Last night at (le) poisson rouge was legend shit, at least it was for the crowd gathered in the subterranean Greenwich Village space where Tom Jenkinson, Squarepusher, presented the fruits of a life spent plumbing the depths of metronomic subdivision. As such, this crowd — already a very particular strain of humanity to have voluntarily attended a 90-minute sensory onslaught of dazzling LED light displays and blizzards of 1/32nd note rhythm fills — was full of subdivisions its own: to your right, a guy who could teach you how to dance; to your left, one who could teach you how to math. Of course, looking anywhere other than at Squarepusher himself was tough to do.
LED lights were in two towers to either side of his DJ rig. (Also on the front plate of his DJ rig. Also in a big wall behind his DJ rig. Also on his helmet face.) They spiraled out in blissful, anarchic, and orderly patterns, ricocheting, swirling, and blooming in concert, responding to the movements of the electro-pirouettes Squarepusher crafted in real time. This may sound graceful and elegant. In a sense, it was. But it also assaulted in tones that serrated and stuttered, that would make burgeoning noiseniks swoon. The music could have a swampy feel, with a lot of action in the low-end. It could flip into a high state of mid-range compression, were fractional beat-bits began to cluster brilliantly. Then hypnotically. Then exhaustingly.
That is when the bass came out.
Have you seen drum ’n’ bass, actually performed on a bass? It’s a whole different thing. Squarepusher is a brilliant electronic music composer with roots in jazz and fusion and the avant garde, with lines to Rephlex Records and Aphex Twin and the entire school of thought and aesthetic that implies. But also, importantly, this man is a capital-B Bassist. He started slapping, popping, picking, shredding, distorting, and that is when the room started seeing colors. (In the previously two-toned light display, though maybe in other ways also.) After a mostly thrilling, deeply indulgent bass solo ensured every ear within shot was fatigued and incapable of processing anything more, Squarepusher left the stage. But he came back to encore, with “A Journey To Reedham,” and somehow, the fatigue dissipated. This whole Squarepusher show felt heroic, but with “Reedham,” for the first time that night, it became emotional.
Looking anywhere but at the stage was tough to do. But if you did, you won something. You saw the beauty of unpredictable music making people move in unpredictable ways. You saw dudes from Battles and ladies from Dirty Projectors and the man from Neon Indian in the same room, and you got to hear how it all made sense. This is music by a man via machine, produced to be headphone sex, but its recreation in a concert space underscored its real heartbeat. At a time where electronic music is about false connection through molly and the Dionysian, we have Squarepusher, torchbearer for making the insular feel communal. Respect.
Photos by wagz2it.
It all looked a lot like this: