Squarepusher - Live At Hackney Empire, London

Otherworldly, schizophrenic electronic brilliance

Reports and rumours of Squarepusher’s new grandiose light show spectacular promised big things, and although Tom Jenkinson’s musical chops are unarguably second-to-none – proved by almost two decades of wholly leftfield electronica-rave-jazz business – it remained to be seen how, or if, he could translate his genius to a visual context.

Tonight was largely a showcase for new album ‘Ufabulum’, a return to Jenkinson’s electronic roots after the hallucinatory jazz-punk-funk of ‘Just a Souvenir’ and the self-explanatory ‘Solo Electric Bass 1’, and perhaps as a salute to his rekindled love for high-end technology, Jenkinson had spent months creating the LED show of allegedly epic proportions.

Did he pull it off? Of course he did. It’s hard to imagine how just LEDs can create such a spectacle, but when you’ve got thousands of them as a backdrop, lining the stage, on the front of your setup and whizzing across the screen of a futuristic welder’s helmet that you’re wearing, it does the job. The result was an engulfing visual journey into something not too dissimilar to the ‘Tron’ universe, soundtracked by Jenkinson’s suitably otherworldly, schizophrenic electronic brilliance.

Thanks partly to said helmet and partly due to the whole “spaceship powering your lighting rig” approach, the words Daft and Punk were resonating around many a head, but whether Jenkinson used the duo as inspiration or not simply wasn’t relevant: this was the Squarepusher show, plain and simple

Each track was given a kind of visual theme, with the lights providing unique and thoughtfully crafted patterns and pictures to complement the atmosphere of each track. Incredible stuff, and something that genuinely added another dimension to ‘Ufabulum’.

The tracks themselves sounded huge, crisp and satisfying, with Jenkinson twisting, morphing and occasionally mangling elements, ensuring that what we heard was light-years from just a flat, carbon copy of the album. The retro-futurist glorious space rave of ‘4001’ sounded great, as did the dark, acidic behemoth of ‘Dark Steering’, the chugging melodic bleeps of ‘Unreal Square’ and pretty much every track he played.

The final part of the show saw Jenkinson break out his trademark bass and, well, go wild. Again, the lights were wired up to react to the bass frequencies, adding an interesting visual element to the galaxy of bass sounds being produced. As always, the playing was ridiculously accomplished, but it was never really going to be anything else. You could argue that it went on for a touch too long, but then it really depends on your level of love for Squarepusher’s bass skills – if you’re an aficionado of Jenkinson’s finger-blurring, mind-melting fret techniques then you’ll have been drooling on the floor for the whole thing, but if ‘Come On My Selector’ is the height of your Squarepusher appreciation, then it may have seemed a bit much. But damn, can that chap play the bass.

For an encore, the worlds of bass wizardry and electronics were combined in ‘Journey to Reedham’, an old school Squarepusher favourite for many, which provoked a massive cheer. Jenkinson played live bass throughout the track, adding further depth to the vast wall of manic rhythms and beautiful glitched melodies. Outstanding.

Another delightful victory for Tom Jenkinson, then, in a visual and audio feast that gave pretty much every other so-called AV show of recent times a thorough kicking.

 

Words by Tristan Parker

Photos by Marc Sethi

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