John Foxx

ICA, London - 29 September 2007

"Pure pleasure"

[John Foxx]For fans of John Foxx this special event at London's centre of cutting edge cool art, the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) promised to be about as close to nirvana as it was possible to get. If not that then at least as close to the enigmatic man himself. This was a rare thing - billed as perhaps the first time that the various disciplines in which Foxx operates - music, photography, writing, film - had been brought together at once. An entire evening consisted of a screening of the film Tiny Colour Movies (with live accompaniment), a performance of Foxx's seminal 1980 Metamatic album (plus single b-sides), a chance to meet the quiet man in the bar where he was collaborating with a VJ or two (who were mixing some of his short films), plus a screening of his glorious Cathedral Oceans multimedia installation project in the ICA cinema. With a merchandise stall selling albums exclusive to the tour plus DJs spinning all thing electronic all evening and a close of 1am it was hard to know where to look next so as not to miss anything.

And, if you weren't there, you certainly did miss something. Perhaps the most memorable part of the entire event was a Q+A session with Foxx following the screening of Tiny Colour Movies. It was during this good half hour chat with the audience that we learnt that Foxx finds the thought of scoring a sci-fi feature film "daunting"/"scary". "I'm more comfortable with using found footage and putting music to that" he said. On the movie image/soundtrack collaboration of Godfrey Reggio and Philip Glass' Koyaanisqatsi he thought that was 'good but too slick' emphasising his love of all things low-fi. When asked about his fondness for empty cities he stated "I love New York, but New York looks better grainy", and lamenting that he'd recently had to send some 8mm cine film to Germany to get it processed as no one in the UK provides the service any longer. We heard about his theory, or was it wish, that we will discover too late that film is organic, that it changes over time, ultimately with new images evolving on the celluloid.

[John Foxx]It was great to hear someone who has dedicated so much of his waking consciousness to thinking about a subject in such detail. He blames it all on an early, impressionable exposure to 50s low-budget sci-fi b-movie Robot Monster. But, as ever, gave his unique, English spin on its impact and the fantasy world he began conjuring up around himself at an early age: "I lived in Arizona, Chorley, with Robot Monster coming out of Woolworths!" was how he summed up his childhood. It was as captivating to listen to as it was warming to hear someone talk so openly and eloquently about his passion.

A half hour break and he was back on stage joined by collaborator Louis Gordon and, for the first time in my experience, a third live musician who also worked on the live sound generation and mix. This time to perform his hugely influential Metamatic album - a landmark in the annuals of electronic albums. Although he's frequently performed many of the songs on the album down the years, this tour (which kicked off at the Bestival event in the Isle of Wight in August) was the first time he'd actually played the album in its entirety. To be honest, whilst it was great to hear them all, back-to-back, I missed the variety of his regular gigs where he regularly chucks in the odd Ultravox! Classic like Hiroshima Mon Amour or Slow Motion (and always does them better than Ultravox! ever did). His renditions of those wonderful songs just blow me away.

Still, what was got was great and, as billed, not just the album tracks but several of the singles and b-sides from that time including instrumentals Glimmer and Mr. No, plus 20th Century, This City and Burning Car. The vocal lines were often tweaked slightly and not always entirely successfully to my tastes but the live mixes of Metal Beat with its almost harpsichord elegance and the additional sequencer patterns on No-One Driving were superb updates that proved the concept was well worth pursuing.

Foxx and Gordon were clearly enjoying every minute. The occasional stray note and missed vocal didn't matter. The joking call (from one of the faithful in the crowd) for a performance of Vienna, the song that gave Ultravox their biggest ever hit with new vocalist Midge Ure - straight after Foxx left the band, prompted first an amused smile from Foxx and then a momentary quizzical look in jest suggesting he'd fleetingly consider it, prompted howls of laughter. Even a loud burp (!) from someone between songs was greeted with sniggers rather than the angry stares you might expect such a hardcore fan crowd to respond with. No, this was a night of pure pleasure. Indulgent but shared with many who also saw Foxx for the electronic music cult hero he so deservedly is. 8/10

Rob Dyer