Days before the start of this year Micro Mutek festival, Spanish TV played the Roland Emmerich film The Day After Tomorrow. Something about the end-of-the-world plot and the frozen scenery seemed fitting when considering the festival (and the uncharacteristic cold in Barcelona at the time it took place). In the film, technology and progress were the hidden evils driving the climate change. So too were the technical problems during a few performances on Friday night. But, like the film, Micro Mutek weathered the storm and delivered the fairy-tale ending that saw humanity triumph and Theo Parrish deliver a stirring closing set.
The opening night set the scene with its back-to-back showing of two environmental disaster films set to live improvised accompaniment under the subtitle "Wake up. The World Belongs to Us." First up, Werner Herzog's 1992 documentary-cum-collage Lessons in Darkness pitted burning oil wells and barren desert landscapes with the hypnotic performance of Barcelona-based Colombian musician Lucrecia Dalt in what was to prove one of the festival's standout shows. Silhouetted at the right of the stage, Dalt worked slowly changing peaks and troughs from just her bass, rhythm loops and simple electronic effects, adding voice from time to time like a harrowing call for help from within the film. The result was like the dirty electro pop ditties of Throbbing Gristle's 20 Jazz Funk Greats fused with the steelier and more angular industrial racket of post-punk, but slowed and extended into longform pieces.
Photo credit: Bianca de Vilar
Vladislav Delay followed, soundtracking Michael Madsen's 2010 documentary Into Eternity. The subject of the film is the absurd and melancholy building of a series of gigantic tunnels and sinks in solid rock amid the frozen extremes of Finland to hide and store radioactive waste for 100,000 years. Sasu Ripatti's emotional connection to the theme (he lives in Finland), seemed to bring out a potent and concentrated performance. As way of criticism, Ripatti accompanied human faces and interviews with inhuman sounds like abstract beat patterns and menacing drones, whereas the slow-motion scenes of tunnels, architectural plans and snowy forest scenes where accompanied by more organic textures, throbbing washes and dubbed-out fragments of melody. The mixing of occasional excerpts of dialogue aided in the immersion and added a rogue element into the normal Vladislav Delay sound. The only answer to an intense night was an introspective walk home in the icy wind.
Thursday night marked the second of the nocturne events. Venezuelan DJ and Inverzo label head Moreon opened with a steady tech house set that swaggered with confidence, but ultimately got cut a little short. Deep, catchy basslines were the dominant signature, with plenty of room for long vocals and the odd hit from Seth Troxler and the like, but it was the arrival of the crowd in two or three big waves that upset the balance. Having a relatively long set had initially made Moreon patient and teasing, but the sudden need to dance that came from an instant crowd seemed to throw him off guard. By the time he caught the first wave, the second had arrived and, by the end of the set, he had lost the urgency and gone meandering back to the pick-up lines that he'd already used so well.
In his second show for the festival, Sasu Ripatti as Luomo gathered in the loose ends. Ripatti has mentioned being more at ease with Luomo now and the change this has brought in the live show is enormous. Whereas Luomo once charmed and beguiled, he now also overpowers with a rugged and almost defiant charisma. The electro edges from the recent Plus album really came to the fore live and once thrown into the murmuring flow of Ripatti's free form composition it produces a much more driving sound. Also driving was Berlin-based Argentinian Dilo. Crammed into just over an hour, Dilo's breakneck set gave few respites, its pace relying on a lighter kick drum and a complex interplay of high end rhythms. In the DJ booth Dilo worked his laptop with a pale and decadent glean, adding his own vocals live once a few glitches were fixed to give things a punkish edge. The end of the set was a mad rush as security guards began to close in—5 AM had come too soon.
Photo credit: Bianca de Vilar
The success of Friday night was somewhat dampened by a string of technical and technique problems. Kicking off in the smaller room of the Apolo Club, Deadbeat launched himself into a live rendition of Drawn and Quartered and a few old classics. His sound filled and livened the room with its deep and spacey vibrations while also pacifying it with its stoner charm. A lost connection somewhere threw the big breakdown off "Plateau Quarter," but there was plenty of time to make up for it, including a few forays into techno territory. In the main room, Shackleton's intro coming off Marc Piñol also suffered some glitches, getting burned out in the mix. It was so loud that it seemed as if the air had brightened with particles of sound sent jarring by the bass. It was not until the balance was restored that some kind of immersive journey could begin. Nonetheless, the rushing patterns and apocalyptic rhythms soon overpowered and mesmerised the audience. FaltyDL also blew his opening, once more maxing the sound system, but worse, train wrecking two tracks in a row. After a rapid retreat to a classic house track, he worked his way back through UK funky, a rugged dubstep middle and came with a brazen IDM finale. Despite the hiccups, once recovered FaltyDL still managed to deliver the night's best set, perhaps besting Rob Hall only for diversity. Hall played forcefully, constantly shifting sounds and edging in new tracks except for a long run on Redshape's "Static" which brought raptured cheers from the crowd. Hall's purposeful finish was just what the night needed after a night of complicated and shifting sounds.
Saturday was clearly the standout day, starting in the Sala Noble next to the Chocolate Museum with two ambient-IDM audio-visual sets and ending again at Apolo. First up, Argentinian's Why and AV-K combined to produce a light and image show projected on a bizarre geometric sculpture made of egg cartons. The imagery returned once more to themes of Armageddon, pollution and the demise of society and the music at times matched, working feedback and dark tones together over a variety of rhythm loops, the sentiment growing more hopeful as the set progressed. Musically, Why's sound leans more towards ambient pop than IDM, but isn't immersive or beatless. Instead, it shifted constantly, building and undoing itself and adapting its beat accordingly, from slow deep techno to trip-hop. Local youngsters Ragul and Blowshe stole the show, however, presenting a work called "Frio (Cold)" that was both charming and full of intelligent naivety. The visuals were filmed and manipulated live by the female duo Blowshe, telling an abstract fairy tale. Accompanying this was Ragul's musical score which interchanged more textured passages with episodes of well-aimed bleep and bass such that each segment felt like a chapter and melodic cues began to feel like characters. As if consenting to the music, it began to snow lightly outside on the way to Apolo.
Pulshar spent some time on the road in 2011 and it shows. Their set was tight, punchy and well-paced, closing in on 4/4 or thunderous dubstep when needed, but never betraying the dub reggae roots of the sound. Equally as enthralling were the end and beginning of each track, honed to the finest geometric points by Bolivar and allowed to overlap kaleidoscopically. Inside the main room Cobblestone Jazz's Danuel Tate had already begun like a man possessed, singing, clapping and enjoying everything while his blend of incessant deep house drew the slowly thickening crowd down to the front. Brandt Brauer Frick's show was a perfect fit between Tate and Theo Parrish, playing off the live, jazzy sound of both, but giving it a more electronic edge, something akin to Kraftwerk playing Steve Reich at high speed.
Theo Parrish began with a long drum solo played in entirety from a jazz record, hiss and all. From jazz the next stop was jacking house, then a slow wind back through funk and soul to level out with a run of hip-hop and another house climax. It sounds simple on paper perhaps, but there are so many factors making it work on another level with Parrish. When he plays, he's also listening, thrusting off the headphones to get both ears out and his body at the centre of the sound as much as possible, working the volume slowly to bring complete emphasis and exaggerate the longer arcs of time passing through the music and the night. An immaculate and healing set and, in the end, a joyous festival that made the long walk home a whole lot warmer.