Arts: There's no feeling like a lo-fi feeling
Nothing much to do this weekend? Then why not attend the LaBradford Festival of Drifting
Thursday 24 September 1998
But away from the pop mainstream - and partly in response to the current conservatism of most rock - an innovative and self-contained scene has flourished. Described variously as "Post-Ambient", "Math-Rock" or most commonly "Post-Rock", this wave of new bands has successfully fused together the folk-like melancholy of the do-it-yourself lo-fi scene with the experiments in sound and structure of Krautrock bands from the Seventies such as Kraftwerk and Faust. This is music in which Morricone guitars and Mariachi trumpets swell over waves of analogue electronic sound and off-kilter rhythms.
The LaBradford First Annual Festival of Drifting is an ambitious attempt to link the disparate threads that make up this genre. Revolving around American three-piece LaBradford (formed in Virginia in 1992), it attempts to plot their musical influences, from early pioneers such as Bruce Gilbert of Wire and Brian Eno, through Eighties sonic industrialists The Durutti Column to techno-minimalists Pan Sonic and LaBradford themselves.
The choice of acts acknowledges the debt that this current crop of bands (a roster that includes Ui, Mogwai, Tortoise, Stereolab, Aerial M and Add N To X) owe to the musical past. Elements of their sound can be heard not only in Krautrock, but also in the politicised white funk of The Pop Group and Gang of Four, the atonalism of free jazz, the recent acidic drones of Spacemen 3 and Spectrum and the faceless futurism of early techno. Understandably, the wilful obscurantism of these artists has done little to encourage the casual listener to explore the music. Where's the incentive, when much of the work might easily double as an agent of sensory deprivation?
The turning point came in 1996 with the release of Tortoise's epiphanic album Millions Now Living Will Never Die. This album finally crystallised a vast number of musical threads into one listenable unit.
In the same year, LaBradford's eponymous third album was released, further illustrating that the urge to experiment can be something innocent and playful, rather than po-faced and earnest. Last year's follow up, Mi Media Naranja, was similarly laden with pulsating Moogs, echoing drums and whispered vocals. However, the addition of a string section had given the songs much greater variation and rendered the band surprisingly easy to listen to. As bassist Robert Donne said recently: "We don't try and make records that are difficult, but I think it's true to say that they aren't obvious and you do have to make some effort with them."
Ideally, this festival could prove to be the point where Post-Rock achieves a wider audience. Anyone with a taste for music which is melancholy without being maudlin, experimental without being indulgent and intelligent without being elitist, will be well catered for.
The LaBradford First Annual Festival of Drifting takes place at the South Bank Centre from 24 Sept-4 Oct. LaBradford appear on 25 September. Call 0171-960 4242 for further details
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