A Tribute to JG Ballard – Shackleton, T.A.G.C., Blanck Mass, Stellar OM Source, Bauer -Paradiso, Amsterdam 8/9/2012

There’s a quiet assurance in all that T.A.G.C. does that makes things sound easy, their slabs of shifting white noise, questioning textures and subtle rhythms create a feeling that you’d heard this sound before, and were just waiting to be reminded of it.

 

‘It’s going to be one of those “Sex Pistols at the Free Trade Hall moments” innit?’ I’d turned to Ajay of Bent Moustache and proffered this ‘knowing’ witticism soon after I’d realised that firstly, the crowd was going to be this ludicrously small all night and secondly, given the way Stellar OM Source was currently ripping up the stage, the whole evening would be consistently mind blowing too. Of such things are myths made and for once I’m happily complicit in my myth making. For this was a brilliant night, packed with tremendous performances and a dazzling demonstration of what abstract and experimental electronic music has to offer.

There were five acts on the bill: the first – Bauer with Thomas Van Aalten - was effectively Van Aalten reading of Ballard’s life and works with musical accompaniment – a pleasant enough affair but one that would been more at home being performed at The Hague’s Crossing Borders or a similar boutique / upper middle class festival. A large hanging square made up of four screens was suspended above the dance floor and flickered with documentary-style images that tied dutifully into the parts of Ballard’s life that the narrative had reached: (JG’s time in the RAF equalled a taxiing Spitfire, that kind of thing). People sat around patiently, using this act as a quiet prelude before the first act – Stellar OM Source - fired up.

Christelle Gualdi had explained to us that this would be a special set, not drawn from what she normally does which – in Incendiary’s experience of seeing her in places like SUB071 - is a sort of steamy, womb-like mix of warm electronics that has a sort of kosmische/Popol Vuh feel about it. Tonight, given a beautiful sound, Gualdi delivered a sort of echoing, open music, redolent of the night sky and boasting a cavernous headspace. When we got beats, they were precise and pitched at a moment when they could be used to best effect rather than smothered over the music. Things were inquisitive, airy and clinical, turning on a questioning phrase or a opalescent hook – if I was flippant it was like a high grade cookery exhibition where the dish was created using bang on time and using just the right amount of quality ingredients, but of course it was far, far more deserving of a better analogy than that. Stellar OM Source is happy to bare her soul open using her music and there’s no pretensions or crowd pleasing. The last pieces were almost symphonic, building in intensity and scope and the crowd – though still cautiously skirting the back end of the upstairs hall - was knocked out. Marvellous.

Then it was downstairs to see T.A.G.C. (According to a communication from this would be a specially commissioned audio-visual piece based directly on the "TRACK 12" short novel by Ballard). We’d seen the brilliant show at Q-Bus earlier this year, where the full range of their audio-visual Muse was on display in an urgent and even angry gig. This show was similar but again, like OM Source’s piece, more symphonic in feel, more… well, special, and appropriately enough with much more sense of occasion... There’s a quiet assurance in all that T.A.G.C. does that makes things sound easy, their slabs of shifting white noise, questioning textures and subtle rhythms create a feeling that you’d heard this sound before, and were just waiting to be reminded of it. Again the visuals provided a focal point for all in the main hall: it’s easy to get lost in these displays, so ridiculously good are they - almost at the expense of concentrating on the music though I’m sure Adi Newton would be fairly happy at such an admission. The images had a dreamlike quality; in this one a face seemed to melt only to reappear to impart some wisdom or other. People were purposely sitting under the square, gazing up, lost and immobile, as in some strange pulsating birthing tank.

Bringing ourselves round from this dream session wasn’t easy, but up the stairs we went to see Ben from Fuck Buttons, whose solo alter-ego, Blanck Mass was cranking out the noise with some abandon. Like Fuck Buttons there’s a romantic and wide-eyed quality in Ben Power’s music that can’t help but win you round. Blessed with a full on rock attitude, and determined to squeeze every ounce of hip shaking out of the crowd and sound, Power kept adding layer on layer of rich textures to an ever spiralling set. And, like T.A.G.C., Blanck Mass have images to aid their sound - I’m not sure of the provenance of the animistic silver image which looked like some kind of Neolithic votive offering or grave good; anyway it kept spinning round on the screen accompanied by flames, garish psychedelic patterns and flashes of blue sky. It sort of tied into this ever-evolving, rich music. The last track was the most purposeful and well, funky… the music sounding a bit like that on Conny Schnitzler’s last LP, but set to a hypnotic, pounding beat. The visuals added to the sense of momentum; against a black background a set of cuboid outlines, coloured garish neon green, kept falling away, only to endlessly reappear. It was a claustrophobic but brilliant display and if the audience wasn’t so small, reticent and well sober and chin strolling we could have had some rug – cutting. Maybe next time.

Downstairs we went, to catch Shackleton at work. Despite being one man on a large stage, and despite there being about 40 people in the room, Shackleton was putting on a display that was frankly astonishing, giving absolutely everything to warm the austere main hall (it feels just like a haunted, grubby church when it’s empty it really does), there was an incredible sense of space and urgency in his set: the music was a right jumble of beats and breaks, nothing felt sacred or mannered; elements of dubstep battled it out with some deep house grooves and stabs of techno. It was tremendous. Those who danced used the whole of the Paradiso’s floor to express themselves: like children who find a brief respite in a secret place at a wedding or function, they capered about giddily in this forbidding space. It was a great thing to watch, it really was.

So, in total, a brilliant night and frankly if I wasn’t so tired and emotional in the manner of George Brown I could have easily spent the whole night in the Paradiso. Shame only a few other like-minded people thought the same…