tue 04/08/2020

Herbert & Kode 9, Abbey Road Studios | reviews, news & interviews

Herbert & Kode 9, Abbey Road Studios

Herbert & Kode 9, Abbey Road Studios

Two of electronica's heroes plug into the latest technology

Oh, it's THAT kind of party

There's a new kind of forum for electronic musicians. Certainly not a rave, and not just a recital to earnest nerds, built on a kind of patronage, but a long way removed from a standard corporate gig where you're just providing the interchangeable soundtrack to X or Y product launch. The realm of the technology party, often seen at conference-festivals like Amsterdam Dance Event and Sónar, but increasingly as a standalone thing throughout global cities, is something very 21st century, very odd, and still to be negotiated.

But this is a necessary negotiation: technology is creating new environments for listening outside and in between the standard categories – of home, party, bar, gig and club – and a dozen more contexts beyond that for music creation and performance, so it's natural that the curious should gather together to examine and discuss these. In Abbey Road Studio 2 last night were a group of quite nerdy but easy-going music and tech fans: very smart people eager to talk about interfaces and frequencies, but sociable and conjuring up an unusually vibey atmosphere for a technology-centred event.

Nobody was dancing, being too busy talking about spatiality and interfaces

There were speeches about what exactly the event was for: Abbey Road Red is essentially a scholarship programme for music technology start-ups. The Studios, whose sense of place came entirely from its entanglement of technology and sound, is a natural spot for testing music industry investment in new audio technology, and so we were treated to demonstrations of virtual reality headsets, glove and surface interfaces, and a whole load more methods for plugging into music, whether as a composer or listener. It was dizzying. At times it felt like we were witnessing things for the first time that made a concert piano look like sticks being banged together, at others it was just baffling.

Then Matthew Herbert plugged in, along with a pianist and someone tinkering with light-controlled devices, and reminded us that this stuff still has a vital human aspect to its creation and appreciation. As with so much of his music, samples of real instruments and ambience put through his tableful of kit were made weird and uncanny, then brought back into the comprehensible realm by their arrangement into regular, repetitive rhythms that nagged at the nerves in a way that can only be called funky. His beats first escaped abstraction with their danceability, and then by bringing in bass tones that felt embracing and womb-like.

Kode 9 followed with a DJ set that likewise seemed to try to appear inhuman – nobody was dancing, after all, being too busy talking about spatiality and interfaces – but actually formed a brilliant human-machine narrative. His music lately is part of an electro continuum, spanning from Kraftwerk and Yellow Magic Orchestra through 2000s rap and bass music to the modern Chicagoan “footworking” rhythms that he's championed, and in his transitions, he mapped this out in a way that gained an extra layer of futurist sense as the people in the room put on immersive display units and cyborg gloves. It was hardly the rave of the century, and surely Herbert and Kode 9 have had more satisfying gigs – but with the killer sound and acoustics it was a balmy soundtrack, and as a context for their super-detailed and exploratory electronica, the tech interface overload was oddly appropriate.

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