AUTHOR’S NOTE: Dear reader, this is a long ass post. I mean it’s like almost 4000 words. Like thesis worthy. I feel like I owe it to you, dear reader, to not give you a clinical observation. To give you something more. If you want a short summary, everyone was on fucking point. Just… so fucking good. And if you missed out please get off this site and call your parents and first love to tell them that you’re a failure. But I’m not here to pass judgement or give you a clinical observation of a night, I’m here to give you an detailed, first person account of what I witnessed. Enjoy.
Last Friday, the vanguard of electronic music came roaring into Los Angeles. Tucked away in the sterilized industrial, Teutonic sector, lost somewhere in the row after row of warehouses and phosphorous light those pushing the boundries of industrial, DIY techno, House, and ambient converged. The roster read like a dream team: Silent Servant, fresh of the praise of his new release Negative Fascinations brought lowlight drenchos of pulsating rhythms. Vatican Shadow displayed pure beast mode, with absolute religious industrial violence of pure DIY. Demdike Stare was a psychedelic ambient experience lost in the abyss of ancient Albion woods, complimenting the lysergic visuals of color swirls. Andy Stott…well… and Kangding Ray unleashed purely European style dance for which the Raster-noton label he calls home has become known for. Embrace the new neon world after the jump!
I drove up from LA with my co-conspirator and confidant Kevin. We navigated the labyrinth maze that makes up LA’s industrial district, constantly missing the right street and putting Siri through hell with constant rerouting. The location could not have been more fitting. A large barren brutalism warehouse, with the numbers 120 the only identifying marker. A few days before I had discovered an album in a dank record store. It had no title or name, just a Middle Eastern looking image and arabic writing. I put it on and discovered it was just harsh noise and drone. My immediate thought was “This would be the perfect gift for Dominick Fernow” without realizing how awkward it would be to hand over a gift to a man I’ve never met for no reason at all. I brought it with me and clutched it awkwardly to my chest, only then was the whole idea begining to seem weird. Dom walked out and I hesitated to much to actually approach him. The stamp to allow re-entry was the Psychic TV cross of Lorraine, and after being branded I made a straight b-line to the bar. I ordered two beers and pounded them with the intensity of a rushing Frat boy. I stood transfixed by the visuals of an endless corridor, the final door never being reached as Dominick walked by me again. I finally mustered the strength and approached him. “Hey, look I don’t know you, but I brought this for you.” I yelled into his ear nervously over the sounds of DJ Nightchilde. “What’s this?” He studied it, flipping the record back and forth, looking for any tell tale signs of familiarity. “It’s Hototogitsu, it’s one of the members of Skullflower, it was put out by an Egyptian label, it’s just pure textural noise and drone, I thought you might like it.” “Cool, cool, I gotta piss.” I sunk back a bit as he walked away, assuming that was as far as my gift would take me: an exclusive announcement that he had a functioning bladder. He returned a moment later and handed me a Christian Cosmos album, asked if I had recieved my new Vatican Shadow tapes yet and I praised him for his ability to seek out multiple avenues of music, in complete opposite directions and not be dissuaded because he has conflicting ideas. I shook his hand no less than 10 times and we awkwardly broke off the conversation a bit before Silent Servant took the stage. Juan Mendez, the sole member of Silent Servant walked slowly up to his massive equipment table. He switched on then manipulated a few knobs on a Sleep Drone, a high end cutting around the room, while holding the highest key on what looked like a Korg Polysix. He glanced surreptitiously around the room and then spoke into a headphone repurposed as a microphone. Slamming the space bar on a mac, the sound took off. A fetishistic, slow churning chorus of synth and beats, cracking the whip and strutting in latex. It dripped with sinewy sex. Each song melded together like changed positions. I was entranced, and didn’t really notice that it actually sounded nothing like the record. I was not disappointed necessarily, but I was looking for something new and it sounded (as it was) like one half of Tropic Of Cancer, who are great in their own right, yet who I’ve also seen enough times to know each song without ever actually listening to the band on my own. I admired Juan’s one man band take though, holding synth chords and pivoting his body to pluck a string on bass standing behind him and then immediately pivoting back to manipulate the delay to turn the bass into a genesis instrument, the pedal the catalyst of sound. As soon as he ended to the throbbing applause I leaned into his face and yelled “YOU DID IT BABY GIRL!” He glanced up and leaned out to me and shook my hand very seriously and said “Thank you.” I’m glad he wasn’t offended, after all Juan Mendez is not, in fact, a baby girl.
