This week Rough Trade East and Bowers & Wilkins hosted a triple bill of DJ sets from Mute labelmates on a wet December evening.
Founded in 1978 in the wake of punk, Mute was one of the first British labels to show that you didn't need a massive corporation behind you, their DIY aesthetic arriving abruptly with The Normal's 'Warm Leatherette / T.V.O.D.' 7", a single inspired by J.G. Ballard's controversial novel. The Normal's solitary single was an electronic blow to the head, fusing grainy synths that belonged on a Suicide record with the motorik groove of Can and detached, wry vocals. Mute would go on to become one of the most successful UK indies alongside Rough Trade and 4AD, with artists like Nick Cave, Depeche Mode and Moby calling the label home, those big-ticket artists sitting alongside a plethora of cult and obscure acts that fired the imagination and challenged musical boundaries.
Daniel Miller, the man behind The Normal and the founder of Mute, played a set that fused retro electronica with minimal techno, along the way taking the opportunity to throw in a few gems from the Mute back catalogue like 'Back To Nature' by Fad Gadget, 'Join in the Chant' by Nitzer Ebb and 'Behind The Wheel' by Depeche Mode, as well as 'Sun Flight' from his Silicon Teens album. Miller was followed by Patrick O'Neill, who runs Liberation Technologies, a sort-of Mute sub-label focussed on underground dance music. O'Neill was standing in for Tom Cohen from goth-rockers S.C.U.M who couldn't make the event, and his set was dominated by alternately noisy and clinically precise industrial techno full of punishing beats and beautifully ear-bothering sounds, at the same time showcasing some of Liberation Technologies' 2013 releases. The final set came from James Chapman, better known as electronic producer Maps, who is on the cusp of releasing his third album via Mute. Chapman's set was a strange stew of funky sounds mixed with more laid back beats, at times moving toward a sort of electronic sci-fi theme music and at others toward a hypnotic Kompakt-style disco-pop.
2012 has been a really strong year for Mute, following a recent return to independence after being owned by EMI. On the strength of the new material played out this evening, 2013 could be another very interesting year for the label.
Words by Mat Smith
Photos by Andy Sturmey