Auto Italia is an old car showroom which has been repurposed as an artists’ space. It is, essentially, a big, grey, metal shed. Any character would have to be provided by the artists using it, which was never going to be a problem with Matmos in town. The duo of MC Schmidt and Drew Daniel have long been known for their colourful live performances – I wasn’t at the show which featured Schmidt sampling the sound of him slapping Daniel’s bare buttocks, although I have seen them using the sounds of dice games, jugs of liquid, plates of crockery and, on occasion, even actual instruments to create their pop concrète. For this latest London appearance, they were joined in this vast space by LA’s John Wiese and the London/Berlin duo Birds Of Delay.
But was this really Birds Of Delay? I’ve seen them live three times, and they have sounded like a different act on each occasion. Once they were a noise band. Then they were performance artists, cheekily playing cards to a pre-recorded soundtrack. Now, they’ve assimilated elements of hypnagogia and even dance music, woozy bass rhythms emerging through Casio keyboard melodies and preset percussion sounds, with much more infrequent bursts of the abrasive textures of old. And while those noisier interludes helped this to feel more logical progression than shameless zeitgeist-chasing, I did have the slight uneasy feeling I get when listening to Hype Williams: as good as both often are (and they don’t sound a million miles apart at present), it almost feels like we are unwitting recipients of a joke so hip we probably wouldn’t quite get it.
Rather than a solo artist, I’ve always known Wiese as a collaborator, through his recordings with people at the top of their respective improvisational fields, from Wolf Eyes through to Evan Parker. The quality of those partners suggests that the man has a very good ear. And combined with a very good soundsystem, this made for a very enjoyable noise set. It was the range and precise nature of the sounds he used that impressed (and disturbed) most, from freight train rumble to much smaller, fleshy, sucking noises, all marshalled into place with an assured touch and sense of control. This feeling of care and order broke down by design at the end, Wiese making full use of the quadrophonic arrangement, shifting huge blocks of sound around the huge space, building in speed until it took on the momentum of a particularly sadistic, out of control fairground ride.
Which led us to the thrilling, unpredictable ride which was Matmos’s set. They began by asking us to be quiet, as the introduction featured unamplified elements. Those unamplified elements appeared on a platform at the back of the venue, half a dozen people with strange white glasses over their eyes. As they began to mutter, mumble and murmur, the hazy, black and white visuals led us through hospital corridor, Drew Daniel obsessing all the while over triangles – making the shape with his hands, showing it to all corners of the venue. The music felt restless and formless, making for an unsettling, dreamlike, even nightmarish experience. You could occasionally make out fragments of sentences, “I can see….” or “I can hear”, as if people were recounting experiences. What sort of hospital was this? I was reminded both of Delia Derbyshire and Barry Bermange’s Dreams radio collage, and also the more occult side of Broadcast’s last releases. In amongst the disorientating chatter you could hear a voice talking about shapes, talking about a triangle, before Daniel struck his own triangle, signalling the end of this extraordinary, experimental and exciting piece.
The remainder of the set would be more conventional only in relative terms. The highlight was the lengthy piece from their Supreme Balloon album, building impressively from kosmische synth and vocal drone up to a killer keyboard crescendo, Schmidt rocking out like Atlantic-era Alice Coltrane. Probably the only band who could go from there to a punk cover, they end the set with a version of the Buzzcocks “E.S.P.”, featuring touring band member J.Lesser on guitar. From the sublime to the ridiculous in the slap of an arse, that’s Matmos all over.