Various Venues, London
10 - 20 March
Do you get the feeling that we’re counting down to Year Zero for London’s nightlife? With venue closures, inflated tickets prices and the much-debated passivity of ‘part-time ravers,’ there’s a general concern that the community is getting lost in its own self-reflective wormhole. But from all this self-criticism, some events organisers have been forced to think about how to evolve with our relationships to clubbing and live performance.
Last year’s Convergence festival occupied itself with shearing down ‘the red tape of convention’ with the aid of computer technology. And it did so in abundance. The series of events explored man and machine’s co-dependency through ingenious visual displays, open discussions and live performances from the likes of Gazelle Twin, Clark and Pantha Du Prince. Now in its third year, Artistic Director Glenn Max extends on Convergence’s premise as an ‘audio visual experience,’ and has ushered in this recurring idea of “the re-materialisation of culture beyond its digital vapourisation.” In other words, rather than submitting to the depressing rhetoric of a contemporary music culture lacking any backbone, Convergence’s trope of directors, curators and organisers are choosing to push the discourse forward. And despite the unlikelihood of this month-long event series being the lawless beacon of hope our future nightlife craves, it seems committed to the idea of progression.
This year’s programme boasted a close “emotional investment” in its line-up of guest speakers and artists. This rang true with the inclusion of Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood and Israeli composer Shye Ben Tzur’s collaboration as Junun at the Barbican, or Pieces of a Man: The Gil Scott Heron Project – a live celebration of the late poet, author and musician’s canon of work. With the latter of these two events, musical director Dave Okumu led a collective of artists to refashion the profound influence Gil Scott-Heron’s art has had over the past five decades.
Hazed by the border of dimmed floor lamps, an illustrated banner of the poet waved tenderly in the Roundhouse rafters. Onstage was Okumu, smiling, enamoured by the talent surrounding him. Close by was Sam Shepherd (aka Floating Points), Kwabs, Joan As Police Woman, Anna Calvi, Jamie Woon and a host of household names. There was a surprise appearance from comedian Reginald D. Hunter, who recited an endearingly nervous version of The Revolution Will Not Be Televised and spoken word artist Kate Tempest – who performed an original piece that sparked a desire for civil disobedience among the crowd.
Days before, Factory Floor – now an analogous two piece – beset a mid-week Village Underground crowd with their deconstructions of improvised industrial techno, a show modest in its setup yet purgative in its aural delivery. Their headline slot was preceded by techno experimentalist Karen Gwyer. Her hardware-heavy set presented Gwyer under dulled lighting, yet her noise curled under the nails and pummelled at the temples. Similarly, Syria’s Omar Souleyman’s fusion of traditional dabke and conspicuously westernised dance music caused a rapturous Koko crowd to totally lose themselves. Souleyman himself casually treaded from stage left to right, clapping, stamping, nodding demurely.
It’s curious, in respect of these defiantly heady displays, that Convergence chose to close this year’s festival with James Lavelle, who was ‘presenting UNKLE Sounds’. Towering over neon signs spelling out ‘Build and Destroy’ and ‘Sample Culture,’ the Mo wax founder – to give him credit – savoured every moment of this party. But for a festival that had boisterously disrupted and re-interrupted electronic music’s trajectory countless times in the past four weeks, it felt a conclusion undermined by the gravitas of what preceded it.
Regardless, Convergence is a festival on a constant creative incline. Their contribution to music, art, technology and the notion of electronic music as means of social and cultural growth acts as a reassurance that while we are slowly pilfered of club culture’s heritage, there is certainly a future worth raving for.