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:: Autechre :: LFO :: Massonix ::
24 November 2006 / The Warehouse Project / Manchester
By James Hinchcliffe

You’ll have to bear with me here; I’m no clubber by any means so this is pretty much uncharted gig territory (it's essentially a warehouse rave) but the chance to check out a couple of big hitters from the superb Warp label takes me back to the Warehouse Project for just the 2nd time, curious and expecting a late one. And it’s a worryingly sparse turnout that show up early to see some new and old heavyweights of progressive techno, although the group of lads in the white boiler suits and Altern 8 style masks seem to have the right idea.

It’s just after 10 and Mark Turner is giving a cultured DJ display of fairly orthodox and crisp techno, before Computer Controlled seamlessly take over and give a slightly more sparse and sinister take on the genre, mutating into something a little more funky, all synthetic hi-hats and tom toms. But the real action starts with the first live set of the evening from MASSONIX (by which time, thankfully, a good few latecomers have poured in) and it’s a good 15 minutes or so into the set – as the gentle swirl of organic sounds reminds me of Ninja Tunes act Homelife - before I start to twig what (or rather, who) I’m watching. Join the dots here - Homelife is one of the many side projects Graham Massey (formerly of techno chart-botherers 808 State) keeps himself busy with these days....and doesn’t that look like a slightly gnarled, weather-beaten Massey on his lonesome behind the Apple laptop? Mass-onix? So the penny drops. Quite regardless of this, however, it’s a fascinating and expansive dance music – an odd swirly and occasionally smoky mix of nice textures akin to Plaid’s more laidback moments or Squarepusher’s more plausible ones, the neat visuals giving more than a passing nod to Coldcut. It’s largely undanceable (although great fun), at times incredibly lush, sweeping and cinematic and at other times pounding with a tribal intensity. Terrific (and very clever) stuff.

LFO effectively split up a few years back but Mark Bell ploughs on and he's back to go it alone and seemingly settle a few scores. He makes a bleak and pretty one-dimensional start; whereas the 90s LPs “Frequencies” and “Advance” were hugely ambitious, eclectic and risky affairs (happy to favour experimentation over more lucrative, generic floor-filling) he seems content just to pile on the BPMs here. The heavy Kraftwerk influence, sadly, seems buried under something a good deal more primitive. He finds form with a couple of tunes reminiscent of the “Frequencies” era (attempts to pinpoint tracks would be as tough as they would unwise – it’s years since I’ve heard it and aren’t those kind of “trainspotters” frowned upon in this company?) and there’s the odd irresistible moment where everything overlaps at just the right time but in the main it’s a whole load of mediocre crash-bang-wallop not really worthy of his/their imprint. Even the seminal eponymous crowd-pleaser (dropped suitably late in the set) sounds ordinary.

Rob Hall hardly improves matters with his entirely generic and featureless take on techno but God bless AUTECHRE, who have been baffling and astounding in equal measure over the course of many years and LPs now. We can’t see them (there’s a nice light show out front, mind) which is kind of appropriate given the mystique that surrounds them (and which they perhaps perpetuate, to some extent) but as you’d expect they bring to the party their off-kilter layering of jagged beats that are more likely to get the head nodding (albeit arythmically) than the feet moving. You tend to expect equal parts arduous and fun with these guys so this could easily go either way. However, it’s an evolving, fascinating set and relatively club-friendly by their standards, without obviously diluting their forward-thinking. After a great first half hour or so they maybe lose their way a little late on….or this might just be confirmation that such relentless innovation fares better in small doses. Whatever, as the final fractured beats slowly splutter and break down you can’t help but applaud these genuine aural pioneers.

Which just leaves Surgeon, who is pretty indistinct and unremarkable to be pretty much unnoticeable. There's some nice Eastern sounds within his DJing range and at times the hint of a modern version of Donna Summer’s “I feel love” but the set (or at least the 20 minutes or so I catch) falls short and ultimately he doesn’t bring anything new to the techno operating (turn)table within that time.

It’s been a decent one – and a bit of an eye-opener - but it’s nearly 4 o’clock and time, I decide, to sleep it off. Yeah like I say, not much of a clubber, but this varied showcase thankfully catered beyond that and proves (not that proof was needed) that dance music can very much, ahem, mix it in the live arena.

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