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Squarepusher on the Dot (Duck the Man with the Wiffle Bat)

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Dusted's tobias c. van Veen survives a soiree with the Tour Manager from Hell to recount Squarepusher's June 20 date at Montréal's Société des arts technologiques.

Squarepusher on the Dot (Duck the Man with the Wiffle Bat)

The hot & muggy eve of July 20, 2003 saw me stepping into the new locale of the Société des arts technologiques – [SAT] – which has shifted space here in Montréal from its venerable St. Catherines Street location to a new habitude in the dregs of St. Laurent. A beautiful new space, mind you, with full glass windows glancing overside the downtown park & a massive space to congregate all. After the usual “we forgot to put you on the list & the hired bouncers don’t take no shit” mindlessness I was in & through to the absolutely rammed, sell-out show featuring the infamous Squarepusher and tour-buddy Luke Vibert, with Winnipeg hardcore-turntablist Fishead rounding out the eve.

Packed, hot, sweltering – dark walls – warehouse cement – no lame club lights, just a strobe and a single spot – loud & dark – : all this adds up to potential nudity in an LSD fishtank, but it also means a Long March to the bar, so Fishead & I jumped out to grab a drink & icecream on sketch-central, St. Catherines late-night (& this was even Sunday). Back inside and safe after a dripping icecream encounter at some late-night & lit booth designed to scare the shit out of needleheads, replete with blazing and psychedelic plastic ordering signs, Fishy and I bore witness to a strange mix of IDM, children’s music, and other broken-beat oddities courtesy of Luke Vibert’s laptop. When I last saw Vibert opening for Aphex Twin in Vancouver, 1997, I believe he was DJing vinyl, which even then was barely passable, but listening to trainwrecks of material from a laptop mix that sounded like cross-faded iTunes or unbeatmatched Nuendo was plain disastrous. I enjoy an eclectic mix as much as the next guy (save for Captain Parrot, and his wife), but given the proliferation of talented deck-DJs I remain disappointed that such major attention is given to a producer who does not pay much of his own attention to playing either his own material live nor learning how to properly DJ (I was about to say “well,” but I should say: “at all”). It has been, afterall, six solid years since I last saw Vibert – enough to either learn some rudimentary turntable skills or at least practice the art of faking “playing live.” In any case, trainwrecks are inexcusable from a laptop.

On to Tom Jenkinson, which afterall, was why I and 99.99 percent of the hipsters were there. Now mr. Squarepusher has faced some critique after his last album, Go Plastic, was seen as a sell-out for future VW ads or at least dissed for not drastically reinventing & turning on its head the broken-beat / drill ‘n’ bass / d ‘n’ b mash-ups he is known for. But give another listen – ignore “Red Hot Car,” which is there for a reason, to make the fellow some catchy cash – skip to “Greenways Trajectory” and revel in the noise of the breakdown, and end with “Plaistow Flex-Out,” which I think will come to be a classic Squarepusher track of emotive yet perverted melancholy. Anyways, enjoy his last outing or not, the crowd was packed – sold-out, in fact – and aching to hear Jenkinson take the stage with his trademark bass guitar, rack of effects, stored samples on laptop, and array of pedals. If it’s anything the man has amply demonstrated, it is that he puts on one hell of a live show, throwing down impressively fast bass-riffs, processing them live through patches & pedals to produce manic chord runs overtop & inside his tracks which zap out from the gear...& then the fact that every once in-a-noisy while he intensifies the moment by engaging in salivating, earsplitting feedback worthy of Merzbow, squelching and pitching the entire mix and cacophony until it approaches zenith levels of sine-wave sound and pure unadulterated noise... well, this is what we got, and Squarepusher did not .. ah fuck that: “disappoint” is cliché, but what else can I say?