Dominick took the stage, he draped a Mujahideen flag behind him. His table was a DIY set of two portable tape players, two Ipod minis, a snake pit of wires and pedals and a mixer, with what appeared to be a front desk bell with wires coming out of it. He rocked back and forth rhythmically and then slammed the bell which was a drum trigger. The noise was as intense as an RPG being fired next to your ear and he flayed back and forth like a trapped predator. I had slammed a few more beers, had a whisky mixer, and a vodka cranberry and felt like I was having a religious experience. The noise passed through my body the same way the cold does when you remember something embarrassing. Unable to be stopped. The set was pure industrial. that term is bandied about these days but anyone with any question in their mind of what that means would have been put in their fucking place witnessing this. The drum pounded like tank pistons while Dominick slammed the bell trigger. I began to recognize the set as a live rendition of Kneel Before Religious Icons. I had seen Vatican Shadow previously, his live debut, at Los Globos and noticed that the live set then was completely new and now was happy to hear a live rendition of something he had committed to cassette . He feverishly searched, flashlight held with mouth, for a tape of drum patterns and slammed it into one of the players. He worked the wheel of an ipod, bringing a synth line into the fore. It was as violent as an insurgent fire fight, with the end seemingly no where in sight. I didn’t want it to end. That’s why I was there. I’ve been following Vatican Shadow for over a year now and I’ve been incomparably impressed by his prolific and focused work. Obviously there is a correllation between he and Muslimgauze, but only really in aesthete and even then only really due to the Middle East fascination. Musically Vatican Shadow and Muslimgauze stand on their own two legs. Dominick isn’t dumb, I’m sure he knew it would be unwise the focus on the Israeli/Arab conflict, and so Vatican Shadow is more steeped in 9/11 and Operation Neptune Spear than the Intifadas. The music is truly different and I quite love the pulsating DIY techno. I half-hoped that everyone would come down with a sudden case of MRSA and Dominick would have to play a 4 hour set. I could have watched the caged feral beast standing infront of a medusa head of cables and tape players, foregrounding a true Mujahideen flag for hours. There seemed to be no end to the songs. As soon as the salvo of beats ended a DEVGRU stealth synth would come lacerating through to carry on to the next song. By this point I was quite, quite drunk. I had slammed a Vodka Cranberry a new friend had offered and felt compelled to scream out, fist clenched, “ALLAHU AKBAR!” Despite the fact that I probably seemed like a total asshole. I was validated by Dominick raising his fist and looking at me, teeth bared over pulled back lips, brow turned down. He either loved me or wanted to deck me and was displaying his weapon of choice. I couldn’t tell or care. He hacked away violently at another song until it was bare and let the tranquility seep back into his blood. It was over. Like a nighttime tank assault it ended as quickly as it had begun and was devastating and awesome. I couldn’t believe what I had just seen. I stumbled towards the bathroom, immediately deciding cigarettes took precedence over my bladder and turning to my friends with an incredulous ecstasy of “wow! holy shit! did you see that! That was a fucking religious experience!” As if they hadn’t been present. The night spilled back out into the industrial single story sprawl. The dim lit streets lined with trees seemed out of place but I was none the wiser. All I could really focus on was how inspirational what I had just witnessed was. I wanted to do that. I wanted to be that. I wanted to a have a vision that didn’t need to be relegated to lyrics to be understood. I wanted to have that level of drive and prowess when it came to creating in front of people. I stooped down onto a car and let myself catch my breath before dangling a cigarette from my mouth and leaning my head back, unhygenically, against the hubcap.
