Warp20, The Coronet, London
Monday 14 December 2009
Sheffield's Warp label has come a long way since its modest beginnings.
Co-founded by Steve Beckett and Rob Mitchell (who died in 2001) it was forged out of the northern industrial landscape in 1989 and has since become home to an eclectic, prototypal body of music and film that defies conventional genres. I still recall as a teenager the nervy experience of walking past the shop on Sheffield's Division Street, hearing the apocalyptic sound of Sweet Exorcist's "Testone" and wondering from which direction the Four Horsemen would be coming.
This year the label has commemorated a roster of pioneering artists from the last two decades by hosting a series of events around the globe. Headlining the final leg in London were New York's much revered avant-rock outfit Battles joined by Broadcast, Nice Nice, Flying Lotus, Mira Callix, Plaid, Rustie and Warp's finest DJs.
Broadcast's unique handfasting of esoteric knob-twiddling and ethereal vocals began with a score to accompany the Julian House short film Winter Sun Wavelengths. Stark, monochromatic expressions of electromagnetic frequencies contrasted with barren winter trees. The correlation of seraphic vocals and a minimalist aesthetic was spookily dramatic. A ritual drum beat and the primitive rhythm intensified, the end result vibrating and disorientating with an air of menace.
The darkly lit scene in the second room was vaguely reminiscent of old-style rave clubs from the 1980s, with its low ceilings, and tightly packed-in bodies. I caught an innovative set from DJ Capracara followed by Nightmares on Wax. Portland duo Nice Nice delivered a compelling performance, incorporating elements of punk and krautrock into an experimental sound which was well received by the capacity crowd.
Then came the much-anticipated headliners Battles. They did not disappoint, with a high-precision, kinetic set. Fusional modern rock with deconstructed proggy inflections anchors their sound. As well as songs from their debut album, Mirrored, we were treated to newer, raw material; but still "Atlas" received the biggest cheer.
Seeing Battles live is key to breaking down the complexities of their stylistic approach. I was struck by how each intricately produced sound consummately blended to form a dynamic overall experience. John Stainer's timing and accomplished drumming was faultless.
Festivities for the 3,000-strong continued with stellar turns from Flying Lotus, Plaid and Rustie. Happy Birthday Warp; here's to the next 20 years.
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