As an electronic musician, you have an unbelievable amount of competition, especially in 2011. With beats, synths and other manipulatibles being so easy to create these days with readily-available software, nearly anyone with a decently-powered computer and speedy fingers can enter the genre; with enough samples, knowledge of audio processing, and exposure, it’s easy to go from being locked in one’s basement to shaking the walls of clubs worldwide. The question is, however, why should all of the hundreds of thousands — perhaps of millions — of electronica fans come to see YOU, and not someone else? For Simon Posford, the cerebrum major behind the London-based psytrance project known as Shpongle, it has usually involved a brilliant mix of jagged synths and sweeping world instruments; this time around, however, he brought the Shpongletron, a stage and light show guaranteed to cement his place as one of the best electronic acts to see today.
Even though the majority of the crowd that filled the sold-out dancefloor of the Fillmore did not arrive until a rather late hour, the doors to the show opened promptly at 8:00pm; those who had arrived early were treated to a performance by a pair of DJs, including acclaimed San Franciscan an-ten-nae. While no doubt meant to be an appetizer for the main course of Shpongle and fellow Bay Area native Random Rab, the opening acts’ compositions of dubstep and sample-smitten-house were not as well received as the intricate sonic landscapes crafted by Rab and his accompanying percussionist and violin player. From a visual perspective, an-ten-nae and his partner were similarly lackluster, though more through fault of not having their own light show; Rab, on the other hand, ran his show from atop a lighted rig that produced a tunneling mirror illusion, his bandmates cast entirely in shadow, as animations played behind him.
Despite how much the crowd might have enjoyed any of the opening acts, anticipation was clearly at a bursting point when the gigantic rig of the Shpongletron was finally uncurtained and rolled to the edge of the Fillmore’s stage. A dazzling light show caused the structure to take on a life of its own, centered upon Shpongle’s mascot, the grinning, six-eyed mask that stared down at the crowd and seemed to melt from side to side due to the dancing colors. It was the arrival of Posford in the topmost tier, however, that truly got the crowd on their feet, dancing furiously to the lush sounds and pounding bass that filled the auditorium almost as tightly as the crowd that was spilling off of the dancefloor.
While every aspect of the Shpongletron seemed to be alive on its own, a further level of interactivity was added during the opening notes of “Dorset Perception” when it was flanked by two dancers armed with glowing hula hoops. As if having undulating bodied on either side of it was not enough excitement, the eye perched atop of the structure began to emit a spray of multihued laser beams, which collided with the spinning disco ball and covered the crowd in tinkling shards that were every color of the rainbow. The dancers themselves rotated between props throughout the set, with lightstick spinners and fur-clothed go-go dancers making later appearances in the two-hour-long performance.
For those who knew the songs of Shpongle’s records, the set was a treat-filled arrangement of popular numbers and fan favorites. Besides the aforementioned “Dorset Perception”, many tracks from Posford’s latest release, Ineffable Mysteries from Shpongleland, could also be heard blending themselves into the playlist. While most of the songs were almost entirely representative of their album components, there were plenty of surprise instrument manipulations and transitions thrown in that redefined each piece, and the entire set never took a breath or slowed down in its intensity. Even slower numbers, such as “Star Shpongled Banner”, segued delicately in and out of their transitional partners, creating an excellent rhythm of heart-pumping speed and blissful relaxation in their juxtaposition.
Like any true master of performance art, Posford saved the absolute best parts for the end of the night. In addition to a thundering performance of “Around The World In A Tea Daze” that segued into “Jiggle Of The Sphinx”, a creation of his alter ego Hallucinogen, Posford announced that Shpongle would be returning to the Bay Area in October — two days before Halloween — and bring with them their live band, a collective of as many as nine musicians. For those in the crowd that had been disappointed from last year’s performance — Shpongle had played at the Regency Ballroom, which was billed as a full-band show, but ended up being just a DJ set from Posford — this was absolutely momentous news, and probably has since been marked on the calendars of nearly everyone who came to the Fillmore tonight. Posford ended the show with a mesmerizing performance of “I Am You”, and turned the house lights up to wave to the crowd, after which the frenetic light show of the Shpongletron finally shimmered down to a small twinkle and then winked out, back to whatever sonic oblivion it had been conjured from.
Having been an avid fan of Posford’s work for nearly a decade, it was quite a treat to see him perform last year, but I, like many who also attended the Regency performance, had my balloon of excitement punctured slightly upon discovering that the promised live music collective was not to be. This show, however, completely lived up to and exceeded the expectations that its advertisements had carried for me. I was stunned to see the Shpongletron even FIT into the Fillmore, let alone be as alive and wild as it was for the entire evening. The promise of a Halloween show that seeks to elevate past even THIS show brings me great pleasure, and if Shpongle as a DJ set is any indication, Shpongle Live will be more exciting than I can even perceive.
We’ll see you in October, Simon!
All photos by Jonathan Pirro.