Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Robert DeLong at the Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen, 30th April 2013

The one man band exists in a strange musical category.  The first image it brings to mind is a Mary Poppins style oom-pah guy in the park with castanets between his knees and a bass drum on his back.  Perhaps because of images like these there’s always been a strong focus on the performative and physical aspect of this type of artist - it's almost like a circus act - keeping a stage full of spinning plates upright.  

In the last few years I’ve seen some very good solo artists constructing dreamy soundscapes - sitting with a guitar and some effects pedals looping layers one of top of the other until they make an overwhelming wall of sound. Robert DeLong takest this process to its logical conclusion.  He takes the stage surrounded by a plethora of synths, laptops, drums and videogame controllers. My first impression was that he looked a little dwarfed by the equipment, the complexity looking like it’d inevitably suck any sense of spontaneity from the music.  Yet in about 2 minutes he mixed up a sonic assault of such effectiveness that it literally took me off my feet (because I was bouncing around like a happy idiot).

He starts small, singing in a clear voice with no accompaniment.  Yet, with a raspy twist of percussion and a few buttons tapped on the consoles surrounding him, he builds up a steady melody before an enormous drop into a bonkers, heavy house beat.  I’m a total sucker for a big drop and throughout his set DeLong provides some crackers.  

He plays his biggest song second, the excellent Global Concepts.  It’s a killer tune, the clear, enunciated vocals combining with the mixed percussion to create an airy, chilled out atmosphere.  The lyrics ask questions: “Did I make money, was I proud? Did I play my songs too loud? Did I leave my life to chance?”.  Subconsciously you get prepared for a bit of introverted soul searching, and then BAM - he follows it up with “Or did I make you FUCKING DANCE?”.  Then it drops into a junkyard synth-bassy, rolling rhythm.  Urgh, just pipe it straight to my veins!

There are big drops like these throughout the gig, and even though he flits between dubstep, house, electronica and drum n’ bass his steady voice gives the music a consistency.  DeLong is an impressive varied performer, judging by his stage presence I’d hazard a guess his musical origins are as a drummer.  There’s a full drum kit on stage that he furiously plays a live DnB beat on, his drumsticks a blur, sweat flying off him in all directions.  He seems to apply the same percussion skills to the majority of his equipment, beating the crap out of various synthesiser pads and individual drums throughout the set.

On stage he scampers around between the various pieces of equipment, getting increasingly sweaty and gurning impressively.  Sometimes he’s jumping around on top of a stool screaming, bent double at the back of the stage yelling into two microphones, or jumping around triumphantly with a fist in the air.  At moments like this my earlier fears of him being dwarfed by the equipment around him seem ridiculous.  He plays the crowd well, trying his best to work us up into a fever, singing passionately at the lip of the stage like an old-time preacher, but rather than a Bible gripped in his paw, he holds a Wiimote aloft.

One of DeLong’s most identifiable features is that he uses videogame controllers as instruments in his set.  He looks pretty cool waving a Wiimote about like some kind of ad hoc theremin, although to be frank it’s difficult to tell exactly what musical effect that has.  Far more effective is the big, retro joystick bolted onto the side of his set-up.  As another big drop hits he wiggles and waggles it, distorting the dubsteppy wubs.  This adds a great physical component to the performance - another musician might play with a KAOS pad onstage to get the same effect, but that’s not very visually exciting - when DeLong jerks the joystick about it allows us to see digital, music constructed with the artist’s physical, analogue movements.  And naturally, it makes you want to (fucking) dance.

I don’t think there’s much more that DeLong could have to make me like him more, and I find it impossible to think of any serious criticism I could make of his performance last night.   This is his first time in London, but I’d love to see him play a larger scale show on a bigger stage with a more lively crowd.  Songs like Global Concepts are begging for a horde of drunken, sweaty people to start going absolutely bananas at the drop.  He’s playing KOKO in Camden on Friday night - go and check him out.  I’m tempted to go again myself.  He’s a one man sonic assault force.  Loved it.

Robert DeLong is playing KOKO on Friday 3rd May - tickets are £7 inc booking fees.  That’s an absolute steal.

Thanks to Rosie Dimont for my ticket last night.

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