Dead Voices On Air are conducting a bit of an experiment on the London leg of their tour, starting off loud, noisy and danceable and trailing down into ambient passages of extended mood workouts. Mark Spybey and Darren Phillips man the keyboards, sequencers, samplers, digital technology; Darryl Neudorf is behind a bare drumkit (complete with fluffy liner on one drum). So they kick off into a post-Industrial Dance groove, and instantly several key signifiers make links to everyone from Coil (arpeggiating keyboard weirdnesses, atmosphere), Psychic TV (the stripped analogue beats, the moments of ecstatic upness) and of course fellow Vancouverians and fellow-travellers Download (that digital Techno-noise, the earnest need for cathartic harshness). Largely instrumental, the only moment of vocal outpouring comes during a heavy-skanking Techno Dub, when the words “I hate who you are” become the mantra of the minute and the atmosphere becomes strangely windswept, cinematic even – and surprisingly, much of the Goth contingent in the audience make a break for the border. Strange how dub drives the forces of darkness away…
Michael Rother and Dieter Moebius take the stage with their younger cohort linking them into the current generation of German Electronicists – they may be old, but they surely know their grooves to perfection now. Rother has aged well into a distinguished, but still youthfully attractive pop icon of the underground; Moebius has a gnomic air of mature engagement with his equipment. But appearances and charisma are not all that it’s about – what the trio produce is finely-honed electronic music, drawing on the Rother and Moebius’ thirty years of experience. With all the noises emanating from a seemingly standard MIDI set-up plus laptop, what makes sense ultimately is the groove – that Motorik beat which has ridden the waves from Kraftwerk through NEU! and Harmonia. Add in the the (now-)digital flecks of buzzing, flickering or plain lovely tones (continuing and expanding the standard set by those same groups plus Cluster) which provide a crest to the joyful mix. It is worth stating of course that these two geezers were part of either or both of all those seminal groups, makers and shakers of some supreme moments of coasting, driving or thumping Electronic music – and this is made crystal clear by their choice of The Roots Of Electronica for the tour’s title.
When Rother picks up his guitar for “Silberstreif” (from the 1982 album Fernwärme”) the double-meanings are several; there is plenty that is old, ageless even, but NEU!; there is as much of the new. There was a self-description in the sleeve notes of the debut NEU! LP, declaring that they made “New music for mind and pants”. Quaint German translation to English aside, this dictum remains true twenty-eight years later, stirring the senses and moving the feet in a simultaneously trance-inducing, ambient style – and of course both those genres would never have been quite the same without the contributions of both Rother or Moebius. What occured at The Underworld tonight was not merely historical for its position as the first appearance in London of two legends of electronic music, but for the celebratory atmosphere they created which is and shall remain, timeless.