,this is really an opportunity for the spaced to come up to trance out. Plaid’s music can also suit tired legs and drooping eyelids but, as the Coronet empties, the venue becomes increasingly inhospitable. With the running order already behind by at least 45 minutes and astronomical bar prices that seem to keep rising, the invitation to stay through Plaid for Rustie is not enticing enough.

Warp20 was not the celebration it could have been, purely because it never really promised to be; and there was only ever a vague possibility of it being even slightly representative of this eclectic label. Overall, Flying Lotus was the only artist that offered up enough of himself to provide cause for celebration. Yet for some, it was enough.

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