Gilles Peterson's Worldwide Awards 2011, Koko | New music reviews, news & interviews
Gilles Peterson's Worldwide Awards 2011, Koko
BBC's genial jazz guy shows the real range of his interests
Club music has always been hard to keep track of, and never more so than in the current climate of constant genre meltdown and cross-fertilisation. Which is why the DJ's art is more important than ever, particularly in the case of scene figureheads like the indefatigable Gilles Peterson – known for over 20 years as a patron of all things jazzy, but lately proving brilliantly adept at reaching all corners of what he refers to as “left-field dance music”. Shows like his are ideal – necessary, even – for nurturing, contextualising and showcasing new generation genre-agnostic talents like men of the moment James Blake and Flying Lotus who played at Peterson's Worldwide Awards on Saturday night.
Peterson was a genial host, and it was extraordinarily impressive to see how much attention the Saturday-night revellers paid him when he broke into the evening's music for the awards section of the evening; most unlike most music-industry events indeed. Just how far he has come in all directions from playing jazz-funk records at London's Dingwalls club in the late Eighties was shown very clearly in the nominations for the Best Label in the awards. The five included re-issue specialists in funk (Jazzman) and African music (Analogue Africa), one loosely centred on psychedelic hip hop (One-Handed Music), one Berlin-based dubstep and techno imprint (Hot Flush), and a two-decade-old pillar of British electronica (WARP Records). And that fairly well indicated the span of music we were treated to over the night.
Live acts began with Brandt Brauer Frick (pictured right) – a trio of brilliantly deadpan young Germans in shirts and ties who looked like they might have been grown in test tubes from Kraftwerk DNA, and who played a deeply hypnotic kind of instrumental house music as Steve Reich might imagine it, wound around a constant kick drum and rich with explorations of the sonorities of sampled grand-piano chords. After them came the brass-led jazz-funk band United Vibrations, an equally young but very different proposition, big of afro, complex of chord sequence, mystically worthy of lyrical content. Though a cameo by Brooklyn's singing jazz-poet Homeboy Sandman lifted the set for a while, it all felt rather old and hoary despite the players' youth.
This contrast rather set the tone for the night's performances: it was the new and electronic that provided all the thrills and surprises, while those who looked back to the past too much ended up dragging. In particular, a performance by Jerry Dammers's Spatial AKA – a massed band dressed in cosmic-Egyptian style in tribute to his hero Sun Ra – felt a bit staged, a bit pantomimey, in contrast to the loose and fiery spontaneity of Sun Ra's original music. It was fun and all, and one can forgive Dammers a lot for his majestic work with The Specials and Special AKA, but even so it was hard to stay focused while they were parping away.
Far more interesting were Rocketnumbernine – a band actually named after a Sun Ra song, but who were inspired by the sci-fi spirit of his cosmic jazz rather than trying to resurrect his sound and look. A duo on drums and electronic keyboards, with the addition of Kieran “Four Tet” Hebden on sampler, they also brought in the “motorik” repetitions of 1970s German bands like Can to build up ecstatic levels of intensity – yet always subverted expectations, taking a left turn or dissolving their patterns just as any given crescendo appeared to be approaching orgasmic intensity. It was true 21st-century improvised music, and a prime example of how to take inspiration from the past and move forward, rather than reverently recreating it - exactly what Peterson (pictured left) is increasingly about.
Through all of this, large parts of the crowd danced, too, reminding us that this is music tested on the frontline, with no need to court academic approval or incorporation into approved canons. Inevitably, though, the crowd reaction intensified by several notches for the 22-year-old James Blake, winner of the Single of the Year award for “CMYK”, who conclusively proved he has the confidence as a performer to deal with the hype that has been coming his way. Singing from behind a keyboard, with a drummer and a guitarist who also operated an electronic sampler, Blake kept the strung-out introspection of the folky songs from his debut album intact, drawing the audience in with the sheer scale of the sound.
Watch James Blake perform "Wilhelm's Scream" for Radio 1:
The dubstep-inspired subsonic bass shook the grand old dancehall of Koko (formerly the Camden Palais) to the rafters, while the delicate frameworks of the songs unfolded into something it took very little stretch of the imagination to picture filling arenas – Blake's keening voice perfectly controlled as it wove through all of this, any suggestion that its idiosyncratic waverings were weakness blown away. It was incredibly refreshing to see such a compelling performance personality without any of the standard “love me” neediness of rockstar egos. Instead, Blake's combination of avant-garde precocity with the pursuit of real beauty for its own sake puts him more in the tradition of true populist individualists like Kate Bush or the Cocteau Twins than anything in rock, jazz or club music.
But it was Steven “Flying Lotus” Ellison (pictured right) who really provided the perfect Saturday Night entertainment, and a brilliant counterpoint to Blake's haunted intensity. Ellison, dapper in a very sharp black suit, let rip with a table full of electronic equipment, tearing up his own tracks, classic hip-hop beats and new electronic sounds to create a kaleidoscope of psychedelic rhythm, as sonically extreme as Blake's but hyperkinetic rather than poised, overdriven rather than tightly controlled, setting the entirety of Koko dancing gleefully. His music absolutely is jazz-inspired, directly referencing his aunt Alice Coltrane at one point – and, perhaps perversely, there were far wilder flights of improvisation in his entirely electronic set than has been noticeable in previous sets with his live band, Infinity.
In one touching moment, he got on the microphone to celebrate his recently deceased WARP Records labelmate Trish Keenan of Broadcast – but rather than request silence, he instead continued his performance, drawing sections of Broadcast's very British psychedelic songs into his own, with a very real sense of keeping Keenan's music and spirit alive, and of vivid, lively celebration; the audience reacted in kind. There were many other spectacular performances and DJ sets through the night, but this particular moment, with its sense of the connectedness of music by very different contemporaries, maybe best demonstrated what is great about the decentred, often gloriously strange world of music which Gilles Peterson champions.
- Find Gilles Peterson's compilations on Amazon
- Find James Blake on Amazon
- Find Flying Lotus on Amazon
- Gilles Peterson's Worldwide site
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