Music: Come on, feel the Warp factor

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The Independent Culture
"CAN YOU dance at the South Bank?" read an opening stage projection. The answer in the Queen Elizabeth Hall on Saturday night, for Warp Records' Meltdown line-up, was most definitely "No". This was a four-hour sit-down affair; a real treat for fans and a test of endurance for everyone else.

John Peel shuffled on to introduce the opening concert of this year's musical festival at the South Bank, which he has directed. And his promise that the programme would not interfere with the World Cup was honoured by a giant TV screen in the foyer which relayed the Holland v South Korea match before the concert began.

First on were Plone. The curtains pulled back to reveal a raised rostrum covered with keyboards, a tangle of wires and paraphernalia: an altar to techno. The three humans in the centre of all this seemed oblivious to the voyeurs out front: they tinkered away as if in the privacy of a studio.

The sounds that came out began lazily, evoking a desolate fairground, with the odd desultory puff of dry ice adding a touch of visual relief. Birds twittered; the mood changed to that of a country walk, cheesily cheerful but with an overlay of sharper, swirling noises, nasal vibrations and sound effects like those that accompany cartoons. But the high-pitched components were painfully piercing, and the light beams shone on the audience blinding - eyeshades and earplugs would have softened the assault.

Broadcast followed (a five-piece, experimental guitar band), against a video projection of swimmers filmed with an underwater camera, and played a strong, passionate set. Often described as retro-futurists, acknowledging both Serge Gainsbourg and electronic abstract musicians as influences, Broadcast have come a long way in the past couple of years, with a fuller, more confident sound.

The Manchester duo Autechre dragged the audience back into the studio, hunched over their machinery in pitch darkness with small torches to light their way. Autechre describe their music as amorphous and instinctual; pushing the boundaries of experimentation. But the intense, abstract electronic sounds they produced were so loud as to be alienating - unlike the more soothing, free-form style of their recordings. The evening finished on an upbeat note with Plaid (stage lights, slide show, vocals and guitar): music crammed with squeaks, scratches, beats, trills, intricate rhythms and crashing metal. The cumulative effect of so many hours of disparate ear-battering made you appreciate the joys of silence.

Meltdown continues to 5 July. For information and booking, call 0171- 960 4242