Old templates, new possibilities

The Experimental Pop Band/Schneider Tm/To Rococo Rot | Queen Elizabeth Hall, London
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The Independent Culture

This opening night of Communication, the South Bank celebration of German indie label City Slang's 10 years of existence - with gigs by the likes of Lambchop and the Flaming Lips to follow - is ample testament to the open-minded spirit that makes the imprint special. Disparate on paper, tonight's bands share a desire to fuse technology's possibilities with pop's traditional, enlivening virtues.

With two German electronica acts to follow, it is Bristol's the Experimental Pop Band who look the oddest ones out. They bound on stage with all the vigour of last year's début album, Homesick, and perform to Seventies pulp images - trash paperbacks, pre-Lib "chicks" - which partially sum up their ironised world of erotic exotica. Dress is Nineties casual, and singer Davey Woodward's Jaggeresque strut leans them uncomfortably close to Loaded lad culture. But they're far more ambiguous in their manipulation of archaic jet-set and rebel modes, shrugging flatly at sex, violence and drugs. Woodward's background as a DJ, meanwhile, is apparent in the swiftly switching sound - Sixties Mod, Free Jazz breakdown, big dance beats - produced as he hunches over samplers at one side of the stage while the bassist stands alone at the other, a disjunction that bothers no one. It's one sort of new pop.

Schneider TM's leader, Dirk Dresselhaus, as an ex-rock drummer turned electronic auteur, begins from the opposite direction but achieves a similar synthesis. A tall blond who jerks, bounds and even points à la Travolta to his music's rhythms, he couldn't be further from faceless machine-pop. We're left in no doubt when he sings the Smiths' "There Is a Light That Never Goes Out" in a sacrilegious croak, drained of all emotion except electro-prankster pleasure, its "driving in my car..." lyric suiting its remodelling as a broken-up, motorik classic. This sense of fun doesn't stop him finishing with a dense electronic suite, hissing sheets of simulated rain combining with dropped frequencies and tight loops.

To Rococo Rot push that organic synthesis to its limit. They make disjunctive use of old rock forms. They, too, have a guitarist isolated stage-right, while the beats of a traditional drummer interlock awkwardly with sampled rhythms - the very idea of a drummer being sampled leaves us unclear whether what we're hearing is "live". A synth is stroked so lovingly, it's as if it's being conducted, and this masterfully assembled set does resemble some sort of symphony. Its climax hits a frequency that plucks your inner ear almost painfully, machines being used to play with bodies as the sound thickens and the beat submerges under urgent, insectoid chatter, finally coalescing into beautiful, melodic fragments.

The full house has been taken into the new musical century in three quick steps. By their cheers at the end, it seems the further they go, the more they like what they hear.

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