"Best one-day IDM festival ever"
by Tristán White for remotegoat on 07/10/18

This year’s All-day Electronic Music Festival, dubbed 23rpm (it was 22 last year, as it refers to the age of the Japanese Mango + Sweetrice label, who collaborate with Bit-Phalanx Music and others to put on this annual treat for the ears) has a new home: Grosvenor Chapel, in Mayfair no less, part of its ongoing takeover of churches across London. Last year it was in the beautiful but largely unsuitable St John on Bethnal Green. Before then it was at St Giles in Soho. But this year it looks as though it has found its perfect home.

While not as visually stunning or interesting a church, the layout was far better. The queues for toilets were bearable, the three-channel silent disco worked properly and was not tucked into a tiny crypt, and there was room for two very good food outlets, which was not an option in 2017.

But we were there for the music, and this is where the Festival stepped up a gear in my opinion, and hence deserves five stars. Not that last year the music was any worse, but the acoustics were not as good and there was some unfortunate scheduling where Ulrich Schnauss was DJing while Coppé’s band were having a soundcheck. None of these mistakes this time. Almost everything was perfect.

The first main act of the day was the great Dane, Karsten Pflum. As expected, we were treated to a beautiful rolling heavy bass that rubbed us up the right way, and was the perfect start to the proceedings.

Next up were Polish/UK duo Earth is Flat, who last year were consigned to the crypt but had been promoted to the altar for the 2018 edition. They kicked off with their recent song, “Human Animal”, and the two Kamils were accompanied by Laur Beech and Michael Prosper, who sang out their environmental message about freedom, love and unity over the boys’ glitchy drum and bass. You can watch their music video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XUl6ANW7P8w. After the singers left, the Kamils filled the rest of their 45-minute timeslot with more atmospheric loveliness as the daylight filled the church with shadows, ending in a Tangerine Dream style aural cascade.

The next main act was Sonae from Germany, whose minimal techno was quite different to the previous act, a crisp open sound which really used the acoustics within the church to its full potential. The excellent 3D-mapped projections by Observatory juxtaposed well with the clicks and scratches within her pulsating sounds, giving them a visual reference point. For an example of Sonae’s music, check out “Majority Vote” on Youtube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1B5BiwUb-NU

Andrea Belfri from Italy was up next, playing music largely from his latest album “Ore”. A very acoustic set, fast clicks that sounded like a ball spinning uncontrollably on a roulette wheel over strange otherworldly sounds, while every now and then he banged various items with a mallet and created experimental soundscapes.

christ. was on next (the lower-case “c” and the full stop after his name is intentional). Linked to the early days of fellow Scots Boards of Canada, having come through the same artistic collective Hexagon Sun, he pleased many of the congregation in much the same way as his namesake whose image was hanging from the rafters above him would have probably done on less hedonistic days at the Grosvenor Chapel. I did find some of the songs were hard on the ear and I am not too much of a fan of over-distorted sounds, but who am I to argue when everyone around me thoroughly seemed to enjoy themselves. Halfway through his set I decided to give the silent disco a bit of a listen as I didn’t want to miss Coppé who was coming up next.

The silent disco was, as I said, much better organised than last year, and all three channels worked fine. Since this is where the bar was located, I often donned the headphones during the course of the festival. I was fortunate that I caught a particularly enjoyable set on Channel Three by Nacho, who will be familiar to Londoners for his all-night Electric Sweat underground electro parties in Bermondsey, as well as his legendary sets at NYC Downlow at Glastonbury and elsewhere. A great Detroit sound that deserved a bigger audience. Last year, Earth Is Flat were stuck in the silent disco crypt and were promoted to the main stage this year. Perhaps next year the organisers might consider treating some of the headphoneless majority to Nacho’s electro goody-bag in one of the warm-up slots.

Coppé was on next, accompanied by Plaid and The Bee. This was completely different to last year’s extravaganza. Visually less entertaining, but much more personal. Coppé from Japan is of course the co-hostess of the festival, and exudes energy and inventiveness. While last year she bounced around the stage in her outrageous Comme des Garçons clothes, playing homage to Klaus Nomi and accompanied by a full brass band, this year could not be more different. With The Bee plucking (and occasionally bowing) his violin, Coppé and Plaid put together a quite beautiful set. I had to sit right at the front on the cold stone floor to really appreciate the ethereal nature of this ensemble, with Yoshimi’s ageless vocals doing unnatural things to jazz standards - familiar yet alien at the same time. The 3D-mapped projections were also outstanding for this set.

Next up was Tim Exile. What can I say about him that hasn’t been said already? His trademark is to address his audience with a few words and then completely take them by surprise by not finishing his sentence and turning it into a live tune. Even though I was aware of this, every time he did it he took me by surprise. He started by saying that he was sorry, but that if we didn’t like his set, he wouldn’t be able to offer us any refunds, then laughed, and then that somehow became a tune. Tim is at the forefront of music sampling technology. He doesn’t have the media exposure of, say, Beardyman, but he should. He has given even a TED talk which you can watch here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1p9voINuU50 in which he demonstrates that via his own self-designed software, anyone can learn how to be a looper even without any musical training. This he demonstrated over 45 minutes, taking us through various different genres including drum & bass, jungle, and plenty of 80s music with scratching and beatboxing that made you half expect to see some breakdancers start doing their thang on the church floor. He could have performed all night. A real joy to listen to, and you never knew what was coming next. The beauty was, neither did he. So much of Tim Exile’s music is based on serendipity, pressing buttons and then going with it. You need to experience for yourself a session to understand what he is about, and I am so grateful to everyone involved at 23rpm for providing just this.

