The Mute Irregular nights (of which this evening was #9) are like industry party nights but open to the public. A bunch of Mute artists get together for a night of live performances, DJ sets and multimedia projections and the humble public not only get to see some of their heroes do their live thang and spin some of their favourite tunes, but they get to mingle with the copious amounts of cult music label celebs who wander around these events. The action was split across three main spaces - a bar where people chilled out to DJs, the main hall and upstairs the smaller second hall/bar. Since I was last here the layout seems to have changed and much for the better. With the evening's artists set to overlap slightly between each of the three spaces, I was reminded of the Dark Jubilee event this summer that followed a similar approach.
Former Mute owner Daniel Miller took on the task of kicking off Irregular #9 and although his track selection focused purely on the contemporary, the projections that accompanied his set were drawn from the dusty Mute archives with what appeared to be clips from the video for Warm Leatherette by The Normal (aka Miller) and Mute's first release in 1980. The clicky glitch electronica being spun was a perfect lead into the first of tonight's live performers - Komputer.
With their second album, Market Led, just released by Mute days before, this was an opportunity for this enduring twosome to focus on their current fascination with glitch and cut-up beat-tronica based around obscure vinyl abandoned in London's Spitalfields Market where the two sometimes work (this salvage activity providing the source of the album's title). Music aside, Komputer are such a cool looking couple of oddballs. Dave Baker sporting a Black Sabbath T-Shirt and epic sideburns and Simon Leonard - the mad professor - all uncontrollable hair, spectacles and chewing gum.
Each sat astride plastic chairs and coaxing an unpredictable live take out of their sequencer, sampler and rhythm box. The remix of Looking Down on London (from their previous Kraftwerkian opus The World of Tomorrow) transforms a middling track into some of the finest music I have ever heard. I LOVE this band. Rarely have I been so uplifted, excited and satisfied by a live performance. They're playing a number of dates to promote the new album. Be sure you see them.
Apart from knowing their name comes from a dodgy 80s home computer, Vic 20 were shrouded in mystery. However, on stage they couldn't have been more up-front about their sound. Lots and lots of smiling and dancing were a clear sign that this male/female duo really enjoyed what they were doing. Probably more than anyone in the audience from what I could make out. Still, my early 80s record collection is well stocked with twee electronic vinyl - so I began open minded enough. But despite their irrepressible energy and three-minute melody-driven ditties, I found all too backward-looking for anyone's good.
Obviously not interested in climbing aboard the electroclash bandwagon (and all credit to them for that) Vic 20 are rigidly tied to the early Vince Clark (et al) years. But just three or four songs in I found the cheese beginning to grate (!). The more I listened, the more I concluded that this didn't qualify as retro since it had never left the 1980s and therefore could not been looking back to that era, but simply stuck in it. Nevertheless, Vic 20 should set their sights outside the UK where bands producing music like this are doing good business in both mainland Europe and America. I wish them luck.
The next DJ set was in the main bar courtesy of Client. Still relatively low-profile, but with an interesting backer in the form of one Andrew Fletcher aka 'Fletch' of Depeche Mode fame, Client are the first signing to Fletcher's new pet project - his own label - their identity (until this point at least) kept sketchy by a decidedly erotic website. The Mode's clap happy chappy kept a watchful eye on his proteges, occasionally interrupting their work to introduce them to another industry name. Their set was dominated by a strong selection of retro electro (Mute artists noticeably well represented) with the likes of Fad Gadget, Nitzer Ebb and The Human League all popping up and, perhaps as a 'thank you' to their mentor, Personal Jesus by Depeche Mode got an outing too. Alison Goldfrapp's set in the main hall on the other hand was trying way too much. It may have seemed like a good idea to spin back to back cheesy disco but, trust me, it failed miserably surrounded as it was by so much quality electronica.
Also in the main hall, Appliance brought the night's first guitars to bear in a set up to their usual high standards. By now the room was filled to capacity and as I stood, squeezed up against the side wall, my attention and patience waned. Perhaps it was an early saturation of pure electronics, or the constant buffeting of Mute fans having to shove their way by, but I wasn't captivated as I had been in the past by Appliance's contemporary Krautrocking. With the legendary Richard H. Kirk due on stage upstairs before Appliance concluded their set, I decided to cut loose early and get my pitch in front of the stage of the former Cabaret Voltaire member before the smaller hall suffered from the same crushing influx.
As ever, Mr Kirk was largely obscured by a pile of boxes and wires. A keyboard to his left saw him popping out from hiding for the odd, infrequent keyboard stab, but the music was largely on backing tracks with Kirk playing with filters, mixer and sampler. The set was a non-stop roll of contemporary intelligent dance but largely avoided the recent dub heavy side of Kirk's Sandoz project. The visuals were as expected - essentially unchanged since the days of Cabaret Voltaire.
From looking initially slightly confused when confronted by his equipment (as though someone had set it up without his knowledge), after twenty minutes or so Kirk really found the sweet spot and the remaining twenty five minutes were classic beat-driven hypnotica - like 22nd Century Doctor Who music; infused with deep, deep rumbling noise and sci-fi bleeps. A real pleasure.
This really was one of the most enjoyable gigs I'd been to in ages. The atmosphere varied from room to room - from the relaxed DJ bar to the sweaty, throbbing main hall. If you weren't too fussy about the soundtrack you could simply choose the night you fancied by moving around 93 Feet East's stroll-friendly passageways and auditoria. There was also an undeniably exciting buzz about hanging out with so many Mute artists (Luke Slater, Echoboy and Pole also appeared tonight) and related industry folk - everyone mingling without pretence and not a prima donna in sight. For me personally, as a Mute fan since day one who lost almost all interest during the 90s wilderness 'indie' years, this was something of a renaissance evening for me. Roll on Irregular #10... I cannot wait.