Squarepusher – Live @ London Roundhouse
aaamusic | On 03, Apr 2013
London, 30th March
Squarepusher’s ‘Ufabulum’ headline show at the Hackney Empire last October felt right; like the culmination of hard touring his AV show at smaller venues and festivals, and a perfectly timed celebration of his best album in years, not to mention playing out at the pinnacle of all the slow-burning, positive press that had built up over the summer. The news that the electronic wizard – aka Tom Jenkinson – was to perform the ‘Ufabulum’ AV show in London once again, at Camden’s Roundhouse, felt like it came a little too soon; like he hadn’t been absent long enough. However, if Squarepusher was coming armed with a revamped show – like Amon Tobin did with ISAM 2.0 recently – then the event might prove considerably worthwhile. And, in a way, this was a revamped ‘Ufabalum’ 2.0 show.
First up tonight is The Bug’s live show – essentially DJ Kevin Martin smashing out gritty dubstep (with a capital DUB) while MCs Flowdan and Daddy Freddy spit aggressive social commentary (what do politicians and paedophiles have in common? Well, we should “Kill ‘Dem”, and we should all chant “Kill ‘Dem” repeatedly while we contemplate this proposition). It’s perhaps a little heavy for an early Saturday evening, but there is no denying that The Bug makes joyously dark, wobbly music – and this set is leagues above his show supporting Death Grips at the Electric Ballroom last year.
The Roundhouse is an odd space. More often than not, the sound is lost up towards the high circular ceiling. Tonight the sound is good (as in: it’s loud), and the spacious venue is fitting for Squarepusher’s eerie and futuristic set up, particularly the 15 minutes of creepy, ambient SP-produced electronica that the crowd are treated to in preparation for the actual show. Squarepusher eventually arrives to a sensory overkill of noise and light, exactly how Jenkinson has planned it, and this is both what make tonight’s show different and difficult.
To summarise the ‘Ufabulum’ show, Squarepusher performs his 2012 Ufabulum album in its entirety (as well as a couple of other recent tracks) backed by a series of LED panels and archways (including one in front of the mixing desk. It should be noted that it appeared that one of the key LED archways was out of action, which was regrettable) and sporting a robotic helmet fitted with a mini screen. All these LED screens fire out manic strobe lights and shapes, all programmed by Jenkinson, and all controlled by his music and production. It had been described (and rightfully so) as an aural and visual assault, and that’s due to the uncompromising nature of the Ufabulum album material and the intense, blinding effects of the light show. The industrial, bass and bleep-heavy drum’n’bass music features astounding experimentalism – both in terms of time signatures and sounds – and the visuals, though simple, are immersive rather than superfluous.
However, tonight Squarepusher pushes the boundaries of sound and sight further than his 2012 shows, and at times the lines between music and incoherent noise are blurred. The Ufabulum songs – such as ‘Drax 2’ and ‘Unreal Square’ – progress from heavy stabs of experimental electronic music to a haze of growling bass programming and schizoid beats, while the melodic synth components of ‘4001’ and ‘Dark Steering’ are bent into demonic, art-noise – all of which is propelled out with a pounding German techno underbelly.
Squarepusher’s second segment of the show – where he unveils his electronic bass guitar for a series of industrial improvisations, all sparking spontaneous visuals – is even more brutal than the run of Ufabulum tracks, and even more incoherent than his Hackney Empire show.
What is clear tonight is that Squarepusher’s show has been revamped, albeit slightly, to create a more challenging and noisy experience. And, of course, it works. It’s not exactly enjoyable, and isn’t the career-defining success that the Empire show was, but it’s engaging and interesting in the same way My Bloody Valentine’s ridiculously loud and melody-less live shows are.
Not content on being the master of musical meanderings, he has now branched out into contemporary visual art. I overhear a couple of chaps talking at the bar: “If we could get Beethoven and Mozart here – they’d f***ing love this”. Perhaps not, but the men hit the nail on the head regarding Squarepusher as an artist: he is a composer and arranger, not a DJ and producer. And one who fuses different IDM compositions and samples with live jazz instrumentation, and arranges their performance in relation to his visual artistic…vision.
Clive Paris Rozario