Pop: Rhythmic rumpus

Pop: Propellerheads

Astoria, London WC1

Is it deep-rooted insecurity, or the result of "knob-twiddling" gags? Why are dance musicians so keen to prove that they can play "real" instruments? Isn't the point of samplers and sequencers that you can make all these sounds, and more, at the push of a button?

There is a handful of DJs who pursue separate, more guitar-oriented projects to great effect - notably Richard Fearless with Death In Vegas and Jon Carter with Monkey Mafia. But others spread themselves rather thin in their pursuit of what are seemingly hobbies. Rapper Coolio may be partial to a spot of golf, but he doesn't start teeing off half-way through a gig.

As for the Propellerheads, it is as if they are trying a little too hard to adhere to the title of their album, Decksandrumsandrockandroll. Like kids who want to play with everything at once, Alex Gifford and Will White move around the stage twanging, clanging and banging instruments, but to no audible effect.

But when they leave their props alone, their rhythmic rumpus has the crowd bouncing up and down in approval. As they launch into the eerie vibrations of "Take California", the Bath twosome adopt the obligatory hands-on and heads down approach. Their employment of banal samples amid (sampled) rock riffs and early acid electronica is impeccable and infectiously funny.

But as performers, Gifford and White seem strangely at odds with the lounge-lizard ambience of their tracks. When the hip-swinging, cocktail- shaking, swaggering beats of On Her Majesty's Secret Service and Spybreak are brought in, there is no hint of humour in their delivery. The crowd call for Shirley - a reference to "History Repeating", sung with fantastic ferocity by Shirley Bassey. But there is no Shirley, so the Jungle Brothers are wheeled out instead. These slapstick rappers show up the Propellerheads' lethargy. There is lots of shouting, bouncing and "everybody say eh-oh"s, and when they exit after two tracks it is as if the life and soul have left the party.

In their determination not to be upstaged, the Propellerheads turn up the bassline and pick up the tempo with the kitsch "Velvet Pants", accompanied by a delightfully revolting loop of a man adjusting his baggy Y-fronts. But the Jungle Brothers have already stolen the show. If the Propellerheads would just put away their extemporaneous instruments and attach propellers to their heads, it would all be perfect.

Fiona Sturges

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