Arnolfini, Bristol | January 11th
Arnolfini’s smaller performance space on the 2nd floor was the setting for a night of noise with headliner Pete Swanson, the intimate venue providing an opportunity to get up close and personal with his confrontational sound and performance.
Entering the venue, there are two tables set up. One neatly organised – samplers, a tape player and echo effects – the other a heap of cheap pedals, Game Boys and a minidisc player. An appropriate metaphor for the two support acts, Cementimental and H. The night opened with an intense but ultimately directionless half hour set from the former. Chiptune sounds wrung from the Gameboys were fed through overloaded feedback loops, creating a largely unchanging dirge. Although there were moments of textural nuance and progression, engaging with the performance was hard work and lacked an eventual reward.
H took a more ordered approach to her sound, pulsing drones, pitched vocal snippets, tape hiss and bleeping Casiotones awash with echo and distortion set a mood of familiarity and discomfort. The performance, an exercise in noise as a textural and structural musical form, was a pleasure to watch.
Pete Swanson followed, opening with Life Ends At 30 from the forthcoming Punk Authority on Daniel Lopatin’s Software label. Although his most recent output (Man With Potential and Pro Style, both on Type) has synthesised power electronics and techno, he insists that it is not dance music. Whilst his music does transcend the pure functionality of much modern techno, it wasn’t long before the room was bobbing in time to Swanson’s industrial stomp. The tension mounted, pulling the room further into the uncompromising performance, until the table holding all his equipment collapsed.
Thankfully the machines were left intact and pounding away, Swanson simply knelt down, and continued to carve out a saturated groove as the excitement in the room reached a new level. He closed with a laugh and a smile, the room erupting into well-deserved applause, Swanson greeting the cheers and awkward handshakes with warmth and genuine gratitude.
Pete Swanson delivered an outstanding performance that moved well beyond the point of potential collapse, and served as a potent reminder of why he remains a trailblazing figurehead of modern noise music.
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Words: Thomas Painter