Mika Vainio + Lee Gamble + Will Guthrie at Cafe Oto, 11 Jan 2013

Mika Vainio 1It was no surprise that this show sold out, since although Mika Vainio has played London dates with Ilpo Väisänen as Pan Sonic before, this was, incredibly, his first solo concert here. Some were no doubt also keen to hear Lee Gamble make good on the buzz surrounding his brace of releases on the PAN label last year.

But before the hardcore electronica kicked in, there was time for a solo kit drum improvisation by Will Guthrie. Not a name I’m familiar with, Guthrie is an Australian now living in France. His potted bio on the Oto website introduces him as: “an award-winning jazz drummer, grass-roots free-improv organiser, (and) flamenco accompanist,” whose “relocation to France instigat(ed) a passionate engagement with DIY electronics.”

Beginning with deliberation, sounding smart stick-length strikes on the hi-hat and precisely measured drum hits at measured intervals, Guthrie gradually heightened both tempo and emphasis without any relaxation of structural rigour, gradually shifting and overlaying rhythms to a thunderous culmination. Think of a racked Joy Division metric, or the martial drum ‘n’ bass of Photek played out on skins, rims and cymbals.

It was an impressive display of stamina and precision, with an extensive, texturally free coda played out on a kit augmented with gongs and cymbals.

Guthrie’s website says his solo sets utilise “various combinations of drums, percussion, amplification and electronics”. I didn’t get an unobstructed look at his kit, but I believe this set was all acoustic, barring the use of an electrical device to create a light cymbal vibration, akin to the sound of a ball-bearing swirling around a metal bowl, which Guthrie let thread through the intermeshed timbres of metallic decay.

Lee Gamble‘s set was less impressive. Drawing upon his roots as a pirate radio DJ to forge a signature laptop music style, Gamble reconfigured samples lifted from Jungle mixtapes, as he did on a recent EP.

OTO’s blurb quotes Gamble on his own methodology: “various digital synthesis methods…(leaving) the detritus or debris of an (original) idea…new material abstractions, created from the digital blank canvas”. This sonic detritus yields frequently ravishing audio. But Gamble’s attempt to fertilise and condition the audience’s imagination with this heady sonic compost was unsuccessful.

Bored by an overlong introductory passage – the sound of queuing interminably outside a Basic Channel club night – I struggled to connect with Gamble’s subsequent non-sequitur montage (the first botched cross-fade just one in a series of clumsily handled transitions) of mechanistic, slippery techno elisions, Kid 606-style carcrash glitch, and harsh dark ambience.

Gamble’s set was a tedious mess that made a great case for music thrashed out on guitar/bass/drums, and Guthrie’s improv would’ve been better sequenced to follow it.

Mika Vainio 2Mika Vainio, alias Ø, played a much better balanced and thoughtfully nuanced set, which mostly avoided the extreme volumes and harsh-beat severity of his live work with Pan Sonic. Rather he worked through some of the subtler strategies witnessed in his sound art and exploited the spatial effects potential of the PA system with sparing precision.

Working from a palette of channelled raw electricity and carefully modulated frequencies with a graphic score at hand (you can see it in one of the excellent monochrome images on Fabio Lugaro’s Flickr photostream), Vainio used live synthesis, mixing and direct sampling from one-finger keyboard hits to variously sculpt silence with rough-hewn blocks of sound, conjure billows of analogue warmth, or create note clouds that seemed to gather at ceiling height.

Beats variously billowed like time-compressed drum hits or snapped to with the static click of a Newton’s Cradle, and mostly served to frame the silences and richly textured, often gritty low-frequency sound intervals between those blocks of sound.

Although Vainio’s music is demanding, the peremptoriness of his transitions precluded ennui, a sharp contrast between the curt precision of his style and the immersive warmth of his sound makes his music unique, inimitable and richly satisfying.

Less visceral and more thoughtful than his music with Pan Sonic, Vainio’s solo music is as painterly seductive as it can be abrasive, and this set was a superb distillation of it.

Related Posts
C.C. Hennix, Werner Durand and Valerio Tricoli at PAN Fest, January 2012
Touch.30 Live at Beaconsfield – Fennesz, Biosphere, Philip Jeck, CM von Hausswolff, Hildur Gudnadottir, Thomas Köner, David Toop, December 2012

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