Ah yes, an ambient noise show. I don’t want to make a protracted defense of the genre, so I will simply state that this is music; in many cases beautiful music.
But I will concede that musicians in this genre are often hit-or-miss. To be sure, turning knobs on FX pedals doesn’t require great musical chops, but you still better be inspired when performing. With an ambient music live performance, as with any musical performance really, it is immediately apparent when the musician is just going through the motions.
In the case of this genre, watching a person “go through the motions” twisting knobs can be pretty disappointing. But then again there are those absolutely sublime performances. Last night’s show at the Floristree saw both extremes.
The show was originally booked at the Talking Head Club, but due to the recent closing of that club’s Davis St space, this show was moved to the Floristree space in the H & H building. Talking Head’s new home is the former lounge of Sonar. Adam Savage, of the Talking Head, commented on the closing, and subsequent move to Sonar.
“It’s easier to manage. That place [the Davis Street location] was a dirty rock club for 25 years. The building was like an old boat–every time you plugged a hole, a new one sprang up. I can spend more time working on booking and shows,” said Savage.
Savage also said more improvements for the new space are in the works.
Because of booking conflicts, not all shows from the Talking Head could simply be moved to the new Sonar location. This is where other local venues, such as Floristree and Sidebar, helped out.
“Luckily I have friends all over. Everyone is really co-operative. There are just so many places to play,” said Savage.
“The last time the Talking Head shut down there were a lot of weird rumors, and I don’t know where people got them from. I just want to do shows,” added Savage.
Up first was DJ Dog Dick. I love the alliteration in the name, and it conjures up very distinct images. However, the name is a bit misleading as it is not a raunchy ghetto tech DJ a la DJ Assault.
I had never seen DJ Dog Dick live before, but I had heard some tracks. What was being played, ambient noise—some times soothing, at some points abrasive, was not what I had expected from previous online listening. In the end I agree with assessment of a credible member of the audience—disappointing. Not that I need to hear exactly what I expect in a performance, the unanticipated moments are at the heart of the live experience, but there is a fine line between kids goofing off on synths and pedals, and inspired goofing off on electronics. Know what I mean? The set was really short, and I got the feeling the members simply got bored and wanted to stop. Anyway, it wasn’t all bad, and I get the feeling that DJ Dog Dick is growing, and has potential once its music skills are hardened and they reach their full length of potential (hehe).
As an aside, for what it’s worth, I think this bill had a lot of bands/performers with really strong names. DJ Dog Dick gets your attention, but ultimately sounds like a joke. Axolotl is even better. It brings to mind images of that bizarre creature (pictured right), Aphex Twin/ Autechre track names, ancient Mexican godheads, and a new kind of prescription painkillers all in one name.
Their set was impressive. It moved from pure ambient, to bits of micro house. There were some slight slips, samples being mistakenly triggered and such. Once again the set was too short, I could have used more. The amount of time to set up wiring for the equipment was disproportionate to the amount of time actually using the equipment. Axolotl, aka Karl, had a violin up on stage, but never used it. He said he simply forgot. I believed him. He also said that he didn’t have his best pedal, a Moogerfooger, and thus was very limited in his performance options.
The pendulum swung from mediocre, to surprising, and back to disappointing for The Skaters. Based on word of mouth about previous shows at the Talking Head, I had high hopes. Instead The Skaters did little to distinguish themselves. Not to sound too harsh–I did enjoy the set, but my expectations weren’t met.
And it may not have all been their fault. The sound was off, a bit fuzzed out, muddled, and very hard to pick up individual voices. As stated before, with all those wires hum can be a bitch, and finding the problem channel can be challenging. I think all can agree the Talking Head’s acoustics will be missed. There is a reason that place had such a long history. At one point during the performance a member of The Skaters played a tin whistle, but I was straining to hear him.
Ambient music loses its awesome power to entrance the listener when such minute details are blurred together. But I can say I really enjoyed The Skaters’ approach to the stage show—no lights, both members squatting over synths, sequencers, and samplers on the ground. Everything about that aesthetic screams electronic music, that is to say a refutation of excepted norms of stage presence.
Kemialliset Ystavat, “Chemical Friends” in Finnish (though I’m told this is an idiomatic expression, and the true meaning is closer to both “Friendly Chemicals,” and “Friends of Chemicals”). This time my expectations were surpassed by far. Unlike the other performers on the bill, Kemialliset Ystavat are not a duo or solo act.
They are a group of many (by my count there were six members on stage).
Neither are they wholly electronic, but blend live instruments with sounds created on circuit boards.
They have been put into that electro-acoustic category. I would call them a folkier, Finnish Animal Collective sans vocals, if I wanted to make a simple comparison. But that analogy may falter with a more in-depth analysis. Some songs used heavy doses of wah-wah guitar, something unexpected, but it worked. Perhaps my favorite instrument used was a custom DIY percussion synth with just a simple on/off trigger. It was based on kits from Ray Wilson’s MusicFromOuterSpace.com. In many ways the sound reminded me of a tabla, though delayed. The pacing of the set was perfect, building throughout until the penultimate song, then the final quiet closing. This was the only song with vocals.
Whatever negative aspects I have pointed out, I would like to make clear that I go crazy over shows with people tweaking knobs on analog synths. Overall a solid night, and in a serendipitous way, it may have worked out for the better at Floristree.
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