Given all of this multidisciplinary jostling you can see that Holly Herndon's gigs can be some sort of well behaved battleground of the senses; something that, on this night, was made all the more compelling/confusing with her crazy visuals.
So Women in Electronics. What is it? How do we appreciate it? If you're going to set up a night in a big venue like 013 with the emphasis on how women have shaped electronic music you'd assume (rephrase that; you'd be forgiven in being led to assume) that this focus would unveil a specific element in the music that a previous lack of focus would miss. Or something. Thinking about this just leads to confusion. On the night I spent ages trying to work out what was especially feminine in all of this brilliant noise. And during through gigs like Holly Herndon's or Olivia Block's I kept turning over questions like; do women bring a recognisable quality to sounds they make? Is there an expression of sound, or an element of sound, or an approach that is specifically female? Ach probably not; I'm probably talking rarefied sub-academic bullshit. Incubate, you're probably doing this to bring attention to the fact that in a society that still buys ape's bumfodder like the Sun in droves, or watches proto bullyboy gruel like Top Gear, and accepts posters like Veronica's or Radio 538's appalling summer festival posters, women AREN'T the passive love objects incapable of independent thought and deed that these things make them out to be. After all where would be without the women on this showcase as well as other Priestesses like Daphne Oram, Truus de Groot or Delia Derbyshire? Fucking nowhere. Still; I do hate the idea that someone's sex should be the main determinant in how we perceive the noises we make. I really don't get it. But I do appreciate how perceptions can shape appreciation. So small steps; and the Greedheads can slowly catch us up.
Onto Ye Musickes.
Olivia Block is cool. In a sweltering Kleine Zaal, Block sat like some refined Governess about to teach us all some Latin. Things started off quietly and we thought so far so academic. What was holding us in the room was the fact that her hand movements were so precise and she looked quite evil, like she was a hard-nosed, but beautiful witch. But it was so hot in the room that even the patient middle aged electronics dudes who seem to have the most wild and advanced kinds of earplugs and out there non-available tee-shirts were getting fidgety. Suddenly things got louder, more intense. A long rattling passage started up which (according to Manchester Music legend, Delia Derbyshire scholar and all round Head, Cath Aubergine) sounded like Graham Dunning's piece, Long Railing. In retrospect I can totally see that. And I can hear that, unlike Dunning's piece there was a stronger, fizzier, crackling energy to Block's approach (probably because it got fucking loud, M'Lud, and was interested in POWER above any gradations of tone). Talking of power, things started to really get out there as Block kicked things up a gear with a huge and totally unexpected wall of sound. The room started to shake and sound waves crashed around us - there was a blackness in this sound, a deep, sub-current of dense, rich tonality that really didn't want to share its space with anything else. Thoroughly shaken by all of this we headed out to the foyer to catch up with The Space Lady. The atmosphere was cooler out here, and this drop in temperature meant that everyone seemed to be a little more patient. Even the fact that The Space Lady was rocking a viking helmet with a flashing light on the top didn't excite much comment. Now, this gig could have been seen as a gimmick, and could at best have been seen as a bit of light hearted fun. I'm sure the later element is there; why not, after all the gig was full of old timer classics like Strawberry Fields and Radar Love (just for the Dutch). But it was also a serene and beautiful gig, full of compassion and softness. Oh and it must be said; her take on Peter Schilling's Major Tom was absolutely brilliant and better than the original.
