– RNCM, Manchester –

Rival Consoles

Rival Consoles

Let’s get it out of the way up front. Yes, this is my first ‘proper’ post-covid-restrictions gig back in a full capacity venue (Squid at a sparsely populated, socially distanced Stoller Hall in Summer does not count), and yes it feels absolutely thrilling to be sharing a communal experience with actual people in actual real life. We don’t need any more words on how fucking brilliant it is to be able to see live music again IRL, so I’ll leave it at that.

I’m here at the Royal Northern College of Music’s (RNCM) all seated theatre space to see Ryan Lee West, better known as his producer/composer moniker Rival Consoles. A stalwart of the exceptional Erased Tapes label, he’s one of the finest electronic producers operating in the country at the moment. His music feels both very organic and intricately programmed, capable of thunderous techno bombs and gorgeous ambient passages alike. Alarm bells rang when I saw he was playing at RNCM, having been a couple of times before I know that most of the spaces are seated and wasn’t sure that the setting would be optimum for someone who can absolutely destroy in a club environment (his show at Headrow House in Leeds to support his ‘Persona’ album was an incredible testament to this), so I was mildly concerned about the atmosphere, particularly on a Sunday night.

The set up is simple, West has a complex looking console setup full of wires and buttons and knobs front and centre, with a large screen behind him for projections. What follows is a stunning, perfectly paced set made up largely (I think, it was hard to identify every individual tune) of tracks from ‘Persona’ and his 2020 album ‘Articulation’, accompanied by some of the most mesmerising visuals I’ve seen used to backdrop an electronic set. Made in Max/Msp/Jitter by West himself, and originally part of an installation at the V&A in London, they are simply extraordinary, pulsating and evolving with every beat and change in mood. I have never been so engrossed in a set of visuals like this before, and with the changes in the simple lighting setup, spotlighting West in various swaths of moody colours, they make for a thrilling backdrop to West’s glorious noise.

And what a noise he creates. Busy around his console, long hair covering his face, swishing around as he fires off beats, an intense concentration on building these beguiling tunes, he creates a perfect storm during the first few tracks before starting to really unleash. There’s a monolithic ‘Persona’ and a glorious ‘Articulation’ amongst them, the seated crowd bobbing along with pent up seated dance twitches. And then there is the encore, an absolutely destructive, dark techno banger that shakes the theatre to it’s very foundations, all thunder and Thor, time continuum disrupting, electric brilliance.

And yet…the venue means that the gig never quite reaches the heights that it should do. Everyone is seated, there is no dancing, just polite applause and the occasional whoops during breaks in the music. The crowd are definitely very into it, and very appreciative, but the formal constraints of the theatre setting, probably combined with a Sunday night situation, means that it feels a little flat in terms of atmosphere. West’s music should be performed in packed, sweaty rooms, shoulder to shoulder, room to dance, room to throw arms in the air. The White Hotel, Soup basement, even the Pink Room at Yes (if it had RNCM’s sound system…), would all have enabled this gig to climb to the heights it so obviously could have scaled given the proper setting. And so we had a proper 10/10 performance in a 5/10 setting; a great Sunday night out, that could have been an extraordinary event.

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