    [Also a note here on style: I’m not going to write academically about this show. This is one for the body, the manic jump-hopping body-wracking torture of sound, the dark cavern we were all immersed in, the weed passed around causing hallucinations, and the obsession with a very, very powerful strobe in a very, very dark room by the tour manager – ah yes, The Tour Manager... The strobe I think was the only good thing about him. Here’s a little story of this sod: I went to grab a few snaps of Jenkinson doing his thing, and moved two feet across the row of gear separating audience from “side stage” – I should note I was at floor level, so this was not a big deal, and Squarepusher was on a riser – well, I take a few shots, and then suddenly the Tour Manager moves in, puts his hands on me, and says: “Get the FUCK OUT.” Hardly a nice introduction nor a way to deal with a member of the international electronic press... I say: “Yes, sure, can I take a few shots?” At which point he pushes me out of the way. Now this was interesting, as the SAT is not a club & not the space for this man’s kind of silly violence; it doesn’t usually tolerate this kind of mentality. And I’m not one to be pushed... I generally don’t like anyone taking liberties with my skin unless granted... and so I ‘removed his arms from my body’ with some instinctual combat Tai Chi & reminded said Tour Manager that if he touches me again I will personally be happy to explain to him the laws of gravity. At which point he threatened to call Security – I said right on, I know them from earlier, let’s chat. He even attempted to stop me from grabbing my bag, which I couldn’t understand whatsoever, tactically or as a matter of security – meanwhile Squarepusher is going ape and I am losing all the good shots – and I manage to escape the monkey’s grasp to sit on the gear crate and write a few notes while he eyes me wearily...

    Well…tried to grab a few shots of good ol’ Mr. Jenkinson – rather difficult when the Tour Manager manhandles (!) one outta the location... to the point where I have to say “Keep your fucking hands off me.” Ah the stench of vitriol in the night...

    Strobe is insane now, I am getting geometric shapes as I write, the black flashing to white, over & over, unending, repetitive...

    If he asks me my name,I’ll tell him “Philip Sherburne”...What’s the Tour Manager’s name in Spinal Tap? Give this man a wiffle bat... he’ll at least have something in his hands resembling his brain: an empty, useless weapon full of holes... Meanwhile, Tom has become more self-indulgent, moving from mad riffs, noise and broken-beats to plain noise and feedback wails drawn from abstract guitar solos. The line has been crossed as we drift from an excellent spell of noise to a neverending stream of electrofied “Down On the Corner.”

    (I wonder if photogs like Annie Liebowitz have had a tough time grabbing shots...).

    Is it that the music breeds violence? There are Miss Vickies chips spilled on the floor. AH – a chair falls over from the BASS. The ceiling plaster is lightly dusting down. The resonance frequencies are affecting us all. The strobe is IN the Tour Manager. He does not control it: it controls him.

    If he comes to me again I’ll say: “Don’t worry, I was lying, I’m nobody, not even a journalist, and even if I was, you’d never read me anyways, you’ve never even seen me, nor have you heard my name – and you probably never will.” Ah, that’ll trip him out.

    (Will this fantasy actually arise?)

    Squarepusher has a particular way of addressing the crowd: YELLING into an algorithmic vocoder like a demented schoolchild... Meanwhile the Tour Manager grabs a Security guard and frantically tells her that “the crowd is jumping into the backstage!” The Security guard looks around & sees nothing of the sort but stands glossy-eyed in the heart of the sonic maelstrom.

    Well, enough of that.]

So, Squarepusher brought the house down, demonstrating to my ears that his live performances investigate noise, feedback, improvisation and manic sound resonance at volumes only hinted at in the best of his albums, exploring territory far more abstract than I think the predominantly electronic-mainstream crowd was prepared for, jumping nonetheless headfirst into the nut of the matter: SOUND, NOISE AT EXTREME VOLUMES, BEATS FASTER THEN YOU CAN UNDERSTAND, MADNESS, MADNESS, MADNESS, INSANITY, MENTAL CHAOS – I mean: fuck, why hold back when you’ve got 20, 000 watts behind your demented ego? That’s what Jenkinson (Tom) performed, with his bass guitar, and with an incestual zeal. My only critique was the lack of Squarepusher-trademark bombastic beats in favour of a quickly tiring high-end noise. I wanted more structure, at points, and less potentially self-indulgent noodling and guitar-wanking, which began to steal some of the novelty of the instrument’s usage in a d ‘n’ b context. But the reworked breakdown of “Greenways Trajectory” into the general noise mash-up was a brilliant signifier of his recent trajectory towards indecipherability and a storm of madness that will bring out the violence in us all...for yes, despite “Red Hot Car,” Squarepusher is violence-music, the alternative soundtrack for today’s Droogs, the acid-music the Manson Family really should have been listening to.

[And none of that, above, should see print...]

Fishead spun an inventive set, closing the late evening-slash-early morning, as the revellers spilled onto a late St. Laurent, moving from the KLF’s Chill Out on & upwards into drillcore and broken-hardcore, performing doubles with ample tricks, beat-juggling & other Fishead manipulation, gaining him a few admirers no doubt here in town as the headz gathered around to watch the skills but also – which was brilliant to see – dance in weird postures to the strangest of beats and to admire rare actions in the brutalist art of the turntable broken-beat.

By tobias c. van Veen

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