– THE RITZ, MANCHESTER –
Soulwax’s 2004 album Any Minute Now was a bit of a seminal album for a 20 year old me. My previous excursions into electronic music had started at Radiohead’s Kid A and finished at Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works – they were literally the only two electronic type albums I had heard, so I thought that all electronic music was beautiful and ambient. Then came ‘E Talking’ on MTV2 and it kinda changed my world, it’s when I realised that electronic music could be pretty nasty and aggressive and catchy and made for parties, especially when combined with guitars and some sweet-ass vocals. Soulwax, LCD Soundsystem, The Rapture…they opened up my ears to a whole new world of funky as shit noise.
Like LCD and The Rapture, Soulwax have grown older gracefully, leaving behind some of the stone cold bagels for something a bit more subtle and no less satisfying. Their new album, From Deewee was recorded live in one take apparently, employing live drums as well as programmed beats and squelches, and it’s this that they are bringing to Manchester’s Ritz tonight, under the guise of the Transient Program for Drums and Machinery tour. Before the Dewaele brothers come on stage, the set up already looks insane, with two banks of synths facing each other, a drum kit on a pedestal at the back above the stage, and two large boxes covered in black and white cloth. At the front of the stage sits the decapitated metallic head from the cover of their latest album on a stick. As the brothers come on stage to a rapturous reception, cranking up their electronic boxes of tricks to create an uneasy sound bed of squirrelling bleeps, the beat for ‘Masterplanned’ kicks in and the cloth from boxes drops to reveal two more live drummers hammering out the hypnotic rhythms in perfect sync. That’s right, there are three live drummers on stage in this ludicrously cool set up, one of whom is the actual drummer from Sepultura, and throughout the set they mesmerise and inspire awe with their meticulous, thunderous skin bashing.
All seven members of the band are dressed in white, like some latter day LCD Soundsystem gig (them again!), and it genuinely couldn’t be any cooler. There’s so much to watch and look at, as the lights change from stark white to red and back again, one drummer thrashing out a tom tom solo, one twatting the cymbal, another keeping time; one Dewaele conducting an electronic storm, the other deadpanning vocals in front of a synth, it’s fully brilliant. We get the more subtle new album tracks: the funky ‘Missing Wires’, the Kraftwerk-esque ‘Transient Programs…’, the playful ‘Do You Want To Get In To Trouble?’, and they all get the crowd dancing pretty vigorously, which for a Sunday night is pretty impressive. In the seemingly air-con-less Ritz on the hottest day of the year thus far, the result is maximum clamminess.
The real thrills are saved for the handful of older tracks they air though, the crowd lapping up an absolutely thunderous ‘Another Excuse’, which to my ears sounds like the remix version from their Nite Versions album, but whichever version it is it completely bangs, and all of a sudden there are people on their mates’ shoulders hammering the air with their extended arms in the throes of ecstasy.
The real sweat-inducers are saved for the encore though, as they throw out both ‘E Talking’ and ‘Miserable Girl’ to general pandemonium, bodies and feet moving in time, fingers thrown to the heavens, three drummers hammering away at syncopated rhythms designed to make you headbang, and it’s glorious. It’s been 13 years since a proper Soulwax album, and the response from the assembled crowd is one of maximum appreciation for one of the finest proponents of electronic rock music to ever walk this earth. They get two extended ovations, and everyone leaves grinning from ear to ear. “How cool was that”, I hear one lad say to his mate; very cool, dude. Very cool indeed.