A previously unseen Squarepusher live show, totally sold out, at the Barbican. This evening at the mercy of fearless electronic shaman, one man digital orchestra and unyielding bass maestro Tom Jenkinson was sure to be an experience. Jenkinson is hopelessly compelled to push boundaries, toy with the senses and deconstruct imaginations. Since taking this up a notch with the staggeringly inventive Ufabulum album/live show, seeing Squarepusher in the flesh has transformed into something between an immersive audiovisual art installation and an existential experience.
Squarepusher enters the amphitheatre to raucous applause and whistles. Detonating sounds abruptly, we have instant ignition, and new album Damogen Furies is upon us. The unsuspecting eyes are assaulted from the get go, with graphic geometric visuals, something like a Max Headroom backdrop, but faster, more jagged, more unforgiving. The room’s immense soundsystem completes the barrage on the senses; the mind is fast tracked into hyper-space, the rest eventually catches catches up. You can barely see the centrepiece himself – that masked and hooded man – deep in a dark void, with a nebula of madness projected behind him. The sound itself is wild, maximal IDM, almost verging into the early 00s break core territory of Tim Exile or Enduser, but emphatically more intricate, less freeform, in its chaos.
This pace couldn’t possibly be sustained, and a (very relative) calming segues into heavy amen breaks, then melodies which clash with junglist beats, as if classics My Red Hot Car and Planetarium were merged together. At this point there is no bass guitar. Maybe the computer ate it. The crowd are entranced watching the man work, shifting time signatures, warping sounds and revelling in aggressive breakdowns. Damogen Furies material is evidently nastier, chunkier, meatier, even than Ufabulum. Any less than flawless sound quality would have been sacrilege; luckily, that’s just what we got. After mining the depths of chaos but somehow maintaining control, early material is subtly revisited, before an experimental tangent that kisses the very limits of what any person can reasonably be expected to withstand, before the sacred bass is finally revealed as one final pay off.
An elated crowd, almost stunned into silence, departs and is aided in their transition back into the real world via a main foyer DJ set from Rob Da Bank. This evening was the sharpened end of a glinting blade, cutting ruthlessly through common musical tropes, themes and conventions.
Photography: Sebastien Dehesdin