Review from the interloper: GLITCHMOB

24 Mar

Last Wednesday I was treated to a one part concert, two parts cultural revelation: my very first “EDM” show, featuring Glitchmob.

Photo by Clint Kobeska

 

For those as in the dark about how these shows work as I was a week ago, there were three panels with colored touch screens directed at the audience apparently unnumbered knobs and controls that only they could see and a number of over-sized lighted bass drums of different sizes. The music was consistently high octane with a heavy dance beat supplied alternately from live percussion on the bass drums and recorded loops. The music was interesting and fun to dance to, with an easy beat to follow with the body, with many sampled layers from women’s voices to unidentifiable rhythms that were tied together by melodies played on the lighted touch panels facing the audience.

It was clear, though, that this was not like any live performances I’d been to before. My first instinct was to be less than impressed. While the music was complicated, the complex parts were not what was being created live but mixed together on the panels. I don’t have the kind of ear to be able to tell how long the samples were and how much was automated, but I could see clearly which parts were actively performed, mainly the drums (though there were more drum tracks than what was being performed—not sure if that was looped during the performance or prerecorded) and the melodies played on the lighted touch pads. The melodies that were being performed worked as the top melody to all the mixed layers, but weren’t complicated. A talented middle-schooler with decent rhythm could learn the repetitive 10-20 note melodies and perform them with a few days practice. The drums were also fairly basic rhythms. That is not to say I thought it took no advanced talent to produce what I was hearing: the compositions, though made from prerecorded tracks and “samples” from musicians not in the band, were multilayered, well tied together, and fun. What I was hearing was complicated and dynamic enough to keep my interest and definitely catchy enough to make me want to move, but what I was seeing performed was repetitive and intermediate. I couldn’t help wonder, why perform live at all?

Part of live performance for me is the marvel. I love to marvel at what is being created for me and to listen both to each moving line of music and the ensemble as a whole, whether it be a 4-5 piece band or an orchestra. To think that that movement of arm, that strain of vocal chords, that deftness of finger create the mosaic that I can hear creates that feeling of the marvelous for me, and the fact that the most intricate part of the music Glitchmob was playing was hidden or from me nearly spoiled it for me.

That’s about when I stopped watching the band and started watching the crowd.

Photo by Clint Kobeska

The crowd was a fabulous mix for people watching, a rag tag group of hangovers from the sixties and nineties. The fashion was fascinating: furry raver boots, draped skirts with Asian inspired fabric, asymmetrical haircuts galore, and more than one LED lit piercing. Even the Capitol would have to break out all the stops to gather a more colorful crowd. It was also a very happy crowd, dancing and hula-hooping and responding enthusiastically to each increase in tempo, each swoop of volume, each fist thrusting move of the three musicians on stage. That’s when I understood the appeal. The musicians were as responsive to the crowd as the crowd was to them, almost making it a collaborative effort to sustain the energy and synchronicity of the whole experience.

There are few dance clubs that frequently feature live DJs and mix artists in Memphis, and even if there were more, it would probably still be an alien experience for me if for no other reason than I am remarkably out of touch when it comes to contemporary music trends and the “new” genres. But it can be a unique pleasure to an interloper and, with as an open mind as possible, examine the appeal of an art. And with this music, I only really got it when I took in the whole picture of the live show.

I think I still prefer the type of performance were all sounds are produced live with instruments, but I’m glad to have a better understanding of this culture now, far too prevalent to fairly be called a “subculture.”

I hope I get more chances to be the interloper.

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