Jonathan Pirro

Tom Jenkinson (Squarepusher) of Shobaleader One

Tom Jenkinson (Squarepusher) of Shobaleader One

A big issue I’ve taken up many times with electronic music is the fact that many top-selling, well-known acts are able to craft their musical set — and perform it — with incredibly little effort, sometimes less than a single button press. Many circles of music fans mock massively popular DJs for this “just push play” approach to touring, and I’m among them; I appreciate a great live show as much as anyone, but there should be a balance of performance and spectacle. In addition, it’s easy to bury the lack-of-complexity in a lot of pop-centered dance sets under piles and piles of dazzling lights, psychedelic projections, and spiffy lasers. If any of these sound like your own pet peeves with music that has mostly been composed with the aid of a machine, then you’ll want to make a point to see Shobaleader One, the latest project helmed by IDM artist Tom Jenkinson, best known for his work as Squarepusher. Theirs is a live performance bereft of automated tracks, flashy lights, or colorful costumes; instead, it’s a tour-de-force of stunningly-complex grooves played at dizzying tempos — the sort of thing that would appeal to electronic, jazz, and progressive fans alike.

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An evening of history and illumination, full of energy and exciting sounds

Jean-Michel Jarre's live setup

Jean-Michel Jarre’s live setup

By this point, I’ve waxed on and on and ON about electronic shows, so what’s in store for anyone attending one shouldn’t be too surprising: elaborate lights and projections, minimal equipment onstage, and a limited scope of what the performers can actually do (by virtue of sounds and lights responding to recorded cues). It’s therefore incredibly exciting to know that one of the forefathers of the genre — French composer Jean-Michel Jarre — is one of the most energetic performers in live electronica today. His stage persona pairs excellently with his dazzling visual effects, and most of the music is actually played live, rather than simply cranked out from a MIDI sequence or a pre-recorded track. It’s taken 40 years for Jarre to do his first U.S. tour, but by all accounts, he has been owning this lap like he’s been doing it for an eternity.

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Two nights of intimacy and storytelling with the man who plays a hundred instruments

Stephin Merritt of The Magnetic Fields

Stephin Merritt of The Magnetic Fields

The Magnetic Fields are an extremely strange phenomenon: a group that is wildly talented, successful, and fiercely loved by their fans, despite staying relatively far from the radio-friendly limelight. The songwriting of creative leader Stephin Merritt evokes memories of both Sondheim-esque theatrical compositions and shimmering 80s pop ballads; his lyrics range from whimsically poetic to wickedly tongue-in-cheek; and most of their records are complete conceptual pieces, collected in the space of an entire singular work. Despite his dozens of works ranging on anything from 69 songs about love to country-style tunes about the open road, Merritt has seldom penned works that speak specifically about his own life, which is where his new record 50 Song Memoir comes in. Comprised of one song for each of the years in his own life, starting in 1965 and ending in 2015 (when the recording for the album began), the work takes up five discs and two and a half hours of playing time — making it the perfect piece to play across the span of two nights.

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deadmau5 atop his cube

deadmau5 atop his cube

In a now-relatively-infamous Tumblr post, Canadian electronic wunderkind deadmau5 (aka Joel Zimmerman) called out the DJ world for the lack of ingenuity and overall simplicity of their live shows. Ever since, he’s worked to keep pushing the envelope of his own performances, adding layer after layer of lights and screens that are all triggered by his own available controls, and his popularity continues to ride high even as the EDM scene itself shifts and changes. As a pretty popular act, it’s rare to see the synth mastermind outside of massive festivals or arena tours, so his Lots Of Shows In A Row tour was a treat to see — particularly at Oakland’s Fox Theater, a venue which has lately proven rather popular with the electronic music scene.

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LA’s world-famous orchestra adds an entire extra universe of sound to the Icelandic trio’s performances

Sigur Rós with the LA Philharmonic. All photos by Craig T. Mathew/Mathew Imaging

Sigur Rós with the LA Philharmonic. All photos by Craig T. Mathew/Mathew Imaging

If the experience of Sigur Rós live can be described as wondrous, then beholding them with an orchestra is a truly transcendent experience. Prior to this tour as a three-piece, I’ve always seen them with some form of miniature assemblage accompanying them, whether it’s the obscure-instrument-wielding Amiina or the Icelandic indie-folk group Parachutes, but never with a full symphony orchestra supporting them. Originally advertised as “career-spanning sets including fan-favorites (with orchestral accompaniment) and – “if things go to plan” – new, unreleased music (without orchestra)”, each night was a set similar to the current touring setlist, with the first half of the night seeing the band accompanied by the orchestra and the second with them playing solo. Despite the fact that each show had the same set of songs, each night was a different experience as the band and engineers discovered how to make the sound best fill the room, and the results were utterly spectacular.

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Two evenings of spellbinding wonder and incredible sound

Sigur Rós at the Fox Theater, Oakland

Sigur Rós at the Fox Theater, Oakland

This is the first of two posts chronicling my journey to see Sigur Rós for five performances in April 2017: two in Northern California, and three in Los Angeles with the LA Philharmonic Orchestra. Be sure to catch them on tour and tune in to Pitchfork on Friday, April 14th for a stream of their second LA Phil performance!

Fifteen years ago, I remember wandering down a dimly-lit suburban lane on a chilly November evening, the street silent as a tomb. I had a copy of ( ), the third record by renowned Icelandic post-rock band Sigur Rós, put that album in a Discman, and the quiet world around me instantly seemed to shift into some strange new world. I’ve always found that record to be an utterly sublime and immensely powerful expression of music, and was supremely pleased that some of my favorite songs from that album were in the set the first time I saw Sigur Rós play live. The band and their production crew are absolute masterminds at blending sound, light and visuals into an otherworldly experience; that show, in 2006 at the Marin Center in San Rafael, is still probably my favorite concert that I have ever experienced. This past weekend, I had the pleasure of seeing Sigur Rós two times, playing two sets each (!), making these my sixth and seventh time experiencing their live performances — and they are just as astonishing as they have always been.

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Show Review: Carpenter Brut with Vector Hold at Great American Music Hall, 3/24/2017

March 30, 2017

This is the new synth party in town — and it’s as aggressive as it is danceable An intriguing new in heavy electronic music is a genre known as “dark synthwave”, and numerous artists that fall under its umbrella have been snarling their way into existence. It brings along the sounds of retro analog synths, thundering snares, and wildly […]

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Film Review: Power Rangers

March 24, 2017
www.youtube.com/watch?v=5kIe6UZHSXw

Even with a few stumbles, this is an ultimately fun return of a classic franchise. Remaking a story like that of Power Rangers requires a great deal of care on two fronts. On the one hand, preserving the world, the characters, and the essential plotlines, is important in order to make the new film appeal […]

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Show Review: Japandroids w/Craig Finn and the Uptown Controllers at The Fillmore, 3/15/2017

March 21, 2017

A passionate, spellbinding set at the final leg of the duo’s North American tour If you can believe it, five long years have passed since the last time that Japandroids came to San Francisco and took over The Fillmore, and it’s been far too long of a wait. Their 2012 work Celebration Rock marked a pivotal shift […]

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Noise Pop Show Review: clipping. with Baseck, DJ Marco De La Vega and 93 Bulls at Starline Social Club, 2/24/2017

March 8, 2017

Exciting evening of noise and rhythm in a new addition to Oakland’s vibrant live music scene It’s hard to find a more jarring juxtaposition of talents and roles than those that Oakland-born hip-hop star Daveed Diggs has possessed as of late. After half a decade building a steady underground following as the MC of noise trio clipping., he became […]

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