FutureEverything – Manchester
ISAN, Amon Tobin, Tim Hecker and Matthew Herbert frying a pig. It must be Manchester's FutureEverything festival
Words Martin Guttridge Hewitt
With the death of Eugene Polley on Sunday, technological design has been hot on the agenda this week. The inventor of the remote control no doubt raised a few eyebrows with his gun-cum-hairdryer shaped channel surfing ‘device’, but it went on to revolutionise the world.
Without experiment there can be no progress then, though we may have some rather strange early results and bi-products. This notion certainly rang true at FutureEverything, Manchester’s annual celebration of all that’s innovative in the world of electronic art, the music side of which finished the day Polley passed away.
In unveiling 2012’s lineup, organisers made something of a statement, scoring veritable coups with Amon Tobin’s famed ‘3D’ live show, ISAM, and Matthew Herbert’s controversial, deranged swine-biopic, One Pig, so expectations were high. First on the agenda though was Tim Hecker, who decided to take over Salford’s St. Philip’s Church and play the organ to the tune of his Ravedeath, 1972 album.
Things started off well enough, if not a little weird, with the distorted vocals and heavy dub basslines of Merseyside man Forest Swords. An impressive meld of post-club sounds made bizarre by the house of God setting, one can only imagine how strange the gentleman performing must have felt, after being involved in a road accident en route to the venue. An admirable display of nerves and intelligent arrangements, the same can just about be said for the evening’s main attraction.
For those that have heard Hecker’s aforementioned LP it won’t be too surprising to discover things were ‘lucid’. The timbre and textures of sound expelled from the laptop-church organ setup were truly impressive, and heard in the dark resulted in a little time spent reflecting. But then there was a serious problem, notably the combination of awkward pews and chairs, a lack of visual stimuli, seriously ambient noises, and what had been a pretty busy bar.
Shuffles and murmurs were widespread, with a raging post-show argument breaking out between one talker and a group of shushers, indicative of the concept before comfort and substance issue. Live is not recorded, and when the twain meet without any notable alterations with which to reward the attendant crowd (other than vastly improved sound quality) things can wind up falling short of engaging, not least when people are allowed to drink before being forced to sit quietly.
Optimistically perhaps, we were back in the same venue 24 hours later, and things began with another odd juxtaposition. Live producer Polinski’s piano arpeggios and techno (bordering on progressive house) rhythms nodded to the likes of Laurent Garnier or James Holden, whereas remaining sedentary under a pulpit didn’t. Situation to one side again, it’s impossible not to recommend the artist sonically, as the tough beats were married perfectly with suitably soft periods of downtempo key tinkling, all realised in real time, of course.
An unexpected treat, considering few would have been aware of that debutant act, things went from good to better as the opening frames of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis played out. Or at least they did for most people, other than those to the far left and right, whose views were obscured by all manner of pillars and, er, walls. Still, though, the seminal celluloid masterpiece – concerned with the loss of self to society, not to mention massive factories and deadly machines – was a welcome sight for those that could appreciate it.
More importantly, its new soundtrack for the evening, created by none other Dieter Moebius – the so-called ‘Godfather of Krautrock’ – was truly inspired, and amongst the most fitting scores we’ve heard combined with the film (which is saying something, considering the names that have attempted a similar feat). The rhythmic, lunging, industrialist arrangements brought the dystopian cityscape onscreen to life with suitable syncopation, and made for the perfect partnership. Unnerving, tense, and slightly unsettling, the old became fresh again whilst the atmosphere of the 85-year-old original was retained.
This provided the perfect warm up for Tri-Angle Records’ showcase five minutes walk away at the factory-turned-clued-up-clubber-haunt, Islington Mill. The Brooklyn-based imprint were in town to introduce newcomers and treat their seemingly skyrocketing fan base to some sub-heavy sounds, with Faktion & Lie opening. Elongated moments of white noise and shuddering lows falling into glitchy rhythms, things stepped up through Vessel’s set with occasional nods to Perc and other such clanging tech types next to moments of calm, whilst Holy Other were everything we’d been told (fans of Burial and Four Tet take note).
In contrast, the following night’s main show, Matthew Herbert’s One Pig, wasn’t, because few knew what was going to happen. Armed only with the knowledge this would involve music from the album delivered in part using a drum created from the skin of a mud-lover, and that a chef would be on hand to cook up some bacon, we arrived at the Royal Northern College of Music just in time for things to begin.
Five men in white coats walked out, two stood on each side (Herbert amongst them), and one took position in the middle of a tiny pig-pen type structure. This is the ‘Sty Harp’, a sample-based piece of kit resembling a miniature boxing ring, constructed of wires that could be grabbed, pulled, and twisted to make all manner of noises and distortions. Ironically this became the centre of the show, not the namesake Pig as is the idea, though that’s certainly no complaint.
After all, how are you not going to watch in bemusement (and awe) as everything from blissful electronic pop to juddering, Roisin Murphy Ramalama (Bang Bang) style kick drums (sans vocals), are led by the noises coming from such an invention? Whether you ‘got’ the show and its story of swine from birth to plate or not isn’t the point; the music alone, within this context – more performance than anything else – was truly impressive, if pig-heavy.
In itself this is precisely the point when it comes to summarising the overall FutureEverything ‘experiment’. At a festival consisting almost entirely of specialist acts it’s impressive to find something so universally enjoyable once the theory has been put to rest. Manchester’s recent showcase achieved this in three of the aforementioned four instances, proving it deserves to be seen as an important yearly institution, amazingly without us even having to mention that Tobin spectacular. Enough said.