Warp Records began in Sheffield, U.K., back in 1989, and became one of the pioneers in the then-still-nascent electronic music genre. In the past twenty years, the label has expanded both physically, geographically (now a force to be reckoned with in the States, France, Japan and elsewhere), and stylistically, following the widening evolution of electronic music to take in everything from disco-dance to post-rock to DJs to instrumentals and more. And for their label’s twentieth anniversary, they’re hosting a series events across the world, one a month, in Sheffield, London (the label’s current home), Paris, Tokyo and New York. For the stateside Warp20 event, the label’s Battles, !!!, Flying Lotus, and Pivot played Terminal 5 on Friday, September 4th.
For a U.K.-born label celebrating it’s birthday in America, who was up first? An Australian band, naturally, in Pivot, having their first-ever performance in the U.S.A. The three-piece’s post-rock is reminiscent of an eighties vision of the future, more cyber-industrial than cyber-punk. That’s kind of fitting for an Australian band, as Australia is, at least in American eyes, very eighties, as that’s when the continent enjoyed a heyday in American culture, from Men At Work to Crocodile Dundee. In fact, the eighties vision of the future is heavily spiced with vegemite, so to speak, thanks to such future-seeing imports from Down Under then as Midnight Oil and Mad Max. Starting right on time, it was a fairly thin crowd for the band, but more than you’d expect.
Pivot got to play a little longer than you might have expected, too, because following them was the easy-to-set-up DJ Flying Lotus. Really more than just a DJ, ‘FlyLo’ (as fans were shouting) puts down beats & sounds with a contraption, as well as his computer. He might have seemed like the odd man out at Warp20 New York (and was replacing Prefuse 73 – QRO album review – who had to cancel), but one could see how he fit on the label, lighter and more electronic than your regular DJ. What’s more, you could tell he was really into what he was doing (something else often missing from too-cool-for-school DJs), and had the crowd up front into it, for sure. Being a DJ not only meant he could set up fast, but also break down fast as well, meaning he had more time than you’d expect, and there’s really only so much you can watch of a DJ (despite the ever-changing colored lighting behind him). He did bust out some cartoon-inspired sounds (though not to the levels of Dan Deacon – QRO live review), no doubt from his work composing music for The Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim.
But Flying Lotus & Pivot were really just openers for the main acts, starting with !!!. The dance-punk act took a relatively long time to take the stage, considering Flying Lotus’ paucity of equipment to take off, and because it was the actual band setting things up, when they actually started up, minus singer Nic Offer, it seemed a bit like roadies soundchecking, until Offer came out to big applause. With the departure of singer/drummer John Pugh in 2007, !!! live really is focused on Offer, who bounced across the stage, boogieing with his crotch in the face of pretty much every photographer in the pit (however, he no longer has the long, bouncy afro of curls…). But Offer one-upped that during !!!’s excellent “Must Be the Moon” (from 2007’s Myth Takes – QRO album review) by jumping into the photo pit, to bust a move with the photographers (including Ryan Muir, of BrooklynVegan & MetroMix), along with hi-fiveing everyone he could reach from the step-up on the barricade (security trailing the whole time); he even went back into the (now empty) pit later on during the set.
As electric as !!! was, it did mean that a lot of people left after them, skipping the official headliner, instrumental act Battles. If you’d just read that and knew nothing else about Battles, you could be forgiven for skipping out early, as most instrumental acts are boring to watch – but Battles is the exception (also see Explosions In the Sky – QRO photos – and The Octopus Project – QRO album review). So those ‘in the know’ stuck around (and the same thing probably would have happened to !!!, if they’d been headlining after Battles) – including the one-and-only David Byrne, who not only was in the crowd on the stage floor with the hoi polloi, but also even got his own drink! However, it was relatively easy to do so in the unpacked Terminal 5, but that sizable-but-not-overwhelming crowd made Battles’ set more enjoyable, which included the new “Shell & Shag”. Multi-instrumentalist Tyondai Braxton gets the lion’s share of attention in Battles, thanks to his distinct appearing, being the only one who ever sings (every now & then), his solo work (and collaborations with the likes of Parts & Labor – QRO album review – and the aforementioned Prefuse 73), and being the son of avant-garde composer Anthony Braxton, but the core of the live act isn’t him, off alone to the side, but guitarist/keyboardist Ian Williams (formerly of Don Caballero) and drummer John Stanier (formerly of Helmet), bunched right next to each other (guitarist Dave Konopka, formerly of Lynx, unfortunately spends most of his time faced away from the crowd). The only thing better than seeing Stanier look up at his strategically-placed way-high cymbal, in anticipation of hitting it, is seeing him actually hit it, right at Williams’ head-level.
Even before many left after !!!, the massive Terminal 5 (QRO venue review) wasn’t exactly chocked full – so much so that Bowery Presents didn’t open up the top level, leaving it ‘only’ at two (making it akin to Bowery’s Webster Hall – QRO venue review). It was the Friday of Labor Day Weekend, so many New Yorkers were out of town (probably why a Battles/!!! show could book Terminal 5) – including those who make have been expected to be in for that weekend’s Electric Zoo on Randall’s Island, who Warp20 was no doubt hoping to rope in (you could actually feel a little bad for the bartenders working that night, who weren’t getting their customary Terminal 5 flood of customers – and tips – but those that were working also weren’t slutting it up in dress like they usually do…). But it was also because the event ranged wide, from post-rock to DJs to dance-punk to instrumental – just like Warp Records. Here’s to another twenty…