Demdike Stare were up next. The room seemed somehow dimmer upon re-entry. I had just finished talking to some woman in the bathroom line about a “brand management firm that she worked for, and some seminar that paid $125 to talk about electronic music for two hours. It seemed very…LA. I liked it though. Never not working. I took her card and walked back into the main area. It seemed most people were there for Demdike and given their prolific output and esoteric yet relatable work I couldn’t say I blamed them. I was still swaying internally from the beer and liquor, forgetting the old adage about what to drink first and not realizing how sick I was about to be. As of now though, I was transfixed by the visuals. Some tri-tone image of primary colors on black. A woman dancing. Her limbs, breast, head all becoming unattached from her body. Demdike Stare may have the least obvious aesthete but their music truly relates to it. It grows organically like ivy in the woods – slow and meditative – and seems to be an invocation of something wrong, in a classic sense. Everything spirals outwards and circularly. Their beats built on top of each other, in time with the visuals, which I noticed Sean Canty and Miles Whittaker studying intently. One thing you learn from watching Demdike Stare is that these guys really enjoy themselves. They are constantly turning towards one another, saying something into the other’s ear and then laughing, all the while building abysm ambient structures. I couldn’t very well see them. Some tall fucker was feelin’ it a little too much right infront of me, so I turned around and focused on the projections creeping against the back wall. The music and images merged perfectly. It almost seems like Demdike desperately wants to score an Italian horror film, and each live outing is a resume on display of their talent for matching terrifying psychedelic experiences. The crowd loved them, myself included. Everyone danced and oscillated intensely, even the awkward over-dancers seemed to fit in for once. Demdike Stare, at least the last two times I’ve seen them, don’t play songs. They create one sweeping epic soundscape with peaks of beats and valleys of ambient fog. The whole room was fully enthralled. As it reached it’s crescendo and came cascading back down the mountain side of reverb the room let out a collective sigh of awe. What had we all just witnessed? Had we really been so blessed as to see 3 of the strongest electronic performers and the show was only half way over? The entire room poured out the back entrence into the adjacent street once more.
I used the bathroom again, drinks in full throe coursing my veins, my head feeling like a balloon loosely affixed to the ground. I saw Kevin in conversation with Miles Whittaker and had to engage. “What are you listening to these days?” Kevin asked. Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. You want to speak to someone you admire? Ask them something about themselves, don’t praise them endlessly or talk about your endeavors that’s probably all they hear. Let them speak about something important yet not lofty. Miles thick Manc accent was as pleasant to listen to as was his music (that might make it sound scary but it’s not). He was instantly engaged and interested in the conversation. “Well eh, been really into Keith Fullerton Whitman, mate ye gotta get the album Disingenuousness, fookin brilliahnt mate, fookin brilliahnt.” The three of us agreed on the importance of Mark Fell and the micro-rhythmic sounds of SND. He continued, “Lots of TV show music, LOTS, emm, Bollywood music, and em liek, this iranian record Sean picked up”. He told us his music is really based around drama, atmosphere and futurism, and sonically references world music, which shines through like a search light in the desert. He spoke to us about living in Berlin now: “It’s fantastic, but y’need to be self sufficient, layke, I only pae 750 a month for my schtudio but there are no jobs, liek nothin. Y’know the economy’s ‘eally not doin great, but yeh yeh the electronic communiteh there is, ehm, liek really collective, ye’know liek in England it’s ‘eally competitive, but chy’know in Berlin it’s liek everyone’s really happy that their doin it”. An obnoxious fan cut right through Kevin and I and began to proceed with the baseline questions: How do you really pronounce your name? DemDIKE Stare or DemDEEKEE Stare? (Personally I think it’s Demdike STAH-RAY). What do the symbols on the record mean? Kevin got sick of the hijacking and went back inside, but I had a new guerilla interview in mind. Dominick had stepped outside to talk to Miles. I leaned back against the wall to smoke a cigarette as Dominick recanted an anecdote about someone telling him to unfurl his Jihadi flag, to which he responded “This isn’t some shit I got off eBay dude this is the real deal, it don’t straighten”. I mustered the courage to approach him and jutted my hand out to shake his for the umpteenth time. “That was really fantastic dude, it was like a religious expierence.” I told him, he seemed genuinely happy and I purloined Kevin’s failproof tactic: “So what have you been listening to?” I noticed my heart was pounding and under my bomber jacket sweat pooled in beads around my neck. This wasn’t normal. “Aw man, I just keep going back to the same shit you know? Like the first FUSE album, I just can’t fucking stop listening to that, and…” I forgot the other artist he mentioned, I didn’t really hear it as I fought a heavy numbness welling in my throat. He was drunk, I thought, he wouldn’t be able to notice. “It’s like Death Metal but with Black Metal production you know?” I blurted out hashtag terms to describe it, belying my knowledge and making myself look like a tumblr fool. Where as he described the sound as “Thin” I said “Icy” and immediately sounded like an asshole. He brought up a noise group…Skin…something, and I asked if they bore similarity to Genocide Organ and he corrected me by saying “GO is pure PE” (the boy loves his abbreviations). None of this helped the hot-sick rising in my stomach. Here I was speaking to someone I more or less regard as a person worthy of modern idolization and I was embarrassing myself at every turn, although he didn’t seem to mind as the smile never wore off his face. There had to be some way to rectify this situation, to prove myself as knowledgable as possible. I did the only thing left for me to do. I threw up in my mouth. He continued explaining the importance of not re-releasing an artist back catalog with simply new packaging because it didn’t enhance the listening experience and I nodded in approval and tried to swallow the vomit in my mouth, which of course, caused me to vomit again inside my mouth, this time with a full blown face contortion and body heave. I placed my hand slowly on his shoulder and held up the universal symbol for “Just a moment please, my good sir” before moving behind him and unleashing a holy hell of spirits onto the unsuspecting pavement. I felt like I had just shit my pants at my own wedding. I turned back around and he was already back to his conversation with Sean and Miles but it didn’t matter, my heart thumped through my throat and I had to vacate as soon as I could. I moved right by him, head down and fumbled for my keys. I relayed what had happened to Kevin as Andy Stott was setting up and tore towards the car. I removed my shirt for some reason and reclined the seat and forced myself to go to sleep.
