Demdike Stare at Union Chapel, 31 March 2012

The Union Chapel seemed like the perfect choice as a venue for this rare live performance by techno obscurantists Demdike Stare. But this was a disappointing show. I’m not sure what I expected from them, but it was certainly more than they delivered.

Before the main set, DJ Justin Spear played an excellent set of folk-infused psychedelic jazz from suitably fusty-sounding 60s and 70s vinyl. He’s a great DJ who must spend ungodly hours crate-digging to turn up such gems. Should you ever see his name in the radio schedules, you should tune in.
While Spear spun his sounds, the atmosphere of the chapel was diluted by a large white screen that faced the audience, awaiting Demdike Stare’s projected backdrop. Organisers ATP promised audio-visuals that would “texture map the inside of the chapel”, but all this amounted to was projected images spilling across the screen to flicker across the chapel’s recesses.

And just as Sean Canty and Miles Whittaker’s minimal techno shades the brashness of club sounds into bleakness and revenant nostalgia, their chosen images guttered in an ocular fug of distressed celluloid, from which occasional unrelated images emerged, serving only to emphasise the atmospheric inertia engendered by the music.

On record, Demdike Stare music reverberates with the membranous elasticity of frame drums, dubbed-out echoes in the hollows of eviscerated beats. Live, the same mix of elements, a blend of Shackleton-style mid-east dub, Ghost Box nostalgia and cinematic allusion, is preserved, but watered down to allow the duo plenty space to operate. Their set was only about an hour long, but I disengaged long before it was over.

To be fair, it should be obvious that Demdike Stare’s music wouldn’t come across live. Their sound is best enjoyed as a solitary, sublimated indulgence. It sounded good in the chapel though. Driven by my uncompromisingly uncomfortable pew to relocate from a central vantage point to an empty seat in a side aisle, I could appreciate just how nicely the music was spatialised around the vaulted interior.

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