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LIVE REPORT: Matmos
Rory Gibb , August 8th, 2012 05:18

On Monday night, Matmos performed at London's Queen Elizabeth Hall as part of Antony's Meltdown. Rory Gibb was your correspondent

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Photographs courtesy of Tim Boddy

Every time I watch Matmos, I'm amazed by the care and lightness with which they handle their source material. Given the thematic and textural density of much of their work - they pack together concepts as tightly as they do sounds, and have made records by sampling almost everything imaginable (including the slicing and dicing sounds of surgery) - it's never presented in a po-faced way. In fact, quite the opposite: M.C. Schmidt and Drew Daniel instinctively recognise that there can be no true seriousness without a similarly sized serving of humour against which to measure it. By practicing extremes of both - often within the space of a single track - they come across as neither preachy nor overly goofy.

Tonight's performance, as ever, finds them pitched neatly somewhere between those two poles. Schmidt opens the performance sat at a desk, straight-faced, delivering a long monologue expounding the benefits of a practice called D.E, or "Do Easy", and how it enables the disciplined student to clean their living space in a matter of seconds. He ends it bent over Daniel's knee, naked backside to the crowd, Daniel's spanks adding extra percussive and visual force to a sort of symphony for slapped arses, accompanied by a hypnotic film. At one point in between his face appears blown-up onscreen, pulling comedic faces to accompany an array of squawks, chirps and glitches generated by Daniel's equipment.

One mid-set track is a celebration of Alan Turing, the British scientist who helped crack the Enigma machine in World War II and formulated principles of artificial intelligence still in use today, but who committed suicide in 1954 after being sentenced to chemical castration for having a gay relationship. Focusing on the groundbreaking positives to his life and work, Schmidt and Daniel whip up a dry, percussive piece for typewriter, articulated in a language of clicks, taps and zippy glissandi. Behind them, visuals spell out Turing's famed test to detect artificial intelligence, translating the words from Enigma code into English, and back again.

These interlocked themes of sexuality, technology and science have been revisited throughout Matmos' recording career, and they're cornerstones of this evening's performance - one reason why they slot so neatly into the eclectic array of artists Antony has assembled for Meltdown (Cyclobe, who played a couple of nights earlier, occupy seats a couple of rows back from us).

This evening, though, their core duo is bolstered to a quartet by the addition of guitarist and drummer, which heralds a subtle shift in sound. They've recently signed to Thrill Jockey for an upcoming full-length next year, which makes sense given the spaced-out, near-prog rock-ish feel of a couple of new tracks tonight - the opener is almost raga-esque, a drawn-out drone for guitar and electronics, accompanied by whirling keyboard figures from Schmidt that repeatedly whip up and down the register. Again, though, it takes a group like Matmos to pull off such serious music with such a sense of fun. Appetites suitably whetted for new material, and hopefully further performances on our shores in the near future.

Meltdown runs until 12th August, and still to come are performances from Lou Reed, Marc Almond, Kembra Pfahler, William Basinski and more. For information and tickets head here.

Photo by Jamie Marsh

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