LIVE | Plaid at Village Underground 07/10/2011 – Scintilli Album Launch

DENNIS WHITE, electronic whizkid and key player in the Otters and Teflon Child sent us this review of the recent album launch gig by Warp veterans, Plaid.

I haven’t ever reviewed a gig before in my life (aside from over the phone to a mate, post-rave up at Fabric, dribbling about how [insert DJ here] played the same record twice in the same hour but it “just totally worked cos he was so in sync with the crowd”)…. However, the lovely Charlie from Rogue in Hitchin suggested it might be a nice idea. So here goes:

Plaid are one of my favourite electronic acts of all time. Ed and Andy have covered a lot of ground in their work thus far, from the anger of Black Dog to floating goodness for Bjork.

I had never been to Village Underground before (“we all play synth”) and my initial feelings were mixed. The venue is essentially one fairly big room with a very high, slanted ceiling and the most reflective brick walls you could imagine.
As I understand it, the space is used for music and art installations – a bit multi-purpose. The result in sound was bizarre, as no permanent fixtures could be put up to diffuse reflections or try to tame resonant frequencies. The subs hit your body out of phase with the low mids, and then 4 milliseconds later the hats had bounced their way to your head. The rather bland, and instantly forgettable, warmup DJ was playing a selection of tempos and genres when we arrived and it was clear to me that the deeper tracks with less complex rhythms were working best in this venue, no great surprise there… As the sound engineers amongst us will know, as a venue fills up with people the sound improves somewhat, but I was still worried about how Plaid would sound in the big space given their intense polyrhythms and varying time signatures!

Because I live in the sticks, I needed to leave at a specific time in order to get the last train home. I was relying on Plaid to start on time so I could catch the whole set. They didn’t and I couldn’t. This is why I know it was exactly 11:20 when they started.

Opening with new material is always a good idea for an album launch night. They seemed to agree. Instantly SPL was up, clear and punchy transients from high quality RME soundcard – the room was working better now! What’s this? PROJECTOR ON THE BRICK WALL! Nice.

The projector was displaying a kind of chart with shapes, colours and motion being dictated by certain elements in the music. Triggering visuals through level thresholds in music is nothing new but these guys have programmed it all themselves. All around me I could see men with beards hastily consulting with each other every time a new element was introduced. Certainly this visual stimulus was what much of the crowd needed to push them over the edge. There was a focus on the stage now that was nice to see.
Personally, I find the Plaid material to be so extremely well programmed and fascinating that the visuals just distracted me from the whole reason of being there, the music! I shut my eyes for moments of bliss. “Unbank” from the new album comes on (although typically, not in any state where you’d recognise it till half way through) – rushing chords sweep over my head. This pseudo-vocal sound is fucking with my head. They have spent years perfecting the frequency modulated and additive synthesis techniques to produce these strange sounds. Subtractive synthesis always has a place in every track, but these boys were going “WUB WUB WUB” when Skrillex was in nappies – AND THEY HAD TO PROGRAM THE SOUNDS FROM SCRATCH! We are talking the days before Native Instruments.

“Somnl” gets worked into the pallet. This is clearly  a nod to the UK Bass scene, but it’s so much more than that. These chords get you somewhere you’re not sure you want to be touched. They make you feel ecstatic and furious simultaneously. I remember when I first got “Scintilli” and I played it the whole way through getting everything from vertigo (my subwoofer is the size of a washing machine) to goosebumps and at the end feeling physically ill because the chords in “At Last” made me want to cry and smash something up at the same time. This is the power they have over me.

(It’s worth noting that I didn’t swallow, inhale or sniff anything extra-curricular all night)

Holy shit. Now it’s one of those moments where they churn up my insides with the beautiful “Eyen”, and although this track is no spring chicken it gets an enormous reaction! This is a track that could have appeared in any arrangement, any style and still won people over. Sometimes you hear a progression, a riff, an arpeggio and you just know that this will touch people. Plaid have a few moments like this towards the end of their set. Moments from “Spokes” and “Greedy Baby” are thrown in and people react to it well. Stuttering vocals snippets, shredding saw waves fill up the room and then huge drops to gentle FM sounds of “The Launching Of Big Face” swimming around your ears while the sub bass from previous tracks rumbles below; you are never safe!

… And of course my watch is telling me it’s time to go, so I skulk out knowing I am missing 20 minutes of what is no doubt going to be some epic noise. Such is life.

Prior to the gig, I had wondered how average Joe dances to music that switches from 7/8 to 5/4 to half time grooves with very loose quantizing. The answer seems to be, however they bloody want to! There was no shortage of mind-altering goodies within the cavern (sadly I had to drive later than night so straight and narrow for me) and this showed in how people reacted to the music.
As MJ put it, “they could be dancing to a fox in a dustbin and the result would be the same”.
Nail. Head.

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