In a recent concert review, Tom Breihan called RJD2’s set the “go-get-a-beer part of the show.” In spite of the excellence of the music in establishing atmosphere and the extensive set-up the producer employs, he noted simply, “it’s not fun to watch someone play records.” While superficially hilarious, Breihan’s comment also summarized the dilemma of the DJ performance: the lack of a compelling visual focus. While disc jockeys can establish an aural reputation on radio, the club/concert DJ has had to revamp their set. Certainly, addressing/berating the audience, as well as selecting songs that reflect the overall mood are obvious tricks of the trade, but these still fail to attract the eye.
Perhaps in partial response to this popular sentiment, DJs have adapted to their (potential) superstar status by adopting visual aids. Certainly, artistic license plays a role in this natural collaboration: the Bay Area’s Future Primitive Sound Session crew consistently blend beats, rhymes and visual depictions of life for their DJ and graffiti parties. That said, let’s be frank: beat-makers and beat-matchers could use a little help from a flashy friend. Subsequently, it comes as little surprise that DJs are seen these days. Well, maybe not the DJ him/herself, as they may be hidden behind a mountain of machinery. But a DJ performance can now come with moving images, light displays and maybe even a dancer or two, in addition to the zigga zigga.
What does this all mean? In truth, I am still likely to be found at the bar with the other Breihans as soon as the needle hits the groove. That is not to say there aren’t some notable efforts being made.
Kieran “Four Tet” Hebden has addressed this visual need, albeit through recorded means. Everything Ecstatic Part 2 culls video interpretations of each song from his fourth and latest album Everything Ecstatic. Directors such as Jodie Mack, Dan Wilde and even Hebden employ narrative (“Smile Around the Face”) and non-narrative (“A Joy”, “Fuji Check”) approaches, ideal for both home entertainment and use in a live performance setting. As such, the transitions between pieces are loose, at best, making the DVD more of a collection of inspired images rather than a visual counterpart to an album. Not to mention the brutal sword of subjectivity in this arena: after all, what visual for a piece of music can match the imagination?
In spite of this understandable scrutiny, Everything Ecstatic Part 2 is both an engaging experiment and an enjoyable romp. Several of the films capture the exposed nerves and raw emotions at the core of Hebden’s music — the soul that is often obfuscated under layers of cerebral and technical virtuosity. Wilde’s superb “Smile Around the Face” uses counterpoint to illustrate the song’s weathered soul. As the skip-in-the-step beat pulses and the helium-high vocal swirls, a salaryman trudges through a day in his modern world. While the character unfolds as his nerves become rattled, the tiniest gesture provides sanctuary just as the song disintegrates. Wilde’s vision is conventional yet unique, familiar yet unexpected, making it a highlight of the collection. Similarly, though with a far more amateur hand, Hebden brings “You Were There With Me” to life as a looping slideshow of his travel/life-mate bounding sans expression across the world. Although the settings change drastically, the oddly stoic movements of the subject match the Gamelan-like percussion and sparkling chimes. Be it with such quiet tranquility or with the melodrama of “Smile”, the best moments of Everything Ecstatic Part 2 offer a charming perspectives on the colorful world of Four Tet.
Of course, some films find a questionable parallel with Four Tet’s work. Woof Wan-Bau digs up “Sleep, Eat Food, Have Visions”‘s sense of menace and uncovers an eco-blind Goldie Locks tale-gone-wrong. While craftily twisted on its own, the video perhaps reveals too dark a side for Four Tet. Meanwhile, Jason Evans turns “Sun, Drums and Soil” into a mundane montage of spinning spheres and passing taxis, hardly building off the song’s slow boil. Yet, however on or off base each vision may be, they are also consistently distinct and singular. In addition to a bonus CD of five non-album cuts, Everything Ecstatic Part 2 offers a welcome look for Hebden. Hopefully his future live shows take a similar nod.