Matmos

By David Gunn

It occurred to me early on during their set that when you watching Matmos, you really would have to try hard to mistake them for any other act. Ignoring the nuances of music, the experience of watching artists like Autechre, Aphex, or any number of their disciples is a pretty undifferentiated visual experience. But with Matmos, both the music and the live performance are something a little different.

Where else, for example, does the opening track consist primarily of a series of burps and bubbles blown out through a straw immersed in a goldfish bowl? And this isn't merely gimmick – or if it does start out as gimmick, then MC Schmidt's devotion to the thing, the concerted efforts to burble out melodies and rhythms gradually move it into the realm of musicianship. And this, I suppose, is a reasonable approximation of what Matmos are about – take an improbable sound source, an improbable juxtaposition of ideas, and stick with them, manipulate them and interrogate them until it all makes some kind of unnatural but wondrously natural sense.

So Matmos stood up on stage with two musicians and ten-foor stacks of equipment, donned mediaeval regalia, wheezed over hurdy-gurdys and generally shone with the quiet abandon of deranged librarians, happily lost in a world they know and love. Equal praise must also go to the guest musicians, who, with the exception of a rather rambling encore, displayed a deft understanding of the scope and intention of the music – happy to wag off on instrumental adventures but remaining sensitive to the overall approach. In this regard, the performance of Zealous Order Of Candied Knights deserves special mention. Over the course of ten minutes, the restraint of the recorded version was transformed into a deep maelstrom of military stomp and thick sound that sounded like nothing so much as a rather unpredictable collaboration between the Salvation Army and the Velvet Underground circa White Light/White Heat. Imagine Lou Reed smiling as he distributes luke-warm tea to old ladies. Or Neighbours star Harold Bishop narrating Sister Ray in leather pants and with a needle sticking out of his arm. Dark, confusing and oddly compelling.

Yes, there were other performances that evening, and they were all of high quality, but this was Matmos' night. And not only did it reinforce their ability to genuinely imbue electronic music with a conceptual solidity that is commonly lacking, it also reinforced the inventive musicianship that underpins that approach. There are really very few artists like them.

 Matmos played alongside Leafcutter John, The Soft Pink Truth, Dick Slessig Combo and Yaxu Paxo.
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