I selpt through all of Andy Stott. I’m sure it was good. Probably. Right?
A series of loud bangs. I woke up terrified. Where was I? What had happened? Why was I shirtless and sweaty and what was this awful taste in my mouth? I looked around feverishly and realized it was Kevin banging on the window. He had come to check on me, and to get my ass out of the car and into the underground techno world of Kangding Ray. I would come to realize it was the the kindest act of the night. If you’ve ever seen the 2002 Gaspar Noe film Irréversible, know that if that film were made now Kangding Ray would score the entire disorienting beginning scene, as Vincent Cassel makes his way through a slimy gay sex dungeon in search of the man who ruined his life. I re-entered the warehouse, now noticeably more bare, but no less alive. This was my introduction to Kangding, who is on the impervious Raster-Noton label, along with Mark Fell, NHK, Wolfgang Voigt, and Mika Vainio of Pansonic. I felt like I was in a Detroit House club from the early 90s. I felt like I was witnessing a true electronic artist. No pretentions on pace, or tone, or ambience. Just pure driving house. He looked like a character from the Matrix. completely bald with a long black coat with an upturned collar. He moved around as if he knew no one, yet everyone knew him. As the female vocal sample grooved around he would back up and extend his arms outwards and then drop them down in time. He had complete control of his entire output. His equipment looked like a futuristic 1960s computer. Just a series of unlabeled and randomly blinking lights, but he was almost completely at one with the machine. I praised the god that made me for giving me the strength to come back in. His set seemed poised to stop at any moment but also had the intensity to go on for another 5 hours. By this time it was 3 AM. I don’t want to say that I was checking out, but I was aware of the two hour drive back to the Palm Tree lined hell hole I called home. Still I was transfixed and determined not to leave until I was damn sure he was finished. Kangding, conversely, was just getting started. He was feeling it, and as tired as I was, I gotta give credit to the dance floor creatures that I recognized still goin hard, one drink in hand permanently unspilled. He brought the entire bass to the weight of the walls, and smashed them down over the belting obviously black woman that was so prevalent in early techno and has seemingly disappeared. Juan Mendez was closing out the night and took the stage again to set up a record on the adjacent DJ table. Kangding didn’t seem to notice nor care. He was on his own time table. Juan stood there for a bit before realizing that despite whatever agreement they had, this was not going to stop anytime soon. He stepped off the stage and the person at the mixing table slowly backed away, allowing the artist to fully cultivate his oeuvre. With one more crescendo and raising his arms to the applause of those left, he punched every knob on his machine to the left, unleashing a squeal like a breaking train before twisted each knob all the way to right, turning the squealing train into the cracking hull of a ship and then silence.
That night, to me, proved that there is life in electronic music. There is realness, heart and soul. Contrary to popular belief music does not have to be made with the classic instruments in order to be real. This new collective of industrial, electronic artist will come to represent the foreground of originality. Though they may have sonic and aesthetic references that they wear on their sleeve they truly don’t sound like anyone else out there and their music is seemingly unconcerned with the surrounding milieu of the medium. This, to me, is the purest creation I’ve witnessed in quite sometime.