Saturday, 25 December 2010

Matthew Dear @ Deaf Institute, Monday 6th December

There’s a fine line between neat progressive layers and melody-less dirge. It may seem an odd opening statement when the musician in question is Matthew Dear; author of 2003’s melodious minimal tech masterclass, Leave Luck To Heaven, and an attentive scholar of Detroit techno. But tonight’s performance shows a desire to take the development towards Brooklyn's brooding electronic pop cool in his subsequent albums, 2007’s Asa Breed and this year’s Black City, and rest it atop ear-shattering strata of miasmic noise.

The start is delayed due to the weather that you can’t fail to have noticed of late, but thankfully the Deaf Institute curfew is flexible enough to allow full sets from both tri-synth Hyperdub signees Darkstar and the headlining Matthew Dear’s live band.

Darkstar bring with them an earthy gloom in the form of thick, smoggy soundscapes, which are permeated only by glistening clean piano tones. They preach an urgency through atmospheric electronica as if soundtracking impending doom in all its stark desolation. Aside from downtempo treats such as the Moby’s ‘My Weakness' sound-alike, ‘Deadness’, with its Mount Kimbie-esque sampled shakes, there’s a variety of possible reference points. There’s a vocal likeness to Secret Machines' Brandon Curtis on the atmospheric ‘When It’s Gone’, while Portishead’s ‘Machine Gun’ is recalled as the following track winds up with a tinny monotony, like a toy drummer marching into an organ-fuelled warzone. And their remix of Radiohead’s ‘Videotape’ is an ample set-closer; in limbo between halfbeat Eurythmics whimpers and echoes of the sound it makes when you run your finger round the rim of a slightly filled glass.

It’s a lesson in simple-sounding complexity, and vice versa, until Matthew Dear takes the stage, dressed in a half-buttoned white shirt with a black jacket and met by a strip light shining upwards onto him like an expansion of torch-lit tales of terror. The scene befits his full-band swagger (he operates under different pseudonyms, with the others swerving closer to the tech/house groundings of the Ghostly International and Spectral Sound labels). Once there, he enforces a beefed-up scuzz, largely masking the trumpet that occasionally enhances recorded structures. This isn’t always a bad thing, by any means. The krautrocky constancy is intoxicatingly groovy as stubborn basslines infiltrate heads’ ability to stay still, nodding instinctively as they do. But vocals are lost, perhaps deliberately, in the vapid layers of echo and feedback.

When the density relents you’re left with highlights, such as the swirling haze of ‘Shortwave’, and when you can make out the intricacies within the constructions then even the musically polluted are palatable. Thunderous processed beats welcome in ‘You Put a Smell on Me’ before Dear redirects the dazzlingly bright strip light towards an entranced audience. There’s a brief rest from rib-shaking beats for the ‘Little People (Black City)’ intro, which is short-lived as soon the latest record’s lead single builds to ear-bending proportions. En route the bass slides and deep monotonic vocal delivery cannot be faulted, but the tendency for every crescendo to reach the apocalyptic is a little grating.

The encore begins with a melancholic solo performance of ‘Innh Dahh’, but the house-addled version of Asa Breed’s ‘Don and Sherri’ only serves in the end to drill home the target of concrete walls of sound, until the walls subside and crumble as Dear’s band depart, leaving prepared loops rolling through the void of a personnel-less stage; ending the set how it began.

Words: Ian Pennington
Images: Simon Bray

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