Coldcut, Shepherd's Bush Empire, London <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

A prime slice of dance wizardry
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It is dance music's perennial quandary: how do a couple of geeky studio whizzes transfer their music into a live-performance context? The instrument-free set-up - a cinema-sized screen above a stage full of laptops, consoles, samplers, effects boxes and turntables, sprouting hundreds of knotted wires - emphasises the conundrum.

But this is Jonathan More and Matt Black, aka Coldcut, the duo that created their own software, VJamm, to enable the mixing and manipulation of sound and visuals together in perfect synchronicity. Coldcut don't do gigs but audio-visual spectaculars, and this is why this date - promoting the duo's first LP in nine years, the well-received Sound Mirrors - is sold out.

The spellbinding ambient electronica of "A Whistle and a Prayer" and the South Park-style animation of a bunny playing a guitar captures the audience's attention. It morphs into chugging house that in turn becomes a thrilling example of Coldcut's defining cut'n'paste production style and ability to craft meaningful, coherent songs from a kaleidoscope of incongruous samples.

"Beats and Pieces" incorporates The Jungle Book, a T.Rex interview, Jimi Hendrix on guitar, a dancing C3P0 and Bruce Forsyth, among others, all of whom appear on screen. The highlight is Marc Bolan's words being visually and aurally scratched.

Furious jungle beats up the ante, before Coldcut mix in dusty film-footage of high-kicking cancan girls meshed with a drummer going hell for leather, poking fun at dance music's po-faced tendencies. The audience erupts with laughter.

Stomach-churning drum'n'bass, laced with words from Tony Blair - "The lunatics are taking over" - darkens the mood. It's also a visual tirade against the war in Iraq, rampant consumerism and oil-guzzling cars, with subversions of Budweiser, Marlboro and Nike logos. The turbulent soundtrack seems to represent the instability wrought by Bush and Blair's folly, before Coldcut deliver the knock-out blow: a clip of John Prescott asking, "What a powerful video, eh?"

The glitch-folk of "Man in a Garage", performed by John Matthias, acts as a breather before the house vocalist Robert Owens takes to the stage for a heartfelt rendition of "Walk a Mile in My Shoes". Its spiritually uplifting message, reinforced by the singer's pained expression, resonates in stark contrast to the hollow musings of most house music lyrics, perhaps because of the show's politicised undercurrent.

The up-and-coming singer Mpho Skeef leads a cover of the 1989 pop-house hit "People Hold On" (originally sung by Lisa Stansfield), reminding us of Coldcut's early incarnation as the UK producers who first captured dance music's emergence and seared it on to national consciousness with songs such as Yazz's "The Only Way Is Up" (a UK No 1 for five weeks in 1988).

Skeef's rich voice, propelled by tribal rhythms and a throbbing bassline, makes "This Island Earth" a powerful, optimistic manifesto. Roots Manuva then takes to the stage for the dramatic Eastern soundscapes of "True Skool", as an elaborate dance routine from a Seventies Bollywood movie plays overhead.

It recalls Coldcut's 1987 remix of Eric B & Rakim's "Paid in Full", an arresting culture clash between tough New York rap and mesmerising Israeli pop. "Paid in Full" serves as Coldcut's encore, with Roots Manuva, Mike Ladd and Juice Aleem entering into a four-way rap relay with an on-screen Rakim.

The rap-rock cacophony of "Everything Is Under Control", led by Mike Ladd, closes the show. Poignantly, neither Black or More step into the spotlight to bask in the audience's adulation. Coldcut are one-offs, comfortable operating in the shadows, like the ninjas that became the motif of their Ninja Tune record label. They are the only act to emerge from the dance music revolution to have stuck to its counter-culture ideals, and they have yet to compromise.

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