Carl Craig Synthesiser Ensemble @ Barbican Centre, London 06/04/2018

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It’s been a while since I have been clubbing.

I originally started this blog as I could feel myself starting to fall out of love with clubbing, and wanted to document how I coped with this, and how I transitioned from a regular clubber into an occasional clubber.

I didn’t expect to go nearly 2 years without stepping foot inside anything resembling an electronic music event (well, except the ones I use to co-run and DJ at).

Without question, I still love the music. I still find new and exciting tracks that I want to shout about. I spend all day, every single day, listening to electronic music – much of which is recorded DJ sets.

However, I hate the hangovers and comedowns. It takes days for me to recover now that I am approaching 40 years old. Plus some of the crowds can grate at my level of snobbishness – just some of the immaturity and boorishness that one can come across at times – I am sure that they are equally enamoured by my aloofness. Perhaps there is an argument that I hadn’t chosen my events well.

More importantly though, since the last time I went clubbing I had changed careers – from finance to tech. This was not something I could do by feeling like shit every Monday (and Tuesday), not to mention that I’ve had to start as a low-paid junior whilst increasing my living costs, so don’t have much spare cash.  You and I both know how expensive partying can be, and I simply had no choice but to knock most things on the head.

So I am slowly dipping my toe back into the world of electronic music events and hoping to fall back in love with the concept of clubbing. Or just to retire gracefully…although probably without the grace.

This Christmas, I bought my BFF (ahhhh) tickets to go see Carl Craig’s Synthesizer Ensemble at the Barbican. I’d get to sit down whilst listening to good music being performed – what more can a relative oldie want? Plus it is easy to smuggle in Tesco value vodka, like a 14 year-old would.

We went to The Barbican 2.5 years ago to see Jeff Mills and the BBC Symphony Orchestra which was excellent, and I was hoping for something similar – albeit understanding that there was no orchestra. I love synthesizers even more though.

So we knew roughly what to expect – and after the first day of spring, there were many people drinking outside in last of the sunshine, next to the Barbican’s water feature before the concert started at 8pm. Do you call it a concert? I’m not entirely sure.

Last time it took forever to get a drink in the Barbican – this time they had plenty more bar options, with a couple of mobile bars too. Keenly priced, for London standards – I think we paid less than £20 for a pint of beer, large glass of wine and two soft drinks. Apparently electronic music fans are keener on imbibation than Shostakovich fans.

The Barbican has comfortable seating and we were roughly in the middle on the main ground level. Behind us we had some people very keen on chatting, particularly during the first part when Paper Dollhouse were performing. I also wanted to chat, being in an exciteable Friday night feeling but I tried to restrain myself.

I didn’t quite get Paper Dollhouse. It was relaxing electronic music, beatless until towards the latter stages, for some reason I want to compare them to 90’s pop bore Enya, but that would be utterly unfair. It was music that I would imagine you could do yoga to – not lacking in quality or intrigue, but for me personally I was not in the right zone. I was in Friday evening zone. I was not in ready to relax zone, and for me it was too chilled out. My accomplice really enjoyed it. She also enjoys yoga. Co-incidence?

Towards the end I felt more at ease with it – as I relaxed and as the music picked up a tad – a compromise between souls.

Too ambient for my personal tastes but a good performance of ambient electronica, and I suspect that they will pick up many fans along the way.

We had a 20 or so minute break, enough time to queue for the toilet and queue for the bar – both orderly and not too lengthy…ahhh things I don’t miss about nightclubs.

I’ve seen Carl Craig a couple of times and been following him for what seems like decades. My favourite memory of Carl Craig was playing b2b with Cassy in Great Suffolk Street – there was just something composed and educational about their joint set around 6am – lots of space to dance and some true techno classics being pulled out.

Yet I’ve also listened to some Carl Craig DJ sets recently and found them somewhat disinteresting. You sometimes need to be there to truly appreciate a DJ set in its context, but from the sets I’ve listened to there was a certain lack of pushing boundaries. Which is what Carl Craig as a producer has very much been doing during his life.

To the backdrop of addictively wonderful Detroit imagery (I would so love to visit), Carl performed several of his classic tracks, re-worked for the live set-up, alongside several other keyboardists such as Jon Dixon of UR, and the pianist – more about him in a moment.

Darkness, Sandstorms and At Les (you’ll know the brilliant Christian Smith remix, for sure) were the 3 tracks that I recognised, all emotional techno masterpieces which were performed very well – with Carl Craig giving occasional commentary in his drawn-out Detroit voice, adding his thoughts and explanations, alongside a hint of his emotions.

Alas, Carl Craig isn’t the most captivating speaker to some people – there were definitely people around me in the audience without the patience to listen to him explain – we also got a sarky comment from those behind us when we stood up to applaud near the end. Standing up at the end of an electronic music event? How dare we.

I generally enjoyed it without being totally engrossed – however the pianist, Kelvin Sholar, was captivatingly brilliant. I couldn’t help but focus myself on how he mastered the piano – particularly the poise and immense amount of style that he had.

All the musicians were apparently jazz-trained musicians, and you could tell that, particularly when they got to do a little solo each, which was probably my musical highlight of the evening, as we got to understand more about how their contribution to the evening worked, and how their particular synthesiser contributed to the piece.

But I will remember Kelvin Sholar’s mastery of the piano as an art form for a long time to come.

It was an enjoyable evening – something I’d recommend, especially to Carl Craig fans – yet not rush back to experience a second time. An enjoyment rating of 7.55 out of 10. I must see Kelvin Sholar again though.

I will be back next month with a review of some proper clubbing.

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