As Emotion Wave close the door on another exciting electronic excursion, The Waveform Transmitter’s Aaron Ellis reflects on the performances on offer that night.
Have you ever stood near the deep freezers at the supermarket, or listened to the sound of a crane or drill in the distance, phasing in and out of the airwaves and thought… hmm nice sounds. Well it seems like the whole planet has woken up from Another Green World and turned on to the new wave of ambience.
Those in appreciation of this genre know ambient never ever really went away. There were certain artists pushing the boundaries of sound over the past 40 odd years since the golden days when it had the wider acceptance as a new art-form and also pretty successful way to sell records throughout the 70’s. The greats of that time were captured on the forward thinking sub-labels such as EG, Ohr and, dare I say, early Virgin.
Times were changed through the synthwave and house revolutions of the early to mid 80’s, which emerged out of bedrooms and studios, from the newly available technology and sequencers that flooded the industry. Some of the lucky few exploring this art-form did manage to obtain vinyl or CD release usually on obscure underground labels in the late 80’s and 90’s.
Fast forward to the mid teens of the 21st century and the death of the established music machine has led to a number of excellent releases on vinyl, cd, tape and download. Soundcloud and Bandcamp have helped evolve the good work early platforms such as MySpace (probably it’s most redeeming achievement), spawned with the digital age democratisation of music. Allowing artists from all over the world to showcase and release their talents and work, that would have previously been ignored by the mainstream music media and outlets.
More specifically to the said genre, they have basically revolutionised the once geek-fest that was white men in lab coats or anoraks, twiddling a few knobs, producing what sounded like someone forgotten to plug something in, then transforming it into the most creative and forward thinking 21st century all inclusive art-forms.
In recent years I’ve been picking up releases from every corner of the globe, by trained and untrained musicians alike, and do you know what surprised me? It’s all good. Some of it is too good. There is a lot of great music being produced right now. The quality is definitely right up there, (see great labels like Sounds in Silence). And it is easily available to everyone now. There is no need to get up early on a Sunday morning and make way to your nearest record fair to seek out guidance from the dealers, who lived through the ‘golden era’, to try to sift through the garbage that some labels had released when they jumped on the bandwagon in the mid to late 70’s and early 80’s.
Although there were always a few gems amongst those, many of these examples were ripe for sampling for electronic music producers to utilise in the studio. Are we in a purple patch? Every record buyer seems to ask themselves during times like these, or is this just the beginning of a very welcome extended Renaissance?
On Record Store Day 2018 Kieran Mahon has made the swift journey up from the capital to play Liverpool’s premier live electronic night Emotion Wave, whose showcase today was being held at the funky and friendly 81 Renshaw St. The venue serves as a record store and cafe by day and performance space at night.
Kieran has been building up a reputation over the past couple of years on the capitals thriving live electronic scene playing electrotechno punk nights to art installation gigs and happenings alike with great aplomb. He informs me that there will be no set list today, but he will be playing ‘One long new one’. A piece that he has been playing live recently in the hope of experimenting with it for an upcoming release.
‘Big Wheel’, the name suggested by his two year old son, opens with its 2khz noise drone being slow phased and it thumps down into some bass, setting the bedrock for the track to emerge. We are off, an eastern sounding call filters into the future as the buttons and knobs are flickered into action. The little boy states “Daddy isn’t playing he’s only pushing buttons”. Those in attendance are appreciative of the sounds being sculpted through the system. The sound is pretty good in here too; not overpowering but comfortable to enjoy the range of frequencies on offer. An excellent soundscape begins to appear.
‘That’s sounds like Escape from New York’ is overheard as the new arpeggio takes a creepy turn, Kieran ensuring that he shoos away a bit of static through the mixer. I suppose that is the beauty of building electronic sounds live; you never know what can be expected or plan for the side effect frequencies and glitches that are often created.
The Drumbrute is awakened from its slumber as a barely audible bass drum peers through the mix. A faint melody teases out some baggy hats which add some sparkle to the proceedings, eventually turning into some Kraft-perc. We are now into the realms of ambient techno. Filtered bleeps are being sculpted into funky movements as the melody finally peers through.
Comb filters droop as the Korgs bubble up, injecting the room with some energy. And we land. Tangerine Dream type phrases come out of the cool. Delving into a distressed squawk as the phrases reveal themselves. The piece ends and those searching the racks and sitting show their warm appreciation, almost as warm as the hardware that is being put into shut down.
I really enjoy watching ambient music being played live. Witnessing the hardware being manipulated really brings the music to life and adds something organic to the electronic.
After the short break and more visits from the record hunters frantically searching out the one day only limited reissues and releases, Rellik (Guy Nolan) kicks off the pulsating acid from the off. He describes his sound as ‘Acid straight out of 86’. No nonsense, it’s exactly what it says on the tin. Wibbling and wobbling strains of synth being tweaked from frequency cut off to cut off. Although there is a false start to the proceedings as the soundman requests a re-plug of the synths to get rid of some earth gremlins finding their way into the system.
Then it’s back to the early 90’s Guerilla woops, probably last heard emanating from the old Voodoo bins. A fitting and timely build up and then the beats kick in. The poly-rhythms get wilder and frantic as acid turns into techno, highs and lows and relaxing. What classifies this music being created here as techno is the pace. A completely different pace from the earlier electronic set.
Jazz snares crack through the track as we have relaxed into the pace of what’s being forced out through the Drumbrute, which seems to be popular for live work for its earthy easily manipulated sounds, and a MoFX synth module. The system continues to receive a pummelling as the techno chess continues now with bass drum breakbeats. A VCS3 style pad rises us into the new mood. The sounds finally drops out into a sea of reverb. There is a real humanity to watching live techno. Man over machine, or just Man Machine.
I did miss Emotion Wave head honcho Neil Grant‘s (Lo Five) early live set but the feedback I gathered was that it was well put together, layers being mixed in correctly to frame some deep house moods morphing into more hip hop electronic vibes. A fitting accompaniment to what seemed a very busy record store day 2018 in Liverpool City centre. But really, for a lot of us (and certainly the staff at 81 Renshaw St), everyday is a record store day.