Saturday, May 04, 2013

Holly Herndon: Live in Dublin

Not merely is this a review of a live performance, it is an account of a visit to a pub and the conversations that there occurred, combined with a terrifying discovery about one of my friends.

I went to see Holly Herndon playing in Twisted Pepper, a music venue. It was a Friday night. When I arrived I was struck by how young and boisterous the crowd was. I came into the bar and then joined a queue for the venue area, noticing that the young ladies ahead of me were a bit more mad-for-it than the usual kind of people you see at alternative electronic events. It was only when I reached the front of the queue and presented my printed ticket that I discovered I was at the wrong place - Twisted Pepper was having different events in different bits of the building, and I needed to go down to the basement. The Twisted Pepper basement is a suitably atmospheric place. Part of that atmosphere comes from its strange and largely unpleasant aroma, which may be the lasting residue of some obscene demonic entity summoned in a black magic ritual but is more likely to be the product of a leaking sewage pipe. Trying to find a position that allowed both for viewing the performance while minimising exposure to the foul stench proved to be one of the most exciting parts of my evening. Unlike the bar area and upstairs venue, the basement of Twisted Pepper was a largely woman-free zone… once you ignored the performers.

When I arrived some people were playing music on stage. As one of them was a woman, and, as I had no idea what Holly Herndon looked like or if she would be playing solo or not, I had to ask my friend Mr B whether this was her. But it was not, it was a support act, Catscars. At the time I thought they were a band called Catscars, but it turns out that Catscars is a woman (Ms Catscars), joined tonight by two male assistants. Assistant A banged on some kind of strange electronic drum kit. Assistant B did some vocals but seemed to spend most of his time fiddling with a collection of cables and connector things on a table. Ms Catscars played a stylophone and some more conventional keyboard driven apparatus as well as providing more vocals. The vocals were more of the being-treated-to-make-strange-noises than the singing-with-lyrics type. The music was of the broadly beaty dancey type (as opposed to the abstract undanceable electronic type). It often called to mind early synthpop tunes, but sounded a bit more odd and experimental. One point of reference for me would perhaps be that LA Vampires record I mentioned a while ago, though I think Ms Catscars was more consistently interesting than that was.

Holly Herndon herself was just one person. She did things with a laptop and did vocally stuff into a microphone, with vocals being fairly treated and abstract rather than lyrical. Her set started off being very abstract indeed, making me think I was basically going to be in for a no-fun set of chin-strokey "interesting" music, but it then got very rhythmic. I enjoyed it, but I think I liked it less than some of my fellow attendees, who seemed to find it revelatory.

Unusually, I was standing in a place where I had a good view both of Ms Herndon and the mixing desk. Particularly at the start of the set, she would signal to the soundman to turn up the sound on some piece of apparatus. But he would not see her because he was staring intently at his own apparatus. Ms Herndon would then become annoyed and signal again more vigorously, until some random member of the audience would poke the sound guy and he would look up and realise that he being required to do something. Then it would happen again. I have never worked as a concert soundman and have no real idea as to the requirements of the job, but I did find myself wondering whether the mixing desk really does require so much attention that you have to largely ignore the performer.

Holly Herndon's set was a bit short, seeming to me like it was getting into its stride when it ended. But there is enjoyment to be had in quick things. There was more music being played after the live set finished, but we decided not to stay, largely out of fear of being overcome by the noxious vapours. So we made our way up the road to The Oval, one of those pubs I had walked by but never entered. I had formed the vague idea that it was the kind of place where non-regulars are not particularly welcome, but in fact it seemed like a north-side branch of The Palace, with all the cosy old-school charm that suggests.

Unlike the Palace, however, there was piped music being played. Quite early on, 'Rhiannon' by Fleetwood Mac came over the speakers, followed by a couple of similar tunes that had me wondering if my English friend "Thom" was on a surprise visit to Dublin to DJ for our pleasure. There was also an appealing tune by Credence Clearwater Revival, a fascinating band I have never engaged properly with.

In the pub with me were Mr B---, Mr W2--- and one Mr Iglesias. Mr Iglesias mentioned something he had seen on YouTube - a tribute performance of 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps', with various old duffers like Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne and Steve Winwood showing off their chops. But then, almost half way through, the camera swings over to a little fellow in a red jacket and fedora who starts to solo, reminding us of the astonishing guitar abilities of the one and only Prince, for it was he. Mr Iglesias affirmed that this was astonishing to behold, and having since looked it up for myself I can concur with this assessment.

But this led the discussion on into directions that made me wonder whether we really had Mr W2--- with us - for I began to suspect that we were actually in the company of some kind of replicant? What set off my suspicions were the strangely easy-going opinions he was expressing - "Nine Inch Nails are good, but they are not really the kind of thing I like", he said, in stark contrast to the more Zoroastrian Mr W2--- we know and love, for whom all music is either Good or the Worst Piece Of Shit He Has Ever Heard. Similar comments were made about the likes of Tom Petty. I will continue to make further observations in case this replicant blows his cover completely and starts patting the heads of children and investing in some funky new clothes.


A review of a record by LA Vampires, referenced above.

Catscars image source

Holly Herndon image source

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