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Live Review: Pantha du Prince at Sneaky Pete’s, Edinburgh

When you are served one of the best live experiences from an artist, your expectations are only ever going to be high the next time you see them. Recalling the first time I saw Pantha du Prince is like remembering a blissful dream: hazy and half-remembered at points but a realistic lucid experience that lingers around your mind long after you have woken up. And because Pantha du Prince was billed as the supporting act back March, it also raised my expectations for the support act for this night – Brothers Grimm.

In terms of setup, this gig wasn’t exactly like the Four Tet headlining one back in March. I couldn’t help but notice the presence of microphones set at head height implying vocals were likely to be present in the set. The venue itself is also a much narrower affair compared to The Bongo Club and since my last visit to Sneaky Pete’s (or perhaps just for the Festival crowd massing in Edinburgh currently) the stage itself is more definable and higher. But still the crowd can get as near as ever, allowing them to get a full view of the decks the artists were using.

Amidst various pedals, keyboards and wires were three MacBooks: one for each member of Brothers Grimm. Together they stood bent over the tables in front of them, forming ferocious loops and dropping beats when it all fused together to give more momentum (and something to dance to). It recalled the style of Fuck Buttons and the comparison only went further when you put your attention to the video playing behind them. I always just assumed it was just an exaggerated internet fad that “hipsters” have but between the looping clips of Total Recall and Predator, the audience were greeted with a selection of twirling, spinning and generally frivolously moving triangles. Sure enough, you can let it pass when you see it now and again – Daft Punk’s live pyramid, the cover of Street Horrsing – but when a band who’s actually putting out some good tunes just fall straight into the cliché you can’t help but be a little saddened. I mean, at the very least, try another shape – what’s wrong with an octagon?

Nonetheless, the trio did have some good tunes to offer as said above. At the best of times it all came together in a mildly hypnotic manner and was great to sway about to in the low lights and fog. At the worst the music was merely odd or somewhat dissonant but that only seemed to occur when the loops were coming together or a crescendo had happened and the come-down was happening. And those microphones which seemed to catch my attention somewhat unnecessarily turned out to be far from the focal point, occasionally being used to add wordless harmonies that became lost in beds of reverb. In the end I couldn’t help but wonder why, with music as sturdy and enjoyable as it was, they fell so easily into the cliché. Geometry isn’t going to make the music any better.

Seeing Hendrick Weber (Pantha du Prince’s somewhat less regal real name) in action for a second time made me realise there’s an almost theatrical element to his live set. Once again dressed in numerous winter clothes, he looms over the crowd who are just a couple of feet below him. To begin with his set actually looks and sounds more like a science experiment. Placing an empty glass in front of him he gradually fills it up with water and ice while putting a sort of Theremin microphone-like metal stick into it creating a noise akin to icebergs breaking apart. Toned down and fed through various channels this noise appears to form the glimmering droplets that pepper Black Noise opening track “Lay In A Shimmer.” As much as a treat as it is to hear one of the album’s highlights straight away, it’s also greatly intriguing to see how Weber goes about creating the sounds he works with. Later on in the show he taps a wooden block of sorts with his Theremin stick creating the curious percussive elements of tracks like “Abglanz” and “The Splendour.”

But picking and choosing tracks from the set feels a little irrelevant as the majority of the music seems to seamlessly meld into one. The fact I’m not overly familiar with This Bliss didn’t seem to become an issue on the night for me. The seamless nature of the set made it like more like any really great set at a club: tantalizingly easy to dance to while keeping a hypnotic groove going throughout. Like myself the audience seemed to eat it right up, quickly creating pools of sweat under their armpits and on their foreheads from moving in and around other people below the stage. Watching from the steps to the stage I was able to get a good view of both Weber at work and how the audience reacted.

On the whole Weber didn’t seem to actually take notice of the congested mass in front of him even when he stopped for a moment to take off another later of clothing as the heat intensified. Instead he looked equally transfixed as any fan but instead from the creation process. Without a good knowledge of the equipment Weber uses it’s near impossible to tell what he’s actually doing. He turns a few knobs, presses a few buttons, taps his wooden block and it all comes together. I’m not belittling his process – I’m sure it’s intricate and complicated. If anything I’d be more inclined to compliment it for the fact he can make it a beguiling visual feast while not putting all the focus on the video behind him (of the Black Noise album cover being drawn and painted).

I must admit I didn’t find this set as captivating as his last one but that could be down to a number of factors. For one it could have been merely a time and place issue and secondly coming to this gig I was more familiar with the material on Black Noise and thus had raised expectations for the material from it. But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t pretty transfixed when the great moments from his 2010 album were thrown into the mix: the playful melodies that begin “Satellite Synper,” the resonating and almost cadence-like chime of “Es Schneit” and the irresistible single “Stick To My Side.” And he was clever is his execution of them, especially with the latter: the audience’s first glance of it was merely an instrumental before he brought it back in the encore with full vocals.

Oddly I seem to find Black Noise a frustrating listen on headphones so hearing material from it in this open space was a treat for me. Sceptics might question how songs with seemingly little to them could work in a live setting but explaining the aura the music seems to create becomes complicated and almost ineffable. A surprising mix of younger and older fans all began to remind me of my time in The Bongo Club back in March; dancing and caught by the music. In a likely attempt to heighten the intoxicating mood even more one guy even lit up and passed around a joint. I can’t say I cared much for his actions (what with being illegal on two separate levels here in Scotland) as considering they were right in front of Weber and his table of musical wizardry, they should have been getting the full effect of the dazzling display. Then again, I guess we don’t all have that night in March to look back to like I do. At least from now on they’ll likely be lucidly remembering that night in August.

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