Next came the man himself, Frank Bretschneider from Germany. I don’t know whether “the godfather of glitch” is an epithet that is already taken, but if not then it should be his. There was no pause for the entire 45-minute slot, and he took us on a tremendous journey of sine waves mixed in with white noise. The 3D-mapped projections were great at the start and at the end of his set, though sadly were absent for large parts of the middle, but the music filled in all the gaps. It’s very hard to describe his music, glitch for sure but with some Krautrock-influenced minimalism as well. You really need to sit in the middle to enjoy his set, as he pushes stereo to its limits. Unfortunately, during this set there were some really loud people at the back and at the right of the church, who appeared to love the sound of their own voices and had zero respect for Zwickau’s finest. A church is a fantastic venue for electronic music, because of the tremendous acoustics available, but the audience needs to be respectful. Voices carry a long way in a church, and there were clearly some people there who had absolutely no idea who Frank Bretschneider was and, quite frankly, should not have been in attendance, thinking they were in a club instead of a concert. They were sharing their latest gossip and braying away, spoiling it for everyone else. I moved seat seven times to try and find a sweet spot where I could hear Frank’s sine waves in as good a stereo as possible without having to hear about problems with Tabitha’s babysitter. Glitch is a highly aesthetic musical genre, you want to hear every single scratch and pop, and it deserves respect. I would urge the organisers next year to put up signs reminding people that voices carry a long way in church and people’s inane nattering can really spoil what was a very special musical moment. At one point I was about to confront one couple and ask them “Would you do this at the Barbican?”, but my partner sagely dissuaded me as that could have ended up creating even more noise, thereby just adding to the problem. Fortunately, I found my sweet spot in the end, and could relish the remainder of the set in a slightly calmer manner.

I was rather hoping our favourite electro-activist was going to be bringing along his whole set-up (check out his recent set at the Boiler Room in Berlin here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fbMG_ok9Hlc&t) but I didn’t see many cables, and I think he must have flown in from Tegel Airport hand-luggage only, because I didn’t see much more than a laptop up there on the altar. Did it matter? Not really. The music was so fantastic and relentless, and he didn’t even pause once. An honour to be in the presence of royalty from 1980s and 90s German electronica. It was an absolute pleasure to hear one of the legends from the Shitkatapult label. I really hope future editions of this festival will bring us the likes of T.raumschmiere and other legends for our electro-delectations. If next year T.raumschmiere headlines with Apparat I’ll have died and gone to heaven. Make it happen, Mango + Sweetrice and Bit-Phalanx!

There was a frisson in the air! We all knew what was coming next... Murcof. It fell to Sutekh to fill in the gap between Frank Bretschneider and Murcof, but I think he should have perhaps been one of the earlier warm-ups. His fifteen minute set was rather too chill for the time of night, and some people started to leave, thinking nothing could really top the glitchfest from Herr Bretschneider. It was a tad soporific but, while beautiful, should have been used for a more daytime environment.

Those that decided to stay and hear Murcof made the right decision, of course. Like christ. earlier, Murcof is a product of another collective, but rather than the Scottish highlands Murcof, or Fernando Corona to give him his real name, hails from the Nortec Collective based in Tijuana, Mexico. I last saw Murcof at Sónar in his adopted hometown of Barcelona, and this brought back so many beautiful memories of that wonderful summer some fifteen years ago. It is very rare indeed to see him in London, and I am so happy that everyone who stayed in the Chapel stopped nattering and listened to his powerful music. I referred in this review earlier to the Barbican, when I was about to confront a particularly loud couple. Well, Murcof could grace the Barbican at any time. His music is not just EDM or IDM, it is classical. I am glad to say that you could not hear a pin drop, people were silent and listened as waves of sound bathed us all who gathered. I use the word “bathed” quite consciously. Last year I was at a music festival in Oregon to celebrate the solar eclipse, and partook in one of the best gong baths I had ever experienced. This was on the same level. I felt the music wash over me, like a wave, as I sat on my pew in the church, feeling every single note. It was relaxing, almost like therapy.

And then there came a strange noise. Was it feedback? Was it a mistake? But then it was repeated. So it must have been intentional. And it then dawned on me he was bringing into his ambient dreamscape one of his most exciting and inventive tracks, “Unison” from the amazing “Martes” album from 2001. There couldn’t be a better way to finish off a fantastic festival of electronica than to have the prince of Mexican minimalism performing “Unison” in front of a loving and respectful crowd. Talk about ‘holy minimalism’, this made it as literal as possible, with Christ’s statue hanging over the altar and Terrestre himself, Murcof, absolving us from our sins. A fantastic end to a fantastic festival.

Well done. This festival of IDM has matured into perfection. It’s onwards and upwards now, the heavens are your limit.

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