Sunday, 1 July 2012

Demdike Stare / N. Racker / Andy Votel - Kraak, Manchester 30th June 2012

The Kraak Gallery is situated in the remains of a former textile cutting room and is located in Stevenson Square on the fringes of Manchester's Northern Quarter. We were kindly shown around the gallery space which is used mainly for short-term exhibitions but also doubles as a film and photography studio. The fully licensed music venue is situated just across the narrow alleyway and frequently hosts underground club nights. Kraak's website gives more information about forthcoming events, exhibitions and details regarding the hire of either of the spaces.

Before the event, I tried to find out more about N. Racker on the web but discovered he has virtually no online profile. I suspect this may change now that he is part of the tiny Pre-Cert Home Entertainment roster, particularly after his performance tonight. He sits at the front of the stage surrounded by several wooden boxes topped with stretched wires, studded with nails and other strange attachments. He also has a compact, antique keyboard and a tray of effects to hand. He works at the stringed boxes with a tiny hand fan to produce a series of jagged drones which he then manipulates with a variety of effects. He also creates loops in real time and peppers them with percussive elements. His female collaborator adds subtle wisps of flute, voice and additional textures using a small bellows-driven organ. The music he and his partner create is a kind of organic, almost folksy experimentalism using seemingly home-made and acoustic instruments. His debut release should be an interesting proposition and one to look out for.

It's no secret that I'm a huge fan of Demdike Stare, ever since discovering 2010's Liberation Through Hearing I have since picked up everything that bears their name. It was hard to envisage how their enigmatic music would translate in a live setting though, wouldn't they just be two guys partially obscured by monitors? Miles Whittaker and Sean Canty do indeed sit motionless behind their computers as they direct a swelling rumble of eerie, billowing bass-heavy drones flecked with all manner of arcane audio ephemera. The wall behind them fills with blown out footage of a sunrise which flickers with VHS tracking artefacts. An ominous veil gradually descends as the projected footage changes from images of psychedelic fantasy to scenes depicting occult happenings and satanic ritual. Quivering bass tremors are draped with hypnotic chants, disintegrating loops and electro-static pulses as dense beats emerge from the inky blackness of sound. At this point in the proceedings I become aware of the audience surrounding me; lost in some kind of esoteric reverie, willing participants in a sonic black mass which is being conducted by two high priests channeling their eldritch anti-god via laptops. The music and back projections combine perfectly to form a complete stylistic synthesis and maintain the heightened sense of sensory disorientation and unease throughout the entire performance. After an hour of sustained tension both musically and visually, the creeping dread gradually recedes and the assembled group is left in a state of physical and mental release, as if snapped out of a collective fugue state and back into harsh reality.

On record, Miles and Sean are absolutely at the very top of their game after a period of intense creativity which resulted in the release of their recent four part Elemental series. They handle their source materials meticulously and seamlessly blend these found sounds with their own expansive constructs which makes for a totally immersive listening experience. In this intimate live setting however, they manage to develop and expand their singular vision into new areas, attaining heights I haven't witnessed in a very long time. 

Finders Keepers' Andy Votel is a prolific collector of records and tonight he spends several hours between sets playing a tiny selection culled from his impressive assemblage. My interest is generally not piqued whilst listening to someone mixing together a straight sequence of tracks I'm already familiar with, but this is a different matter altogether. Votel's choice of music for the evening is quite simply mesmerising. There are many extracts which sound as if they are pulled from long out of print soundtrack albums, forgotten library music, prog and psyche rock guitars, free jazz freakouts, electroacoustic and early electronic experiments, dilapidated drum breaks, musique concrète textures and absolutely everything in between. This is a man who obviously doesn't view the accumulation of obscure records in a fetishistic sense as is sometimes the case with vinyl obsessives, he clearly loves the music contained within the grooves and fully understands how tracks work together both on a musical and an emotional level. To spend several hours listening to a DJ playing such amazing music without knowing a single track, but still being totally transfixed is a testament to Andy Votel's passion for, and knowledge of these obscure recordings.

A cassette tape was prepared especially for this event and features a side each by N. Racker and Tarnation Rooks which, as Sean Canty told me earlier in the evening was actually the work of Andy Votel. The tape is housed in an oversized cartridge case with beautiful artwork printed on a sheet of acetate. I'm not sure if this will be available anywhere else but comes very highly recommended if you can track down a copy.

An incredible evening of astonishing music accompanied by stunning visuals.

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