Spiritually washed, we headed off to catch Holly Herndon in the main hall. Herndon's vibe is pretty unique. At one compelling and puzzling, Herndon seems (to this poor sap at least) to be on a mission to deconstruct how music is presented. What is the voice, what are instruments, why are they there and what is the value of the relationship we have with them? Can you make music out of the process of living itself? A LOT of these questions are pushed through her music; and I use the word pushed here with a reason, in that I think she really does go for the jugular in making you wonder what's going on. So we have puzzling sections where arch, and cold vocal chops and synthesized stabs do battle with throbbing, velvety passages which are incredibly sensual. It may be an aesthetic exercise at times but at others the whole thing explodes in that brilliantly mysterious way devotional music does. And in that, there is as much in common with John Tavener or Monteverdi as My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. Given all of this multidisciplinary jostling you can see that Holly Herndon's gigs can be some sort of well behaved battleground of the senses; something that, on this night was made all the more compelling/confusing with her crazy visuals. Pigeons, Facebook, photos of basements... Those fucking pigeons. They kept on coming and to this addled mind provided a sort of tipping point into a Netherworld space that provided a weird but pleasant enough home till way after the Carter Tutti Void gig. When she started to make slashing motions on one of her laptop screens (note, out of all the laptop warriors she is one of the most compelling to watch) shit got a bit gravity free. Amazing show.
Thence, the Stellar OM Source show. Incendiary have long held a candle for her music. We remember Christelle Gualdi playing in Leiden's SUBU071 when her sounds were closer to early Popol Vuh than the brilliant early rave of her 2013 LP, Joy One Mile. Here in an increasingly loose and joyous Kleine Zaal we could have been back in Shadsworth or Altham Business Park, bouncing along to stuff like Guy Called Gerald. This gig had a wonderfully affirmative, clear headed feel to it. It was just nailed down, crystal clear dance music, without any labels, pure and simple. Gualdi, evidently enjoying herself, kept piling on the hooks, looking to bring people together. It was superb. After the joyous Stellar OM Source gig in the Small Hall we headed back to the foyer for another ratcheting up of the pressure with Gazelle Twin. There's a whole lot of questions being asked by Gazelle Twin; embodied in a whole host of ways. First there are the weird physical anomalies they play about with; the strange anonymity they use (hoodies, nylon face "masks", Shirley Bassey strength lux-wigs) and their aggressive posturing that is at once theatrical and also very piss taking. Second there is a tough musical mash up going on; a sort of Neue Deutsche Welle that has been digitalised and granulated to the point of parody. The tiny bits and chips that remain get glued together with a Witch House sensibility which somehow works. There's a DAF thing going on in the way the singer moves too; in the way she apes that "bear in a cage" restlessness Gabi Delgado used to throw around for public consumption. In short they were fascinating to watch and a fair number of Hipster doubters got sucked into their dark scene during the gig.
I suppose it's best to explain the Carter Tutti Void gig in terms of strict sensuality. Their music somehow links New Brutalism of the Smithsons with age old rites practised by those who dug out Bellas Knap. It's an incredible artistic and spiritual synthesis and proof that they are able to subvert physical and mental boundaries that others haven't really thought about. They just recognise that these questions and feelings sit deep inside us all. At one point I had an incredible vision (and no it wasn't the visuals or anything else) of the shape of the British Isles being melted and morphing into a set of multicoloured fingers that reached out over the Channel, looking for the ancient pathways that once linked us to our hunter gatherer cousins. This was the magnetic motorway, long buried and soon to be resurrected. Man; the sheer timelessness of their music, and the fact that 013's Main Hall reeled and worshipped to the power and majesty of this ever present, affirmative, changeling throb showed that something in their work is utterly essential. Even finding a shopping list for a Corned Beef Hash recipe in my pocket whilst looking for beer tokens couldn't eradicate the dark star bliss-out.
After this we reeled out to babble utter nonsense in the foyer and catch a brilliant Cairo Liberation Front gig in Extase. CLF are great; for many reasons as it happens but, if you had to take one reason, then let's take the fact that the band play around with the idea of what we should like or not. When are we allowed to party? Is an affirmative and very Dutch presentation of a different culture's music (here, Chaabi) allowed? Does it matter that not everyone will get it and that the tableau may reinforce certain stereotypes? No. A resounding no. CLF are brave and wanton and realise that an earnest message needs the party animal shock troops to get a change of heart and a reappraisal of attitudes. And boy this was some party; crazy Brabant scenes; Young Breughelians stuffed full of Shoarma and beer, not getting it and loving it and throwing each other around in a pre awakened state. Fantastic.
Oh, we realised at the end of the night we'd only seen two guitars wielded in anger. Mental.