Carl Craig with Francesco Tristano, Moritz von Oswald and David Brutti; Matmos; and Bugge Wesseltoft with Henrik Schwarz at the Royal Festival Hall, 12/02/10

Moritz von Oswald

What an extraordinarily heavyweight lineup for an event, and what a place to hold it. The choice of the Royal Festival Hall for this Red Bull Music Academy show seemed to be an overt indication that this was not to be your typical dance music event. In fact quite often this couldn’t even be described as dance music at all, which certainly seemed to confuse a number of those present, many of whom got a bit over excited on the very few occasions someone triggered a straight rhythm. Over the course of the evening, innovators mixed techno and electronica with jazz, avant-garde classical and art-rock, as if this was the most natural thing in the world, resulting in fascinating new forms which – naturally – appealed to me very much indeed.

Bugge Wesseltoft

The opening set from Bugge Wesseltoft and Henrik Schwarz was as conventional as it got, which is saying something given that it began with Wesseltoft up to his elbows inside his piano, grabbing handfuls of strings. It settled nicely into something akin to a Biosphere piece, with Schwarz adding unusual textures and repetitive rhythms. The second piece collected some improvised piano and a rubbery kraut-funk, with echoes of early Tortoise, before Schwarz, to the delight of a whooping audience, dropped a whopping 4/4 beat. From here on in, it all felt like it was lacking a bit of subtlety, and even Wesseltoft’s switch to Fender Rhodes sounded like an obvious attempt to order some Bitches Brew on draught.

Matmos

There was nothing obvious about Matmos as they set about constructing a piece from cymbals, sampled breath and handclaps in front a backdrop of squirming body horror. Nor about their cover of Terry Riley’s Sunrise Of The Planetary Dream Collector made from bells, whistles and tuning forks – oh, and then guitar. Their intelligent blend of classical and electronics, with a joyous New York post-disco pop savvy, at times brought to mind Arthur Russell, but the astonishing and unexpected finale was straight from that same city’s Glenn Branca/Sonic Youth school, with M.C Schmidt slapping at the instrument on the table, producing crunching waves of feedback. Into this, Drew Daniel fed a variety of abstract synth shapes and squiggles, the piece finally fracturing and decaying into the vast hall. There was something commendably contrary, even subversive, in the way that the pair defied the expectations of the audience, creating something at once unrecognisable and yet unmistakably Matmos.

Carl Craig and David Brutti

Carl Craig and Moritz von Oswald’s superb Recomposed, in which they reconfigure pieces by Ravel and Mussorgsky, is a record which has gradually forced its way into my affections in the years since its release. Its clever use of non-obvious samples from the famous Bolero and Pictures From An Exhibition, and its binding of them onto their techno templates, resulted in an intelligent and slow-building suite which seemed to be breaking new ground. This set demonstrated a determination to push on even further, by adding the classical pianist Francesco Tristano and the saxophonist David Brutti to their lineup. What followed mixed the pre-determined classical progressions of Recomposed with the looser, improvisational feel of last year’s Moritz von Oswald Trio record, to create a sound world wholly unfamiliar. It flowed compellingly from an introduction of hushed electronics through sections of growling free jazz, piano improvisations and minimalist rhythms, lingering delightfully in the boundaries. Everything was subsumed into this collective newness: apart from some MPC stabs from Craig, it was impossible to tell where he ended and where the statuesque von Oswald began, their Detroit and Berlin sounds truly blurred; likewise any time Brutti or Tristano began to dominate, they would be instantly thrown a curve ball, an off-kilter bassline or some strange syncopation dragging them back in. Though by no means inaccessible, indeed one rhythmic drop accompanied by some left-hand funk from Tristano had someone scurrying from their seat to dance at the feet of the disdainful-looking von Oswald, the piece’s many subtleties felt too much to take in one sitting. I hope someone was recording this.

