So, lastnight we went out. Just for fun.
I know – mid-week madness for two hard-working poppets like us. And we were, of course, already sleep-deprived from Caroline’s usual Wednesday late-nighter from London – and Mike, who’s idea it was, had to be up at five the next morning to do his morning radio show (gratemate), the crazy boy. But when you discover that stadium drum’n’bassers, Pendulum, are doing a live show right in your back yard at the Academy – sorry, the Opera House – it’s not so daft to give your slumbers a bit of a dent for such a big beat treat.
The band’s debut album, Hold your colour, is as much rocked-up, riff-tastic fun as it is sophisticated style statement. Sort of Apollo 440 for the naughties, if that means anything; all very nicely put together and so hot right now. But I did sort of wonder how they’d make it work live – I know from bitter experience how hard it is to make electronic music mix well in concert. Especially when you’re trying to create an atmosphere in a mostly-empty church hall to your mum and a stray dog. It either sounds like a backing tape with you doing karaoke over the top (which it probably is after all) or it just sounds like a clamorous mush. Which is a total cow, because the idea of mega soundscapes filling the night with sonic possibilities is a seductive one – electronic music should be the biggest kind of live music event, to my mind. Never mind, eh, you can always enjoy it properly on your iPod afterwards.
So, as we queued to get into the recently revamped venue and gazed around inside to see how they’d refurbished the Victorian space, I think Mike, Emma, Caroline and I all secretly wondered if everyone else buying tickets thought we were there to drive the youth group minibuses. But we continue to live in faithful Post Rave Nostalgic denial, as dictated by our demographic, and just enjoyed the DJ set – Noisia (I think – who knows what Mr or Mrs Noisia actually looks like, given that no-one ever introduces a DJ set) played some great mixes of electro tunes new and old along with a comfortable blend of lovely drum’n’bass buff-differy. Justice and The Prodigy and all kinds of things I vaguely recognised – all proper electronic music to my mind; groovy and cleverly built. We were all jigging about and grinning a lot as the vaulted old theatre filled and filled.
I looked at Mike and smiled. He and I were swapping musical reference points as usual and I suddenly thought how nice it was to be still doing so after nearly twenty-five years. Then I dropped my smile when it occured to me these reference points hadn’t changed much in twenty-five years.
Eventually, the floor below us was a heaving mass of hormonal youth. As the stage finally dimmed and everyone went bonkers, Caroline thought it looked like a renaissance painting of Dante’s hell – a dark sea of writhing limbs and red light.
It went off, proper. People were crowd surfing all night and being proudly pulled out of the front by bouncers, while Pendulum’s MC did what all MCs do – which was basically: wander around saying ‘Are you having a nice time? Sorry, what was that?’ loudly, while the musicians who were obviously all too nervous to do any of this themselves, just made a wall of energetic noise.
The two guitarists clearly thought they were simply in a rock band – tight-trousered Mossop & Keenrick ball-stretching oratory stance and all – and the keyboard chap/undoubted production brains of the outfit sheepishly pushed buttons between Axel F-style synth riffery. Meanwhile, the drummer just sucker-punched the 165bpm tempo all night.
It was just very cool. And very ramped. And very enjoyable fun, thanks chaps. It’s true, sadly, that you’d have had no idea as a newcomer to Pendulum’s oeuvre that they actually made finely-crafted electronic soundscapes of melody and poise, and you’d be hard pushed for some of the tracks to even pick out the face-slapping big fat riffs they’re famous for – the mix was mostly a wall of noise. Everyone kind of looked like they were miming in a sea of midrange for much of it, apart from the drummer and the MC who both sounded energetically clear, cool and bang-on. And really, this was all anyone wanted.
Top show; brilliant music hidden in it, with a couple of particularly nice musical moments breaking through the mix. Had a great time.
And best of all, Caroline is finally converted. She finally gets Drum’n’bass. I said: “Yes, darling, the genre’s double-time reggae heritage creates an irresistable hip-swinging hypno-saucery that builds the kind of wild-eyed build-ups, break-downs, switches and releases that the rest of Dance music can only aspire to.”
She just grinned and said: “Buff diff, baby.”