When you head to the Opera House you expect to see Sumi Jo doing Madama Butterfly, or perhaps Nigel Kennedy doing a bastardisation thereof. So it came as something of a surprise when I read that the grande dame of conservative venues was going to get down and funky with some highly experimental electronic artists. Tonight’s festivities were held in the Studio, a poky little space seating only a few hundred, and, if nothing else, the venue spoke volumes for the respect that electronic music has finally earned. No longer content to stay in the domain of sweaty illegal warehouse parties and outdoor events, electronic music had Arrived.
First to take the stage (if you could call it that, as it was more like a sparsely arranged floor) was Greg Davis, who produces a sound deeply rooted in everyday noises and found samples. From behind his Apple laptop he performed two compositions, one from his Arbor LP, and another from his upcoming release Cranky. The first piece flowed outwards from what seemed like a sample of a waterfall, and the squeaks and bleeps took shape around this core. Appropriately, visuals of a forest with colour and shape overlays were live-mixed by a guy Davis referred to as HC, and this provided some much-needed visual stimulation. Say what you will about the music, but watching a guy point and click on his laptop is not exactly compelling viewing. The second piece made use of some sampled guitar that Davis fed into the Mac and manipulated the hell out of. Seeming to take the nature of air as its theme, it began with a gently pulsing tone accompanied by visuals of wind-farm mills slowly turning. About halfway through, this peace was shredded by what sounded like a low-flying jetfighter, but after a few passes overhead the peace mainly returned. You guessed it; if I were forced to lumber Davis with a genre it would definitely be ambient, which is not a genre particularly to my taste.
As soon as µ-ZIQ (pronounced “Mewzeek”, trés witty) took the stage, I realised what I had been missing during Davis’ set. A whopping great beat. And this is something that Michael Paradinas, the man behind µ-ZIQ, is not shy about delivering. He has very little interest in intros or outros, instead preferring to cut straight to the heart of the matter. The beats come thick, fast, twisted and mashed, which inevitably leads to comparisons with Aphex Twin and Squarepusher. Sure, some of the trademark sounds of these artists are to be found in this music, but perhaps this is only to be expected since Paradinas has recorded on Rephlex (Aphex Twin’s label) in the past, including the occasional collaboration. What sets this material well and truly apart from the rest of the left-field electronica crowd is its almost uncanny pop sensibility. Ludicrously beautiful melodies float above the most bone-crunching drum loops, becoming only more addictive due to the contrast. The high level of energy and the pounding beats more than compensated for the lack of visuals, or even lighting, and even managed to overcome the huge break in the performance while the tech-guy fixed the sound, which had pretty much cut out altogether. I couldn’t help but feel a bit embarrassed; after all this is the Opera House, not some sweaty illegal warehouse party.
After a brief intermission the crowd returned for the headliner, Boom Bip. Having heard much about Mr. Bip, but having heard very little, I was in the dark with regard to my expectations. Bryan Hollon must have learnt all about onomatopoeia (I’ve waited a long time for an excuse to use that word, and I’ll be damned if I’m not going to take it) in school, because rarely has a name so accurately described the sound produced. Of the three performers tonight Hollon’s music possessed the most traditional beat structure, layering vicious guitar licks and bell tones over some mercilessly insistent drums. Some astounding visuals were projected onto a giant middle screen, which was in turn flanked by two balloon screens that mimicked the main one. Unfortunately, the projections were my favourite part of the performance, as the music seemed to collapse into itself to become an overwhelming squall of treble and white noise. Perhaps this was the intent, but if so it was lost on me; too many of the textures and tones that I could hear were buried deep in the mix. Considering the sound troubles that plagued µ-ZIQ earlier in the evening, it’s hard to slate the blame solely to the man himself. Having said that, there were moments of true greatness, especially when the visuals matched the music blow for blow.