Witch Cults Of The Radiophonic Age
To counteract this, I've been trying to book more tickets for seated gigs. Yes, I'm (LOL) old and the prospect of being able to sit down and enjoy a gig in relative comfort is far more appealing to me than the thought of standing up for 2 or 3 hours in a dirty, crowded environment. So I bought a load of tickets for gigs at the South Bank Centre and I've even managed to get a ticket for The Knife's opera at the Barbican.
Last night was Broadcast at the SBC - I'd already had sad news via email that Micachu had been volcanoed (you don't realise how much many artists travel until it takes an act of god to close airspace over your country, and reports start filtering in from all the strange places where your favourite artists have been stranded) which was a shame, as I was looking forward to seeing them.
The replacement however... Oh my god. Now, I have quite a high tolerance for meandering artwank. I dated a sound artist for a long time, and put up with a lot of highly conceptual and inaccessible ... material, on a daily basis. This, however. No. A man in floppy hair and a diamond pattern sweater sits on a dais abusing a cello. Although there's sheet music in front of him, the music follows utterly no pattern that I can discern. Across the stage from him, sits a bored looking woman in front a laptop. Occasionally she rises and hits some buttons, and some vague, droney looping patterns echo out across the stage. Hey! Don't get me wrong, I love me some droney loops if they're interesting sounds, well manipulated, and create some kind of textural build and drama. This was just background noise. I lasted less than three songs before pulling a runner out to the lobby, deciding that my iPhone was infinitely more interesting than the band on the stage.
(I realise now that this is only the second gig I've been to since acquiring my iPhone. You don't realise how addicted you get to the little critter until you have to sit through an hour's set without checking it.)
There's an announcement that Broadcast are about to go on, and we all troop back obediently to our seats.
It's been about 10 years since I first saw Broadcast - at the London Scala. It was one of those rare nights when I looked around, and realised I was a *type*. The entire audience looked like me, all the girls in thick black tights and vintage 60s dresses, the boys all dressed like my date, black jeans, turtlenecks, long sideburns. At once it felt awful, and yet oddly reassuring, to know that you were *part* of something, that you were some kind of strange motley youth tribe.
So 10 years later our youth tribe has all grown up, rocking middle aged paunches and bald spots instead of Stereolab and Warp t-shirts. Broadcast, too, have aged in their own quirky off-kiltre kind of way. It's no longer a band, so much as two people facing each other across tables full of electronic gear and vintage synths (always a good look as far as I'm concerned.) Instead of getting more accessible, their sound actually seems to have got *stranger* over the intervening years. The icy 60s cool has given way to a sort of cracked electronic backdrop, the warped hiss of a detuned radio, the plume of occasional retro-futurist Moog rising in an elegant melody above the static.
It's elegant, stately, as windblown and desolate and alien as the Brutalist concrete slab of the South Bank Centre, and yet at the same time, strangely comforting, like the warm glow of an old black and white television. Trish Keenan's voice remains as perfect as the glaze on Ming China, at once both anonymous as the voice of The Speaking Clock, and yet as distinctive and reassuring as the shipping forecast, quintessentially British, and yet oddly accentless and ageless. Occasionally, recognisable melodies drift across the soundscape, as she sings one of their more familiar songs over the intriguing soundscapes.
And yet the true star of Broadcast's show - now, as it was a decade ago - is actually the videos they project over themselves as they perform. Clips of science documentaries, NFB public service films, space age graphics and bizarre occult symbolism flicker and glow across the stage in multicoloured psychedelic profusion. Sometimes the imagery seems to synch with the music, sound and colour throbbing together in harmony, sometimes it seems to pulsate with a life of its own, pulling the music after it.
There's a whole genre based around this sort of thing now - Library Music, hauntology and all that, the synthesis of found objects and lost arts. The synthesis of science and mystery, folklore and scifi phenomena, low budget and high tech. There's something so beautifully English about them, something homemade and yet at the cutting edge of science - British eccentrics from the same school as TC Lethbridge and Quatermass. It's probably a cheap pun to describe a band named Broadcast as being Radiophonic - yet that is the proud and noble tradition they belong to, and continue to uphold.