Jeff Mills & the BBC Symphony Orchestra @ The Barbican 24/10/2015

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Was it March that I booked this? I remember seeing it on a feed I subscribe to and thinking it would be really cool. But I think that about a lot of events. Then I remembered that it was my best friend’s birthday shortly after and she loved both techno and classical. If only my mother was so easy to buy presents for.

So I booked the day off when tickets were going to released, sat patiently at my computer pretending that I was going to Glastonbury and as soon as 10am arrived I tried to book seats. Already taken. Tried two more seats. Already taken…and the game went on for around 15 minutes before I did get some tickets.

Woohoo! Then I forgot about it for 6 months.

I’ve got a couple of Jeff Mills albums and mixes – Exhibitionist and At First Sight for definite, plus his enchanting mix for the ‘Choice’ series. Possibly others but since I was consumed by minimal 11 years ago, he isn’t an artist I’ve paid too much attention to.

And classical music is a totally different world to me. I’d always assumed it to be noodly and annoying like jazz (I cannot stand jazz) but then again I had never really listened to it. Until I was in my best friend’s car, and she plays classical music (or my DJ mixes, bless her) when driving. I kind of don’t mind it now. It’s comfortable background music. I did suggest one time that we should drive through council estates blasting out classical music and shouting chav language about wicked music but I was ignored.

She did accept my gift though.

Arriving at Barbican, it seemed almost as if it had been somehow squeezed into the centre of London – it wasn’t an entirely impressive building inside, I was expecting to be wowed. And it took an age to get a drink. Not to mention the queues for the toilet.

We made it into the hall late but thankfully the show hadn’t started. We cruelly booted the Japanese couple out of the seats we had purchased (their lack of English not helping) and sat down in comfortable seats with arm-rests. Ahhhh.

It wasn’t long before the lights dimmed and the performance started.

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Gently at first, as you’d expect. Initially I found myself craving a beat, but I relaxed into it, and watched the various musicians, trying to work out which instruments were playing each sound (forgive my lack of classical knowledge) – it was an education for me, after all, to understand what sounds could be played by the instruments and how it could fit into techno.

All the performers had an impressive level of grace and poise, smartly dressed in black clothing – I particularly enjoyed the sharpness of the retraction of the violinists after playing – there was a particular beauty of their movement.

But all of this paled into insignificance to the choreography of the conductor, who’s slightly impish, marginally camp but utterly brilliant movement was fascinating to watch throughout. I’d really like to understand the true significance of the conductor to the orchestra members – is he just there for decorative reasons – or do they play a vital role in keeping the rhythm? Please do tell me.

After around 10-15 minutes, Jeff stepped away from the synthesiser, and came to introduce himself, and moreover the thoughts behind the event, and then to give the name of the next track which really upped the tempo.

And, of course, I have totally forgotten the name. I’d like to suggest Galaxy Cat but that is totally ridiculous.

The crowd certainly appreciated the upping of the tempo as the techno influence became more apparent. I didn’t quite know what to make of people shouting “I love you, Jeff” and all the whooping, etc. Sometimes I thought it was out of place, but equally it was charming to see the affection that so many people held for a true legend of techno.

It waxed and waned between tracks that were more techno-influenced, and those where it was mainly orchestral. I’d love to be able to tell you what tracks were performed – if I’m going to attempt to review a night out I really should get Shazam out or something but I was simply too engaged with the music.

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Fittingly for the theme that Jeff Mills induces, I found myself in a daze for much of it – I was so captivated that I did seem to be on another planet (naturally, bar a few vodkas).

And then, of course, he played the one track that many of us came for – The Bells.



There was time for two encores – the first bringing a second renditions of The Bells. It really did sound quite different from the album version, so much so that I was initially convinced it was another of his tracks that I had never heard. By the way – I didn’t record the video.

It was pretty brilliant. It will long last in my memory and will be something I’ll talk about for years. Would I go see it again? No. But that is not to detract anything away from it – I’ve seen it, I loved it but life is about new experiences and there are so many different cultural and musical options out there.

The only slight down marks for me were the long wait for both the bar, and then especially the toilets – I think I queued around 15 minutes afterwards. Maybe the Barbican are not used to catering for clubbers – and much of the audience were those I would see at nightclubs – albeit at the more upmarket end of clubbing. There were not many under 30’s. It certainly was a more discerning crowd, although the amount of people dancing and whooping by the end may contradict me somewhat. And 3 men’s toilets really are not enough! Maybe there were some hidden away.

The lighting was perfunctory – though anything more would have taken away from the performance in my eyes – in the opposite way that Avicii’s lighting show can help make you forget how shit the music (or anti-music) he plays is. The sound was clear, though it could have done with more of a punch to it – unsurprisingly it was more suited to the orchestra than the synthesiser.

There were many highlights of the night – hearing Jeff speak, hearing The Bells – though for me, the conductor absolutely stole the show.

I’ll give it an 8 out of 10. I am certainly not too old to watch fantastic music whilst sat down.

I had one overwhelming thought towards the end of the show, which was that of thinking how far our scene has come in the last 30 years. From the humble and basic beginnings of people off their nut dancing the night away in a warehouse, to sitting down in a very middle class establishment, drinking martini and watched a techno legend perform with an equally revered orchestra.

It really shows a maturity, not just in the music, but in the producers and consumers amongst us. I do find it striking the range of options open to us to consume dance music nowadays, not to mention the wide range of society that enjoys it.

I do hope other producers can take influence and bring us similarly imaginative musical experiences – maybe I also need to dig a little deeper to take myself out of my comfort zones.

I’m not sure when I’ll be next on a dancefloor (other than the night I DJ at) – I’m quite enjoying the rest at the moment. Until then I am going to go through Jeff Mills’ discography with the help of Youtube and Discogs, buy any albums that are missing and work out what that ‘Galaxy Cat’ track is.

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