A suited MC Schmidt walks stage front and sits behind desk to read aloud a manifesto or sales pitch, touting the supposed benefits of a self-help technique called “Do Easy”, or D.E., the tenets of which, he assures us, enable practitioners to complete life’s many trivial tasks with efficiency: imagine Nicholson Baker taking a stab at a Burroughsian routine. As Schmidt winds up, his Matmos partner Drew Daniel and two others – Baltimore associates Owen Gardner and Sam Haberman of Horselords – process through the stalls chiming bells before taking up their respective instruments.
In a surprisingly proggy opening number, Schmidt essays a lengthy, liquid keyboard solo while Gardner (guitar) and Haberman (drums) add subtle touches to flesh out Daniels’ electronics. They follow up with a hardcore punk dirge, Daniel channeling Henry Rollins in Raymond Pettibon Black Flag T-shirt.
They dedicate this performance to singer/guitarist Jason Noble of Rodan and Rachel’s, who died on 4 August after a long illness. The song slowly mutates into a disco pop overture with a surf music rip current, all capped by Daniel’s breezy reprise of his opening expectoration.
Another dedication goes to Alan Turing, decoder of the wartime Enigma Code, who suffered lawful state persecution for his homosexuality. Recorded to mark the 100th anniversary of Turing’s birth, “For Alan Turing” (the lead track on a 2006 tour-only EP) is an appropriately tricksy exercise in repetitive beat calculus with a dubwise coda. Irked by a loudly bleeping, misbehaving mixing board, Schmidt latches onto it as a springboard for a “free noise solo” that probably isn’t as impromptu as it seems, since it’s choreographed to a backdrop video that cuts between a mixer’s knobs being violently tweaked and Schmidt’s face in close up, gurning along to each violent blat of sound.
A subsequent number, heavy on ramshackle beats, channels the Chemical Brothers but brightens the block-rockin’ with birdsong. A brief encore takes this mood further, with Matmos slipping into full-on Martin Denny-style exotica.
Schmidt ended the night back in the spotlight, laid across Daniel’s lap, his buttocks exposed for a spanking, a rhythmic exercise, each whip-crack thwack sampled for a beat and choreographed with a video of the same undignified process. They tried this the last time they played here in 2005, but suffered a technical hitch with the laptop.
Daniel laid into his partner’s buttock with evident relish, and it visibly reddened with each loud slap. Hats off to Gardner and Haberman, who, though nowhere near so slap-happy, gamely joined in for a stereophonic presentation.
Support for the evening was o F F Love, who took to a stage strewn with 18 roses, and sang heavily vocodered ballads to a tape of prerecorded, narcotised house music.
With backscreen projections of slowmo boyband stage action, the solo o F F Love was dressed, Drew Daniel style, in shiny leather shoes, long socks, and denim cutoffs, his face covered by a bandana. A natural home for this performance might be the close confines of a heaving nightclub rather than the formal (and discouragingly underpopulated) arena of the QEH, so it’s a bold presentation.
o F F Love’s recent My Love For You…Probably Love album should, on this evidence, appeal to fans of dubstep, particularly Burial or James Blake. His music is similarly dreamy and dislocated, founded on deep, liquid bass and muffled yet reverberant beats, but with roots in disco rather than dub. At one point he gamely gathered up a few roses and jumped from the stage to hand them out among the front rows, ending up dancing a druggy minuet with an over-enthusiastic audience member (evidently part of the o F F Love retinue but no matter, the episode added a touch of drama).
Though there’s little overtly commercial about o F F Love – the languid torpor of his performance had an edgy surreality – his songs have moreish melodies. To contrast his set with the mute and temporally dislocated antics of those boy bands was a minor stroke of genius. Almost despite myself, I was seduced.