This really was a journey back in time. I hadn’t been south of the river (well, beyond the South Bank) for a while. I certainly hadn’t been to the stretch of SW9 between Brixton and Stockwell stations for about 4 years (I have distinct memories of there being quite an atmosphere the night Portugal beat England in the 2006 World Cup). But the synth-driven events taking place in the packed back room of the Grosvenor, an unprepossessing pub just off Stockwell Road, were to take me back decades.
When I first heard about Carlos Giffoni’s No Fun Acid project, I kind of assumed it would be some evil bastard synthesis of his signature noise work and acid house; ferocious improvisations using distorted 303s and drum machines perhaps. After all, his recent Techno 12″ (the split with Keith Fullerton Whitman) could hardly be described as “techno”, with its violent smears of noise and static over a sparse electro backdrop. I could hardly have been more wrong: this was a surprisingly straight-ahead acid set from Giffoni, all squelch and squiggle, unashamedly transporting us back to the late 80s, when they had full on raves in the back of Stockwell pubs ALL THE TIME. Probably. As fractals and colourful shapes danced hyperactively on the screen behind, a bunch of young people in baseball caps shuffled to the front to throw gawky shapes under Giffoni’s nose. It looked like the grinning Giffoni too was having himself a good time; it was hard not to – although it was equally hard to escape the feeling that I’d have preferred something a little more challenging, something that pushed at some very well-established boundaries. Only the encore piece, with shifted into a juddering helicopter-like pulse, truly threatened lift-off.
But it probably wasn’t Giffoni most people were hear to see. The deserved acclaim heaped on Oneohtrix Point Never’s Rifts album on the No Fun label last year lifted Daniel Lopatin into another league altogether. The individual releases which were ultimately combined into the Rifts set married the hypnagogic and hauntological, veering from blissful Emeralds-like synth drone to more melodic pieces which invoked 80s theme tunes and computer games. Tonight he played some long dreamy pieces which built from huge echoing waves of synth and vocals, getting increasingly dense by the end of the evening. Lopatin would add to this by tapping out some wonky high-pitched melodies on the black keys of his Juno-60, and by unleashing a flurry of effects, including one which sounded like a giant flock of seagulls was streaming from the speakers. Every little detail evoked vivid memories of an epic past, from the hypnotic pulsation and haunting textures right down to the Casio calculator watch he was wearing, the one in the photo above. I swear I got that very watch as a christmas present in about 1983, and at that time I thought it was one of the greatest things ever. Lopatin’s music left me with a similar euphoric feelings; at the end of the set I joined everyone else in bellowing for more. Someone in the crowd asked for an encore of “Physical Memories”. Someone else simply demanded “MORE SEAGULLS”. In all my days I can’t remember having been to a gig which ended quite like that.