Many years ago, when I first saw Autechre at Manchester’s Roadhouse (it must have been around 1995), they insisted that all the stage lights be turned off when they came on. The result was two barely discernable figures in the gloom – the ultimate in invisibility on stage. Or so I thought. Sound and animation artist Konx-Om-Pax took that one stage further by crouching on the floor in the dark, behind most of the equipment, peering at his laptop. Only the occasional flash of movement gave away his position. To be honest, it was no less dull, in a visual way, than the recent Murcof show where Fernando Corona stood in full view staring at his Apple. At times Konx-Om-Pax’s music was extraordinary. One track resembled the sound of dying pinball machines blitzed in a hail of white noise: another a beautiful, looped prepared piano melody gradually attacked by a plague of viruses. It was difficult listening at times, but totally absorbing. The most bizarre track of all was the final one – a completely straight and funky slice of minimal techno that seemed to beam in from another set altogether.
RememberRemember at least tried to present something visually, but it was totally shambolic. An old film of Scots legend Tom Weir out and about in the islands was projected on the back wall, but was obscured for the most part by Graeme’s shadow. And as with the last time I saw him, he seemed to be fighting a losing battle with his equipment for a lot of the set. This reached an embarrassing nadir during the third track. A looped xylophone sample tinkled away while he scrabbled around looking for something, before giving up and apologising. Each tune seemed to take an age to get going, and there was usually a false start as something, somewhere was not plugged in or switched on. All this may make the set seem like an exercise in endurance, but there were rich rewards for the patient listener. The pieces have a naïve, playful charm, but when they get going, with layers of guitar, bass, handclaps and various toys, stationery objects etc, they develop into something immensely powerful and fulfilling. The addition of saxophone and melodica on two of the four pieces helped give them a warm breadth.
Galchen make furious, cinematic instrumental rock of a broadly similar stripe to 65daysofstatic. It can be both grindingly brutal, and gloriously blissful – often within the same song. Tonight seemed a little patchy. The snare drum was mixed way too loud and all but drowned out everything else at times. And the general sound tended to descend into a sonic soup during the loud passages. The quieter stuff worked better. There seemed some sort of tension between members on stage, too, which led to an oddly strained atmosphere. Thirty minutes and they were done. Galchen are an exciting band, but tonight was a bit of an off night for them. Everyone has ‘em.