Far too soon, someone appeared on stage to tell them to start winding things up, to be answered with a burst of angry electronics and some ferocious sax skronk, before Craig and von Oswald wound the piece to a delicate resolution. Craig, Tristano and Brutti took applause centre stage, while a fragile-looking von Oswald beamed from the side of the stage. Regardless of their expectations, it seemed that all present agreed that it had been a privilege to watch these innovators in the act of invention.

7 thoughts on “Carl Craig with Francesco Tristano, Moritz von Oswald and David Brutti; Matmos; and Bugge Wesseltoft with Henrik Schwarz at the Royal Festival Hall, 12/02/10

  1. Wasn’t Terre Thaemlitz also on the line-up for this? If he played I’d be interested to know what his set was like.

  2. He played a set as DJ Sprinkles in the foyer afterwards. That was just background music for me standing around saying to people “wow, how good was that Craig/von Oswald set?”. I wasn’t really paying much attention I’m afraid.

  3. i really wonder if i was i was at same concert. i found the Carl Craig ‘super group’ tiresomely reminiscent of the self indulgent meanderings of 1970’s prog rock groups. This was a perfect example of an idea that didn’t evolve into anything significant. The narrative had no interesting progression relying on repeated phrases that lacked tension or stimulus,thank god for David Brutti who provided light relief with his intelligent playing. I acknowledge this could have been an absorbing concept and had the potential to take us on an exciting journey, but as witnessed by the pavlovian responses of some of the audience to any comforting baseline the prevailing experience was of blandness,detachment and most annoyingly laziness.

  4. Lovely review which I agree with entirely except for the Bugge set. Assume you’ve seen my tweet, but if not, here’s Sheikh’s video of some of the gig. Yes, would buy a proper recording without hesitation. I fear Oswald’s imperiousness may in part be attributable to the stroke, particularly given his apparent immobility in response to the thunderous applause.

  5. Thanks Colin – yes, I alluded to his condition with my comment about his apparent “fragility”. It was a little uncomfortable at the end, I found myself thinking “won’t someone help him off the stage?” He might still be there for all I know. Thanks for the video – there were a lot of video cameras there, I wonder what the RBMA are doing with the footage. I note that Sheikh didn’t enjoy it, but then again his comment that he only went because he got a free ticket suggests that it might not have been his thing anyway.

    Chris – I thought it did have narrative, it felt to me like there were some clearly defined sections, even if they maybe didn’t always know in advance how they would get from one to the other. On the grounds that it sounded quite unlike anything I’ve heard before, it felt pretty significant to me too.

  6. @chris – I went to see MVO Trio last year at Fabric and was quite disappointed too, for the same reasons you give. It felt meandering, without the economy and direction and maybe weight that his previous work had. Not that an artist can’t explore different avenues, of course, I just expected more. But that’s probably always a mistake isn’t it?

    Sasu Ripatti excluded, who was a force on percussion, I felt it really was quite amateur. I felt that they were simply not good enough *musicians* to pull of this kind of improvisation, and make it interesting. I feel awful saying it but everybody seems to be avoiding this.

    I saw John McLaughlin a while back at the Barbican, and a bit further back Toumani Diabate, and they were examples of musicians who have complete mastery over their tools, taking you to places you had barely imagined, completely live. That is what we need to see in techno, and perhaps only Black Dog/Plaid have come close. But I might be heavily biased here!

    I have to say that I think CC and MVO’s excursion into more “serious” areas to be absolutely boring. Isn’t there a middle ground between a sweaty booming club and a staid, sit-down gig in an artsy venue like the RFH? I don’t know, it’s certainly not easy. But I felt like I was witnessing a practice session. Only fleeting generosity to the audience.

    (I mean, who really wants to hear “At Les” with an orchestra, played completely straight? It lost all it’s funk, it was completely pointless, at least for me.)

  7. Awesome review and pictures, I should have and would have in hindsight went to the Royal festival hall, but alas I had already booked tickets to another gig that night….

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