You have to wonder whether Amon Tobin's first 'ISAM' set was halted mid-way through its construction, to leave enough visual and artistic slack to be snapped tight for its 2.0 re-invention. The original live set was half the size of what stands on stage tonight; in retrospect the first round of shows seem somewhat unremarkable, equivalent to a prepubescent "before" photo taken prior to a long dependence on steroids and psychedelics. What tonight offers is the only chance to witness this new live project in London, and the opportunity to see a musician, known for breaking boundaries with unshakable beauty and conviction, at his most spectacular.
Outside the venue a long queue of people snakes through a coiled set of metal barriers, pestered by a fine misty drizzle which has blanketed their journey as well as the long wait to reach the entrance. Excited chatter grows louder as the Hammersmith Apollo flows with an air of expectant wonder, anticipation built from bootleg footage from past shows and suspenseful promotional teasers have given everyone a glimpse - feeding the hopeful assumption that something this rare must be worth it.
In support is Actress, who performs a beautiful and slow moving ambient set, sprinkled with drum samples and eerie field recordings. The Werkdiscs label co-founder runs a strange line between performance and atmosphere creator, chosen to stoke the imagination of everyone in the audience. Once he finishes we’re left to soak up further ambiance from the speakers, which bellow a compilation of dusty samples concerning space exploration, interviews with scientists and various oddities squeezed in among unsettling moments from ‘The Shining’ soundtrack. After almost an hour the lights fade out, crossing paths with the crowd’s jubilant cheers as they erupt to the rising stage curtain, revealing a contorted cubed structure doused in futuristic glow.
'Journeyman’ creeps as projectors smear drifting wisps of smoke and pulsating electric currents across the surface of the fragmented architecture. As the rectangular frame heaves with colour, mechanical gears and wires dissipate and make way for a vast spaceship navigating an imagined corner of the universe. The 'ISAM' album is used as a template for the visuals to build upon, an added texture which resonates with the waves of energy and swirling robotic machines. The highest points are when Amon digs out re-worked versions of classics such as ‘Slowly’, which work amazingly well up against the now, far more organic, backdrop.
Another set plus an encore follow an extensively original showcase of abstract, textured music and a stunningly well designed visual show. Occasionally Amon can be seen feverishly sculpting the direction of the show from within the structure, dressed in a spacesuit, deep in concentration. For all the wonderment which the show brings, it seems as though people are caught up in the awkward etiquette of watching an artistic showcase, rather than dancing. When the Brazilian emerges to take a bow, he looks humbled and genuinely appreciative that he can present something never created before. Breakcore blasts for his final occupation of the structure, which seems to wash away everyone’s hesitation to let themselves go, and just for a few minutes people actually forget there’s anything there at all.
Words by Charlie Wood
Photos by Matt Wash