Pop: It's just a stage...

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The Independent Culture

ONE OF the difficulties faced by dance acts these days is in making a gig feel like a gig. Despite the fact that anyone who uses samplers, sequencers and a mixing desk barely constitutes a "live" act, dance outfits such as Orbital, Underworld and the Chemical Brothers have been quick to assert their place in the live arena.

Heaven forbid that we might mistake them for mere DJs. But the lot of a DJ isn't such a bad one. If you are, say, Fatboy Slim, all that is expected of you is to play records and do some fancy scratching to keep the punters amused. You can rest assured that several hundred gallons of lager will do the rest.

The Chemical Brothers show, on the other hand, involves a "performance" of a recording studio session and requires the duo to bury themselves in a hefty amount of equipment. As a result their set is a largely audio- visual experience best suited to a club or a muddy field.

A matrix of screens flickered with images that ranged from entertaining (a picture of Jesus shaking his rump) to downright cheesy (a tropical sunset for the ambient numbers). Rotating spotlights and strobes flashed, deliberately disorientating the crowd, while their clunking beats, juddering basslines and squelchy synthesisers threatened to reduce your ribcage to a pile of dust.

As the etiolated Tim Rowlands crouched over his equipment and rocked back and forth on his heels, his partner Ed Simons darted around the stage adjusting frequencies and flicking switches. Apart from a few rallying hand gestures, there was no communication with the audience.

Excerpts from their new album Surrender showed that the Brothers have grown tired of the blustering drum loops that have since become known as Big Beat. "Out Of Control" was an acid house-tinged track with vocals provided by New Order's Bernard Sumner and Primal Scream's Bobby Gillespie (not live, of course) while "Hey Boy, Hey Girl" echoed the bleepy techno of Daft Punk, a welcome return to their riotously silly early days.

Ironically enough, The Chemical Brothers actually started life as a DJ pairing and made their name at the Heavenly Social as they persuaded clubbers to dance to the Beatles as well as Eric B & Rakim. Indeed, as club DJs, the Chemical Brothers are virtually unsurpassed but as a live show, they have set themselves a near impossible task.

Fiona Sturges