Live Review – Emeralds/Fennesz

Union Chapel – 25/09/2011
Does it Look Like I'm Here
Laptop musicians, with their fingers stuck to a trackpad while adoring audiences look on, pose two eternal questions:

a) What are they looking at?
b) Wouldn’t that be easier with a mouse?

In Fennesz’s case, with his long hair, dark leather jacket and overwhelming soundscapes, he may well be viewing a portal to hell: both curating the horrifying and amazing sounds allowed through to this dimension while keeping watch over anything else which may try to pass through. Or it might just be a series of WAV files and filters. Its anyone’s guess.

His opening set overwhelms with a power which keeps the audience absolutely silent. When not driving the soundscape through his laptop, his guitar playing does a lot of the work either creating the raw material for layers of sound or delivering more orthodox spectral riffs. The white noise and chord progressions swap roles, one forming an infrastructure for the other to hang off, before forming details on the other’s foundations. The overall effect is a sweeping barrier of sound punctuated regularly by formations of melody – a soundtrack to a less dystopian post-apocalyptic world.

If Fennesz’s guitar scrapes the underworld for source material, Emerald’s guitarist Mark McGuire starts their set sounding like he is playing on a British seaside pier while we stand on shore. Their largely drum-free set chimes and sequences itself, giving the floor to the guitar before swamping it in a wash of bent synth noise. Walking through the halls and stairways of the Union Chapel as they play is an eerie sensation, as though you are listening to the hymn evolved: like a Vangelis score left with an AI to mutate, iterate, decay and be reborn eternally.

The faintest whiff of a beat grows into an organic pump, taking the music in a new direction. It builds and crescendos, before being stripped out and taking Emeralds back to their signature ‘Does it Look Like I’m Here?’ sound.

As with Fennesz, Emeralds’ tracks flow into one another leading to a classic Proms like release when the set does finally reach a conclusion. An audience sat in revered silence were transformed instantly into believers in rapture.

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