wed 11/12/2019

Squarepusher, Brighton Dome | reviews, news & interviews

Squarepusher, Brighton Dome

Squarepusher, Brighton Dome

Caustic obtuse electronics parallel Brighton's post-election unease

Behind the shades - Tom Jenkinson

There’s an odd duality about Brighton tonight. Post-election, it’s a righteous oasis, a green and red bubble amid a sea of blue. Most of Britain may have chosen to systematically destroy the NHS and the education system but Brighton stands fast. The mood, then, is one of victory – a brass band plays jauntily in the street outside the Dome and the streets gabble giddily of Caroline Lucas, the Green MP who held the city’s centre - but the celebrations are tempered by hurt and a sense of epic defeat. Squarepusher’s Brighton Festival gig encapsulates the dichotomy.

Tom Jenkinson – Squarepusher – has turned out 16 albums, all but one of them for Warp Records. He has dabbled in a variety of styles but his focus has returned more recently to electronic music, cued up by rave culture but never adhering to predictable pop or club templates. He wanders onstage looking like a Primark beekeeper, pale hoody over what looks like a fencing mask. Three cheap tables before him hold laptops and electronic boxes while behind him two large screens display visuals.

He opens with a complete assault on the senses, ear-shattering, and goes on from there, firing out acerbic electronic dissonance attached to a weirdly celebratory core. It’s a music of foreboding, entirely apt given what the UK has now done to itself, but with a defiance that comes to the fore on the second number, the twistedly euphoric single “Stor Eiglass”. Much of the night is drawn from his recent album Damogen Furies, but this is not a concert where recognizing each song individually is key. It’s a sensory attack, assisted by visuals that move so stroboscopically fast my tear ducts leak. Pixel-worms flit across the screens or, towards the end, a tunnelling apocalypse of Matrix-style cybernetic overload raddles the retinas.

One thing is badly wrong with the gig. The Dome have chosen to make it a seated concert. This does not work. The whole night is restless with men and women constantly barging their way along seat-rows to get drinks, everyone wanting to dance and many congregating enthusiastically but awkwardly in whatever aisle huddles they can. Oddest of all, I’ve never known such a tardy fanbase. At most gigs 90% of the crowd arrive in the auditorium before or around the time the headline act is due. The Dome is only half full when the concert begins and over the next 30 minutes people drift in, only adding to the sense of unsettled fidgeting.

Yet, somehow, it works, a simulacrum for the dawn of uneasy times. By the encore, a motley selection of bearded and/or shaven-headed men, and multiple women too, dance jerkily to higgledy-piggledy mutant drum & bass rhythms, including a piece deconstructing the 1991 hardcore rave classic “Comin’ On Strong” by Rhythm Section. However, when he returns to the stage, Jenkinson has discarded his mask and taken up a six string bass guitar on which he veers off on a solo odyssey redolent of Jaco Pastorius. He concludes with another Hawkwind–go-jazz-funk outing, the perversity of ending on something skilled and organic, yet much less impactful than the rest of the performance, being part of his wilful appeal. Brighton tonight is in pleasure and pain and Squarepusher turns out to have the exact cocktail for what ails them.

Overleaf: Listen to "Stor Eiglass"

This is not a concert where recognizing each song individually is key. It’s a sensory attack, assisted by visuals that move so stroboscopically fast my tear ducts leak

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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