Ulrich Schnauss

Ulrich Schnauss


Since 2001, German ambient techno master Ulrich Schnauss has been making the kind of music that sounds incredible through headphones; particularly when you’re on a long train journey, when you’re just staring out of the window watching the beautiful/bleak (delete as appropriate) landscapes of England’s sometimes green and pleasant land go by, thinking about something, everything, nothing.

It can be unobtrusive music, music that sometimes is barely there, barely catching your attention, sitting in the background being there all stealthy, but at other times it can enthral, enrapture and captivate, perfectly matching your surroundings in a way that makes you feel like the music was made just for you, just for that moment you find yourself in. He can make the kind of music that makes you appreciate life more, whether that’s walking through your favourite park in Spring, the foliage coming back to life, the sun streaming through the branches of trees deflecting warmth onto your face that you haven’t felt since September; or whether it’s hurrying through a rainy city centre in the middle of a dark winter night, the streets deserted as you scurry along trying to get to the night bus before your entire being is soaked to the skin – he can soundtrack these moments and heighten your everyday experiences.

At the Deaf Institute tonight, Schnauss is playing to a packed upstairs room on the back of his latest album No Further Ahead Than Today from late last year. It is a shiny, shimmering album that wouldn’t sound out of place played over an Ibiza sunset in Cafe Del Mar, it’s kind of – *whispers a dirty word* – chill-out music, but, you know, not shit. The set up is simple: Schnauss and his touring mate huddled in a corner to the left of the stage, twiddling knobs, jabbing at laptops and scraping mice over digital noise makers, whilst a big screen hosts projections that precisely fit the mood of the music they’re building. It’s these projections that make this evening interesting, and go some way to conveying what I was trying to get at above – music matching moods and images so perfectly it’s hard to divorce the fact that the two were probably made apart. His set is divided into sections which are, to me, dictated by the style of images on the screen. We start with tracks from No Further… and the screen is all oranges, warm and inviting, old machinery going about it’s meticulous and repetitive work, blurry images that evoke the sun going down.

He then ups the tempo, the beats get harder and the synths more urgent, as behind him frantic cityscapes appear, images of transport and the sprawl, Brooklyn bridge, Japanese bullet trains, lit up cities alive with people busy doing their stuff, it’s mesmerising to watch and fully captivating. It dissolves into widescreen American roads, images of never-ending straights of tarmac through red dusty landscapes, cacti soaking up the sun from the bright blue sky, and Schnauss has gone all epic, evoking M83 at his grandest, reflecting the hope and possibilities endless roads can give you. This spirals into images that look like cities from space, lines of tiny lights against the dark, the insignificance of human life on earth under the biggest of microscopes, the grand electronic soundscapes soaring above us. They give way to oscillating kaleidoscope psychedelic images, Schnauss shifting to a wavy-er sound that is his most impressive section of the night.

The set finishes under the sea, coral and unrecognisable sea creatures gently swaying in the current, Schnauss wrapping us in bubble wrap and cotton wool, the come down to the journey he’s taken us on. It’s a brilliantly paced set from sundown to sunrise, and for the most part completely captivating. He didn’t pause for applause, just weaved all his tracks together in a seamless tapestry to tell his story. My only slight qualm was that there wasn’t much in the way to grab hold of, no vocals or huge moments to really take a hold of the crowd – it’s mostly been gentle nodding and chin scratching. But it’s a little quibble in what has been a flawlessly presented night of ambient techno/shoegaze/IDM, whatever you want to label it, at it’s finest.

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