Liminal Concert Review: Keith Fullerton Whitman, Rene Hell and Andre Vida at CAMP Basement (October 21st, 2011)

Epitomising the eclectic nature of the PAN label, this CAMP gig featured three rather different performers (I missed Heatsick, who were due to appear first in a duo with Andre Vida, but were, I later learned, tacked on at the end, after most people had left). First up was Andre Vida on his own, for a very brief set of solo sax-and-vocals. As an admirer of Evan Parker and John Butcher, I was delighted (and very pleasantly surprised, given who he was supporting) by the appearance of this jazzy, almost funky, bespectacled man who hummed and moaned between blasts of elastic sax solos and percussive thumping of the pad cups. Compared to the aggressive electronic music that was to follow, there was something slinky and seductive about Andre Vida’s minimalist sax music, with his absurd vocalisations almost approximating a jazzy take on hip-hop.

But sadly, and this was to be a theme for the night, Vida was only on for about 10 to 15 minutes, a paltry duration even for an opening act. Quite how he would have built on the two pieces he performed is debatable, given the restrictive nature of his approach, but it would have been nice to find out. Rene Hell, aka Jeff Witscher, who has released two excellent albums on Type, wasn’t on for much longer, which was even more frustrating as he seemed to be cut short just as he was gathering a head of steam, and looked none too pleased to have to vacate the stage so soon. Where his debut album Porcelain Opera (2010) was a stripped-down synthesis of oddball techno and krautrock-ish anti-rock, his live set featured a dense wall of aggressive synth that he then overloaded with a morass of scatter-gun noise effects, as if someone has chucked a tennis ball into a room of over-driven amplified xylophones and bells. What did remain from Porcelain Opera was the coldly driving rhythm patterns, careering forwards as if the spirit of Klaus Dinger had been locked inside a drum machine on Witscher’s desktop.

My initial instinct was that Keith Fullerton Whitman (KFW), as headliner, had been given preferential treatment over his support, but even his set was little more than an hour, if that. Again, it was a massive shame, as the Miramoglu boss is clearly one of the most exciting and forward-thinking electronic artists out there. He’s famous for having plundered just about every genre and sub-genre of electronic music out there, and as one of the guys from Teeth of the Sea mentioned to me, you’re never sure which KFW you’re going to get, but on this night he was revved up in full noise/electro mode, in the manner of his recent Disingenuity b/w Disingenuousness album, using a lap-top and massive analogue synth to unleash a tidal wave of bleeps, hisses, roars and crackles over the auditorium, the whole chaotic miasma colliding, dissolving and reassembling as if, as my friend (for whom it was the first experience of such sounds) described it, “10 000 computers were having their own apocalypse whilst their owners tripped on MDMA”. A surreal image, for sure, but somehow fitting for KFW’s apocalyptic sound. Underneath the high-pitched noise, a gut-wrenching bass rumble shook the floor and my insides, anchoring the morass to a protean groove that you had to close your eyes to follow and absorb. There’s a slender point when atonal noise and sheer bliss become one and, like Werewolf Jerusalem or Tony Conrad, Keith Fullerton Whitman knows how to hit it.

But again, it was over too soon, with nary an encore to satiate the delighted, but – if I’m anything to go by – slightly disappointed, punters. If I had the audacity to recommend anything to the promoters Upset the Rhythm, it would be to either limit the number of acts or choose a venue that stays open longer. With both KFW and Rene Hell, you got the distinct feeling they had to shut down just as they were getting going, and that’s seriously unsatisfying for both audience and, I am sure, performers. I can still take comfort with the memory of some amazing sounds, plus my already well-worn copies of Disingenuity b/w Disingenuousness and Porcelain Opera, but it could have been oh so much more.

Photos by Scott McMillan

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