CMU Weekly Editor's Letter

Editor’s Letter: The future of live performance

By | Published on Friday 25 November 2011

Andy Malt

There have always been musicians who have tried to push the limits of what live performance is and can be, from The Grateful Dead pumping their audiences full of LSD to Pink Floyd performing behind a wall. But over the last eighteen months there seems to have been a real leap forward in the amount of effort some artists have been putting in.

Riz MC’s ‘MICroscope’ show, which I saw in June last year, and which mixed live music, theatre and audience interaction to create a new kind of performance, was a particular highlight of my 2010 gigging calendar. But this year I’ve been most enthralled by advances in projection technology. I will concede that’s is not the most thrilling sentence I have ever written, but stick with me.

Live projections have been a staple of live music for some time now, of course. Electronic producers like the Chemical Brothers and Orbital have long used them as a means of dressing up what might otherwise be a visually uninspiring performance, and it’s almost a decade since I first saw Mew using short films as a backdrop to their songs in a way I still see as the benchmark for such things. And as such backdrops become increasingly prevalent, thrown in as a matter of course more than an artistic accoutrement, it’s a benchmark I see not being met with increasing frequency at gigs of all sizes.

But now, as well as all that, some people have started bringing the visuals to the front of the stage and doing amazing things with them. At the Great Escape festival in Brighton this year, DJ Shadow performed his ‘Shadowsphere’ show, which sees him perform inside a sphere onto which are projected various images. In the CMU-programmed convention section of TGE, Shadow explained the inspiration behind the show and some of the technical difficulties involved in projecting images onto a surface that isn’t flat. It’s very clever stuff, and was mind-boggling to watch and try to understand. And then a month later Amon Tobin premiered his ‘ISAM’ show in Montreal and took things to a whole new level.

Like Shadow, Tobin performs inside a structure, appearing at various points in the show, but mostly allowing the visuals to fill the audience’s view. However, Tobin’s structure is more than just a sphere; it’s a huge arrangement of cubes, which through the magic of technology and design appear to move and change shape, become machinery, become filled with smoke, and become a surface on which a virtual Tobin manipulates streams of light, all locked into the precise, industrial sounds of the real Tobin’s ‘ISAM’ album.

At times it looks like it’s not actually there, just something you imagined, thanks to the incredible precision of the projections and the amazing skill that has gone into creating them.

Watching the show at The Forum in London last night, the second of two shows at the venue this week, was a jaw-dropping experience. Jaw-dropping as in my jaw actually dropped on several occasions. It was one of the most visually amazing performances I have ever seen. And that it fits so perfectly with Tobin’s music, ensuring a kind of overstimulation from bass that will knock the breath out of you, makes it almost unbelievable that the two weren’t created in unison.

For some sort of idea of what I’m trying to get across, take a look at this trailer, and also check out this behind the scenes video looking at how it was all put together. Then cross your fingers and hope that he’ll be back soon (rest assured, we’ll alert you to future UK shows in the Daily as soon as they are confirmed).

Now, I mentioned The Great Escape (and our involvement in it) back up there somewhere. We were very pleased to officially announce this week that we will be back to programme the convention again in 2012. Last year, as well as DJ Shadow, we had speakers including BRIT Award winning producer Paul Epworth, Topspin founder Ian Rogers, BPI chairman Tony Wadsworth, industry veteran Seymour Stein and singer songwriter Frank Turner. Next year we hope to match and exceed everything we achieved this year. We’re already talking to some exciting people, so you’ll be wanting to head over to right now to get your early bird tickets. That’s what I reckon anyway.

There will, of course, no doubt be much discussion – on stage and between delegates – about the future of the music industry at The Great Escape in May, and we’ll look at some of the emerging technologies that will continue to allow artists and music companies to make money from their work. Some think that Grooveshark is the future of the industry. Mainly the people who work at Grooveshark admittedly, and certainly not the people who work at Universal Music. The people over at Universal don’t like Grooveshark one bit, and this week they launched a second lawsuit in their continued attempts to sue the streaming service out of business.

Universal says it has evidence that Grooveshark’s founders uploaded unlicensed content – thousands of songs – to the streaming service themselves, which would consitute more straight forward copyright infringement, arguably stopping them from saying safe harbour provisions in the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act make their service legitimate even if they are providing access to tracks (supposedly uploaded by users) that belong to artists or labels who have no deals in place with the web company. Grooveshark, however, hasn’t taken kindly to those allegations, saying that Universal’s claims are a “gross miscategorisation” of the facts.

That war of words was certainly the big music industry news story of the week, but what else has been occurring on in the last seven days I hear you cry. Unless that was the wind or something. Well, anyway, Hospital Records co-founder Tony Colman (aka London Elektricity) compiled his ten favourite tracks from the label’s back catalogue into a playlist to mark its fifteenth anniversary. We also spoke to Angular Records co-founder Joe Daniel about the upcoming Independent Label Market, which will take place in London next month, and Eddy Temple-Morris wrote about former Southern Death Cult drummer, label owner and activist Aki Nawaz.

In the CMU Approved column, we approved of Serge Gainsbourg’s ‘Histoire De Melody Nelson’ album, which has just been re-issued, mysterious Californian indie sorts Tashaki Miyaki, techno producer Throwing Snow, and UK rapper Cappo.

Elsewhere, we also brought you new music from the likes of Kid Cudi, Gruff Rhys, Sharon Van Etten, Wrongtom, First Aid Kid, Paul Thomas Saunders, Foxes, Outfit, Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs, Ital Tek, and contemporary classical composer Leah Kardos, who I’m off to see launch her debut album at The Wilmington Arms in London later on tonight.

And don’t forget the CMU podcast. Imagine if you did forget it, you’d miss out on chat about the Record of The Day Awards, The Great Escape, Grooveshark, Johnny Vaughan, the Gallagher Brothers, and Bruce Dickinson’s attempts to save a commercial airline from administration.

Andy Malt
Editor, CMU