Saturday, May 30, 2009

MUTEK revisited (III)

6. Senor Coconut y Su Conjunto

May 31, 2003: "Despite the novelty graphics on the video screen (Space Invaders, robots, etc.), it's obvious when seeing them that they are no novelty act. Musicianship this good is no joke. Marimba and vibraphone players with this sort of dexterity aren't looking for laughs. I'm sure the majority isn't well versed with the Kraftwerk originals, but the band holds the crowd in the palms of their hands for a solid hour and a half. And Uwe Schmidt, despite sticking out somewhat by being the only band member dressed in a full suit, plays the role of the anti-star and stands off to the side with his laptop and lets the rest of the band be the stars. If you didn't enjoy this show, then you have no pulse."

Why did I think that the crowd wouldn't be familiar with the Kraftwerk originals? There must have been some reason for such an usual comment, but I can't for the life of me remember what it could have been. Comments from people I talked to before the show? Were people not singing along during the set?

When you're as prolific as Atom Heart, almost anything you do will have a limited shelf life, performance-wise. In this case, he got out while the gimmick was still hot. The world didn't need Kraftwerk songs done in mambo, salsa, and cha-cha-cha styles, and a few of these songs don't lend themselves well to the styles at all (e.g. "The Man Machine", "Trans-Europe Express"), but songs like "Neon Lights" and "Showroom Dummies" are just gorgeous -- you could probably slot these tracks into rotation at a salsa bar and anybody who didn't know the original songs would carry on dancing without batting an eyelash. And that massive, fifteen-minute "Musique Non Stop", complete with a round of instrumental solos, forgives just about any earlier miscues.

I don't understand why they didn't switch the order of the encores ("Expo 2000" should have been the first encore, with "Tour de France" as the second, and final encore that closed the book on this chapter of Senor Coconut for good) but otherwise, this performance is about as good as anyone could have possibly expected.

7. Bola

May 30, 2002: "When one goes years between releases and live gigs, you'd expect nothing less than all the stops pulled out. And he complies by mainly avoiding the blippy curiosities that have surfaced on Skam lately, and covering his songs in the lush ambiance that he's best known for."

One of the things I really loved about this show were the lush, colourful visuals, which were a relatively new thing for techno gigs at the time. Now, video accompaniments of the quality presented by Bola are pretty much the standard, or at the very least, nobody would look at them in 2009 and say that the artist had "pulled out all the stops". If I saw this gig today, I'd be far less impressed, right? Right?

I disowned Bola and anything Skam-y for a long time. In 1998, I was convinced that this stuff was the future of techno, nothing less than the next major step forward for electronic music, on par with the pioneering sound of the Detroit originals. HAHAHAHAHA. On just about any given day, I'll tell you this was my all-time biggest musical fortune-telling blunder. By 2002, I had stopped drinking that particular flavour of Kool-Aid, but was still fairly stoked about seeing Bola, whose album "Soup" remained special to me.

IDM is about as dead as dead can be, even deader than it was in 2002, but dammit if this set doesn't sound shockingly fresh. Maybe it's just because I haven't listened to Bola in a while (i.e. it's fresh all over again because I've dug up something ancient that nobody bothers with anymore), but the connections between this and contemporary dub techno have never seemed clearer (although today's dub techno is itself largely a turn-back-the-clock genre that is simply reprocessing the same Basic Channel records, but whatever, things run in cycles, current is current). Bola's music was ahead of its time in that the more serene moments perfectly anticipated the bedroom "pop ambient" style, and he balanced the funky/lush divide better than just about any other IDM-er.

This is my favourite of the "revisited" sets I've heard thus far. Who would've thunk it??

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