To use a well-worn football metaphor, the Modern Love showcase at Barcelona’s Nitsa Club was a game of two halves. If the Manchester label are going to continue to challenge for the title, or at least their place on the Berlin-Detroit axis, then live at least, some of their star players will need to improve their performance. As unexpectedly as it may seem, the gulf between the two acts was quite chiasmic, more than you would expect from listening to their discs.
Claro Intelecto, who was last here for this year’s Sonar festival in June, kicked off the game to a sizeable crowd with a decent set of minimal dub techno. It wasn’t a clean start as Mark Stewart immediately began wrestling with the dodgy sound system. But as a sign of difference between the two acts, he learned quickly to pitch the volume down and let the melodies speak up over the bass. Once he had found the balance he needed, for an hour or more he treated us to a refined set of deep and tuneful techno. At times reminiscent of MRI’s classic epic ‘You’re Out, You’re In’, Stewart’s set was a tapestry of gently blended melodic influences that were introduced gradually and slowly transformed over some nuanced, but necessarily restrained 4/4. Claro Intelecto always played himself down a little, never overdoing his own influence nor aiming for any stereotypical patterns of sustain and release. Rather, he played inside the music and set his ear on a certain communion with the crowd that was sustained while at the same time never quite euphoric. Part of that might have been the sound system limiting his ability to fully let go, but the sense of necessary adaptation gave the music a melodic urgency that was well received.
The second half couldn’t have been more different. Failing to heed Claro Intelecto’s problems, the first move of Deepchord/Echospace (Rod Modell and Steve Hitchell) was to crank the volume. Instant speaker wipe out. The bludgeoning beat may have filled the room, but any texture was gone. Not that there was much nor any to come. Perhaps the sound system was causing other technical problems, or perhaps it was just over-enthusiasm, but the duo just never could muster any inkling of subtly or functional form from their sound and instead overplayed and overcooked everything. Indeed, five minutes into their set they edged the intensity of the sound down as if aware of this. They talked amongst themselves while the pressure stayed low and unchanged for what was and seemed like an age. Gradually returning to the task, they seemed to be building the sound up to something. But no. At the peak when everything was to be set free, it went wrong again. Instead of dub, texture or atmosphere, there was a blast of noise, panning and dipping, definitely intentional, but devoid of melodic or emotional purpose. And so it continued.
They were like two kids in a candy store: Steve Hitchell was jumping up and down behind his laptop like a member of Rage Against the Machine every time the over powerful beat dropped, whereas Rod Modell rolled over his mixing board, seemingly content to wryly smash in a sheet of noise where there should be a spacious dub or drone.
Perhaps the Roland Space Echo, Echoplex, and/or Korg tape delay are too difficult to travel with, or that their sound depends too much on them? Live, Deepchord/Echospace were terrible, forsaking any of the albums reverence for mood and texture for bludgeoning and clumsy beats. One man said it all, leaving the dance floor with a bitter grimace and giving the thumbs down to his girlfriend. Full points for Claro Intelecto, none for Deepchord/Echospace.