I remember nostalgia. Or I thought I did, until tonight. As it turns out, opening that particular Pandora’s Box does not reap golden harvests of the heart. No, instead there is distance, coldness, and too much bloody over-thinking to justify taking a trip down our cultural backwaters for three hours of flashy, retrograde anaemia.
There is really a third performer here this evening, who just maybe gets all the star credit: the screen. It is large and imposing, front and centre, an obelisk transmitting what is meant to be the twinned journeys of irony and technology, a prospect which has presumably drawn some of the crowd that haven’t seen Drive because they spend their days bashing out John Carpenter scores on a Casio keyboard.
KALAX at least uses this behemoth for some sort of dynamism. Objects zoom in and out of perspective, making way for a dark car, patrolling a city, of course, that lights up a dame with a smoking gun. The man himself isn’t half as arresting. He wobbles under his beanie and presses keys on a Mac. All of us can do that, can’t we? What, exactly, is the point of coming to a show in which the music is interchangeable – set to precisely the same mood throughout: blooping, brooding, somnambulant synth-gasms livened by a rare vocal sample – and the high point comes from assorted clips of people dancing in the 80s? We get it! This is post-modern love for the MTV generation; OK, fantastic, but does it have to be so damn predictable?
And so to COLLEGE. Frenchman David Grellier is another level of mediocrity altogether. In fact, The Light Of Your Dress and The Drone could almost be the same song; ergo the entirety of his set, the whole numbing ordeal of it, replete with nothing so much as a smile from the sleepwalking composer. His accompanying visuals don’t try and go for story, opening as they do on a flickering desert morning and reminding us over and over again of his name in red neon script. One image in particular, outside of the time-lapse videos, is very fitting: a spaceman slumped pensively over the cosmic abyss, cradling a keytar while the world carries on without him. It’s to this effect that the reality of College’s work limps into focus. We should be in love with the earliest elements of electronica, he seems to argue, because that purity was the beginning of a sonic adventure without limits, bound only to the map of its beat. Confusion and introspection were not in vogue thirty years ago, and that carefree mentality can be ours again if we shrug off the advancements the genre has made and smell the hairspray, the lost abandon of the baby boomer. Well, bollocks. This sort of stuff helps no one apart from the middle-aged demographic that can’t give up their Sega Mega Drives. We have advanced, and it’s better than this.
As menacing and sporadically danceable as a few of College’s tracks are, the mood has all the intensity of a retro screensaver, the kind that pings around without going anywhere. When Drive soundtrack highlight A Real Hero finally comes (drawing a cheer from everyone), it is far too late. The song actually highlights what’s been missing: something human, something real.