Wow. Just wow. I don’t know how they do it, but the annual electronica festival held in different churches across London, curated and masterminded by Bit-Phalanx in collaboration with Mango + Sweetrice Records, have upped their game. This for me was their best yet.
Amazing, considering that just a few weeks ago, their original venue in Notting Hill fell through and they had to move last-minute to St Paul’s in Covent Garden. A blessing in disguise? I think so. Of all the churches, this had the best acoustics and was probably the easiest to get to. Three cheers for serendipity!
When I saw the line-up for 24rpm my initial reaction was that there were no really big names there, unlike at some previous events. But I trusted Léigh and his cohorts that he would have created something special and I am so glad I went with my instincts. This was, without a doubt, the best one-day electronic festival they have ever put on, and I believe I saw tonight the best set I have ever seen live, in any musical genre. This, from a 48-year old music and festival lover who has more than 20 Glastonburies under his belt, is a big call to make. More about this later.
The last-minute change of venue did mean some of the second-room artists had to be dropped, but thank goodness they still found room to accommodate Björk’s “Vulnicura” VR experience. For those who don’t know, Björk released in 2015 a very personal album called “Vulnicura”, which she has re-released in 2019 as a virtual reality immersive experience. You put on an Oculus Rift headset and not only listen to the tracks but stand inside the VR video. In one track you are surrounded by up to three Björks seranading you alongside a lake, making the song so personal it leaves the viewer moved and feeling utterly privileged. Other tracks, such as “Family”, are an interactive pleasure: strange spaghetti shapes stream out of a 3D vulva behind a virtual Björk kneeling in front of you, which you can literally pull and twist around you whilst the Icelandic songstress pours her soul out to you and, in one occasion, walks into you. The experience cannot be described properly in words. Fortunately, you can experience the whole album for yourself in Otherworld in Hackney during 55 minutes for the princely sum of £34.50, on until the end of the year. Believe me, it’s worth it, even though it sounds like a lot of money.
So now on to the main proceedings. As per usual, we had a number of live acts with DJs filling in during the gaps, including the legendary Gez Varley from LFO fame, a band that pretty much everyone over a certain age will have remembered from back in the day. As for the live acts, the first two – Sarasara and Loraine James – were not loud enough, perhaps owing to council restrictions, so we made sure we got as close as possible to the loudspeakers. Sarah (Sarasara) is a powerful singer, combining trip-hop with techno. Having had a tragic childhood, losing people very close to her at a young age, her music is extremely personal and philosophical (indeed, her first album, Amor Fati, is a Nietzsche-insired paean to making one own’s fate and is well worth checking out. As for our homegrown Loraine James, she has been raising a few eyebrows with the release of her début solo album “For You And I”. The very clean glitchy sounds made us think of buildings marching for some reason, and lo and behold we looked up and the projections she was using was of some brutalist buildings, which was perfect and made us chuckle. The beats really felt like they were telling us a story about urban life, the rhythm echoing between slices of steel and cement, if that makes sense.
The volume was turned up for Minotaur Shock, which livened up some of the congregation who had been relaxing too much in the aisles, and he made way for what was to become the first big treat of the evening, a 90-minute long laptop-free ‘Modular Showcase’, starting with We the Bleeple featuring Boogieman, who are a collective of Modular Synth enthusiasts that created a beautiful sound together that reminded us occasionally of some of OTT’s early work, and got the first rapturous applause of the evening. This was clearly an emotional event for them. This was followed by Hataken (who many may know of through his collaborations with Greg Hunter as Waveshaper), who then was joined by our co-host Coppé, in what was for me the best thing I have ever seen Coppé do live, an amazing piece that trumped her performance with Plaid last year. Trailblazing sounds. Daedelus made an appearance towards the end to join Coppé and Hataken in a final three-way collaboration, which gave a hint at what we could expect from him later on.
After that came for me the only disappointment of the day. On paper, Arovane was probably the biggest name when looking at the list of live acts, having been hugely influential in the Berlin IDM scene of the 1990s, but this was dry, unimaginative and really nothing special. He did get a big applause at the end, maybe because of who he is, but on the whole it was a bit of a disappointment.
We were saved, fortunately, by Oval, a fellow German who took us on a real journey in sound. Markus has been around for many years of course, and is credited with having created glitch, by sampling the sound made from damaged CDs. He did not disappoint, and for 45 minutes I do not believe he stopped once, just pounding on with this amazing sampling and building up of noise that really engaged with the public. A real treat for the ears.
But next came Daedelus’ set. Now, I am 48 years old, I have a very wide range of musical taste, and like everyone else I have a list of my top 5 best gigs ever that I have been fortunate to see live. The Pixies are there, as is Bowie. But tonight, no lie, I have my new number one spot: Daedelus. This set was without any shadow of a doubt the best live set I have ever seen across any musical genre in my life. It will be with me forever. I have no idea how he did it, but I have never been so encompassed by sound like that ever. To be front-row, watching Alfred do his thing poking cables in and out of his Eurorack modular synthesizer and be able to create this journey and, should the tune move in a certain way to be able control the oscillators to generate a continuous sound… well, I cannot explain it in words, but I filmed it on my iPhone and the link is here. Grab the tissues and enjoy.
The headliner was Leila. a London-Iranian artist who toured with Bjork in the early days and has made a name for herself from live-mixing. We got a lot of that of course, though I think everyone was still recovering from Daedelus and to be honest, no matter how great a set Leila did, and it seemed to be pretty good, nothing could come close to what we had just witnessed from Alfred Darlington aka Daedelus. I felt guilty, listening to Leila’s outstanding skill at live-mixing, but thinking to myself, yeah but it’s not as good. In hindsight, Daedelus probably should have been the headliner but… who knew! Again, on paper. Leila is probably the better known artist, but at the end of the day, it was Daedelus who stole the show. I never thought I would see the Pixies usurped by a young man from California sticking cables into a Eurorack in a church in Covent Garden as the best gig of my life. There you go. Life is full of surprises.
Thank you, Bit-Phalanx et al, for bringing electronic joy to the masses yet again.