“Gotta love student crowds... The educated face of the nation,” tweets Scuba sarcastically during a performance in his SCB guise down in the Sound Control basement.
A brash, acerbic, unnecessary and incendiary statement, yes, but it’s hard not to agree with him on some level, university attendees or otherwise, even if not for the same reasons.
In following up with another tweet (“So bored with the music upstairs at Sound Control I’ve been forced to switch on data roaming”), he unwittingly puts himself in the same musically unappreciative boat as the audience in his crosshairs.
The issue is this: it’s as if the venue has been turned on its head as punters pile upstairs en masse for Nicolas Jaar, seemingly expectant of an uptempo rave to the tune of techno. Many are unsuspecting of the subtlety in Jaar’s set; his soundwaves flowing through the room with a sobriety not shared by those busy flexing their vocal chords.
Jaar and his Clown & Sunset cohorts replicate more Mulatu Astatke’s jazz than the 90s techno and house peddled by SCB. Acid Pauli trots in with Balearic clips and clops at a mellow canter before Soul Keita adds an engaging fusion of highs and lows with bursts of jazz samples amidst echoing clacks akin to Baths, both facing sparse to average crowd sizes.
But by the time Jaar steps up for a live laptop set (a disappointment to those expecting the advertised ‘live’ show to mean his instrumental arrangements), the full effect of overselling tickets can be felt by those prohibited from accessing the packed main room.
Where SCB is right is with those who do manage to squeeze upstairs; many not only chatter over his ambient glistens and downtempo minimalism, but also complain that they’re not enjoying it and didn’t even enjoy his latest record, Space Is Only Noise. Jaar continues regardless, filtering in elements of his Darkside project with slow-burners such as ‘Don’t Break My Love’ alongside vocal samples by Scout LaRue and live, effects-heavy mixes of his own words – exhaling into the microphone to coin a Leonard Cohen lyric, “I can feel you when you breathe.”
When he does raise the tempo, such as with ‘Space Is Only Noise If You Can See’ dropped in towards the end of an hour-long set, it is incongruous to the soundscape as a whole. Using his own choice of rolling visuals for imagery, it is like barging through the bucolic as a bulldozer would through an open field. Many snap into movement with the onset of pulsating basslines, but in truth he has more in common with the progressive guitar chugs of Malian blues ensemble Tinariwen, whom he often references through his music both directly and by influence.
After the scrum upstairs, SCB’s room is busier for the early hours. Judging on its merits, the Hotflush label founder produces a diverse set ranging from 90s techno such as Moby’s ‘Go’ to acid and cosmic house both old and new, as with Boddika & Joy O’s newbie ‘Swims’.
But SCB himself should be content with second billing, particularly given Jaar’s hype explosion with the end-of-year lists, without which this show might’ve made for a good split between a chilled out attic and techno in the basement. Contrary to Scuba’s dismissive tone, the split isn’t between boring and exciting; that would be to neglect the challenging intricacies of Jaar’s work. And in any case Scuba in SCB form settles for mimicry by spinning others’ songs via CDJs, while Jaar performs his own compositions. Which is the more boring of those two options?
Words: Ian Pennington
Images: Camille Uliana