Hoxton Bar And Kitchen, 28/5/12
Walls, aka former Allez Allez blogmaster Sam Willis and Banjo or Freakout’s Alessio Natalizia, on record at least, inhabit an occasionally cautious midpoint between the melodic abstraction of ambient, and the paradoxically lithe forcefulness of tech-house.
Live, however, it’s easy to see why the duo were snapped up by Cologne’s formidable Kompakt label: the percussion that acts as more of a rhythmic backbone than a foregrounded focal point on albums Walls and Coracle becomes a hulking, metronomic, alternately jackhammering and swaying, lurching, living thing. Despite its near total ubiquity, techno’s 4/4 thud played at high volume still has the power to thrill, and this was the kind of gig where each tone-change massaged the entire body, each cymbal-hit clattered internally. The duo didn’t stick to a rigid pattern throughout, with half-step percussive plashes and one incredible-beyond-belief detour into the kind of stomping schaffel territory that the group’s label specialised in during the early 00s.
That’s not to say that it was an entirely low-end experience, with Willis wringing out gorgeous glissandos and thick miasmic drifts from his modest bank of equipment whilst a guitar-wielding Natalizia sent widescreen, super-delayed note-clusters reminiscent of the Balearic balminess of Manuel Gottsching’s seminal E2-E4 through the sonic field, adding ghostly choral trills, words modulated into pure, ethereal, ephemeral sound, creating a set which was abundant with moments of technical ecstasy and disco transcendentalism. An acidic 303 of riff circles round itself, stepping up and down, inside and out of its pre-determined structure whilst that thick, taut kick drum pounds ever harder with the room seeming to spin in response, the drums drop out and the pair trade glutinous trills that grow into one another.
At any point during the gig you could have closed your eyes and forgotten where you were. One minute we’re sat on an Ibizan beach, the next in Berghain. Shut them again and you could’ve been listening to an old master in Detroit. This, surely, is the transformative power of electronic music: with the process being hidden from us, the performance is secondary and the music, the invocations and evocations become central to our understanding, and more importantly, our enjoyment. Walls took us through the history of house and techno, waved politely, and left. A stunning, stunning show.
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Words: Josh Baines