10 June 2015
It is good to remember why you came. How the reverberation of the bass through every cell is like the lift of a wave that carries you. How each staccato re-teaches your heart to beat. Percussion is life, rhythm is the first language and with it we make sense. Every sentence you’ve ever read and truly felt has had its own cadence to keep it in place.
These are my first thoughts when I wake up the morning after Holly Herndon‘s packed-out show at XOYO remembering the threads of the night before. Remembering why I came.Electronic music has become ubiquitous and the club scene is so well established as to have amassed whole generations of followers. Techno has become an established genre that has come a long way from the dirty Detroit electro of the nineteen-eighties, although I felt the connection to that place and time at Holly’s show. Connection has been the recurrent emblem for clubbers and ravers worldwide. The music spawned its own brand of loved-up ecstatic transcendence, gained a loyal flock and just as with any religion it has its blasphemers, naysayers and heretics. I think Holly Herndon is a heretic. She is bringing a new story to the establishment, challenging the orthodoxy and asking for the audience to trust that she will bring them closer to the source.
Her convincing brand of heresy brought me to XOYO in Shoreditch. The venue is cosy, if that’s a word I can legitimately use to describe the vaulted corrugated ceilings and relief work walls. It’s not intimate, in some ways it is dauntingly spacious, but the atmosphere is soft. The upstairs bar is industrial barn, dark-lit and without sufficient seating. The downstairs stage area effuses with smoke machine cough and blue pinpoint lighting. People loom out of the haze as I approach the stage, which is already set with tables its entire length, draped with all manner of laptops and effects toys. There’s a shadowy figure in the DJ booth to the far right of the stage playing an endless dissolving cloud of intros; he is a grey smudge behind the flip-lidded laptop; glowing apple logo overlaid with his own, discreet, V. The running order checks him as Visionist. He plays minimal and largely beat-free preamble. It is background. It is suitable.The room fills up pretty quickly and is fairly tight-packed by the time Amnesia Scanner play their set. It’s good. Deep and dark. Surprising enough to hold interest and bass-heavy enough to soothe the deficit I’ve been feeling. The set is minimal, the lighting a little hectic. The complexity of the rhythms exciting and moving. It’s techno trance with a breakbeat and a heavy dose of irreverence, which I like a lot. They provide the perfect warm-up and when Holly’s diminutive form slides onstage and begins tweaking her set I’m awake and really paying attention.
It’s just Holly and partner in crime Mat Dryhurst — somewhere off to stage left in charge of visuals and of fielding incoming texts that he will feed from his laptop onto the big screen at the back of the stage. A box in the top-right corner of this screen invites the audience to “text questions and confessions”, though signal down here is patchy.Platform, “Interference”. It’s nice and round, the sound quality is good. The audience move, eyes closed, eyes open, smiles and appreciative faces. The visuals reel past, cut-ups from the “Chorus” video with scenes from around the club, strange avatar renderings of Mat and Holly. It’s all spun in time with the music. Between tracks, more words, perhaps from the audience, appear and segue into close ups of vegetables. It’s disorientated and deeply charming.
The music is thrilling. “Chorus”, a strong favourite from Platform, is great — the vocal is live and looped, making for new glitches and progressions. It is uplifting. Holly moves authoritatively between laptop, effects equipment and microphone. It’s lovely to see her so deeply engaged in her performance. She looks to be having a lot of fun up there, feeding back the love she’s getting from the crowd and working the tensions as a good club DJ might. I suppose this is unsurprising given her background in the Berlin club scene, but given the nature of the form and its potential to be stark and emotionless, the level of commitment is satisfying.She’s paying attention to us and the ensuing relationship feels warm and safe. There’s a glow of calm and comfort in the room. The crowd is pretty diverse and are all really into this, I’m relieved because anything this close to the edges has potential to perhaps attract some pretension, but it’s honestly not there. I’m in a room full of people who came for the music, to fall into it as I do, and be carried along and held aloft. We are held and we move in time to the rhythms that remind us why we came.
The set is inevitably too short, only 45 minutes, showcasing perhaps half of Platform (notably “Interference”, “DAO”, “Chorus”, “Home”, ) and ihree tracks tracks from her last album, Movement — “Breath”, “Movement” and closing with “Fade”, a track both beautiful and bittersweet, as is fitting for a good ending.I am left remembering why I came to this show, why I love this music: the scene I fell in love with more than twenty years ago continually evolves and spins off in new directions, takes on new forms and yet still manages to feel a little bit like coming home every time.