What are the most common emotions you would associate with leaving a gig? Elation? Excitement? Sadness, perhaps, if you wanted it to go on for longer? Maybe disappointment, if it didn’t live up to expectations?
Leaving Venetian Snares’ gig at Bristol’s The Fleece, I was mostly feeling shellshocked. Now don’t get me wrong – I’m a fan of Venetian Snares. His music is twisted and extremely technically accomplished, and seriously impactful when you’re in the right mood for it, combining hard-hitting, precisely-engineered darkness with moments of real, haunting beauty. So it’s not as though I wasn’t expecting the gig to be absolutely batshit crazy.
To be honest, I don’t really know what I was expecting. But this is what happened, anyway.
Support duties were taken care of by The Teknoist, who was… not good. In fact, you might almost say he was quite bad. He wasn’t helped by the fact that they didn’t seem to have sorted the sound out properly in time for him to start (either that or they played the old dirty gig trick of making the support act sound worse than the main act, which I’ve always thought is utterly pointless and unfair both to the artist who’s come to play their music and to the people who’ve paid to hear music that doesn’t sound like it’s coming from an old tape deck being played underwater).
It was far too loud for one thing, which may sound like an odd complaint for someone going to listen to mental electronic music, but when it’s so loud that it actually physically hurts your ears, to the point where you don’t want to listen to it and would prefer to go outside and wait for the main act, I’d say that’s a problem. It also seemed as though the levels hadn’t been adjusted properly, which made The Teknoist’s apocalyptic doomstep and ADHD Amens sound horribly harsh and clattering.
So we were already pretty traumatised by the time Mr Snares came on, and I must admit to feeling some trepidation. Luckily the sound was suddenly – magically! – much better, which meant that you could hear what was actually being played, as opposed to an indefinable wall of appalling noise.
And thank gawd for that, because the music was bonkers. A blizzard of unconventional time signatures, frenzied breakcore beats, orchestral interludes, eccentric samples (example – “I bought you a drawing of a giraffe fucking an elephant. Notice how its moustache looks just like mine!”) and cyberpunk synths, it was meticulously crafted madness that was nigh on impossible to keep up with for more than ninety seconds at a time, masterminded by a man who looked like he should have been slouching at the back of the stage playing bass for a metal band.
On a purely visceral level, there was a lot to appreciate – not least how the hell he managed to keep track of those beats at speeds that must have approached (and possibly exceeded) 200bpm – and the snatches of strings gave an epic, cathedral-filling grandeur to some of the breakdowns.
The main problem, as far as I was concerned, was the sheer relentlessness of the sensory assault. I know that Venetian Snares is capable of making some amazing downtempo music, as well as intense up-up-uptempo music, and it was a shame that he didn’t include much of that in the set, as it would have made it more interesting dynamically, and made for more of a journey.
As it was, keeping things more or less at breakcore tempo for the full hour and a half – a long time to be listening to the sonic equivalent of a robot having a violent panic attack – meant that a lot of the initial impact was lost, and it all began to blend together into a general blur of noise.
More variation, in my opinion, would have meant that the really insane bits would have had a lot more oomph, but unfortunately, the non-stop battering ram of 150mph amen breaks and hi-hats that sounded like a warehouse full of pneumatic drills being molested by a tornado, made proceedings seem almost comically over-the-top, and although I won’t deny that the cider and the Sambuca helped me to enjoy it, I definitely ran out of steam well before the end.
So. Disappointing on a few levels, but certainly not a gig I’ll be forgetting in a hurry.
Now I need to go and have a warm bath in whale song – I’m still shaking.
WORDS: Stefan Mohamed
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