Liars/Vessel/Roll The Dice At Illuminations Festival

Art & Culture

I came to this gig as a relative outsider, from a position of neutrality, having yet to experience a full Liars conversion. For whatever reason – lazy, misguided assumptions mostly – the adulation which potently manifested itself among those in attendance had so far eluded me; an absence of appreciation quickly corrected by a set consisting of fiery, breakneck force and freakish bedlam; an altogether astounding and relentless exhibition. 

The night had begun fairly inauspiciously, with the initial DJ set – who it was I couldn’t tell you – unfortunately treading into bass-house bilge territory after an interesting opening of jittery electronics, including an airing of Inga Copeland’s ‘A & E’, which resonated amazingly in a largely empty surround, flecked by cyan-hued flashes of stage light. Gradually groups milled and gathered till eventually Roll The Dice took to the stage, in an almost comically melodramatic way, with spoken word intoned over the speakers, seemingly heralding their arrival with utmost sincerity but actually feeling somewhat overplayed, as if an amateur thespian had hijacked proceedings with a laughably exaggerated reading of Edgar Allan Poe. Despite that misfire, what transpired reached an impressive magnitude. Two longform, cinematic pieces mustered from an arsenal of hardware delivered a fitting opening set amidst the arches, high ceilings and airy vastness of Village Underground. Although the duo remained fixed in their manipulation of machinery, Peder Mannerfelt proved the more extroverted member, jutting up and down as if violently interpreting one of those woodpecker desk toys, whilst around him a forge of oscillation, beat and drone steadily grew in a bout of stormy intensity. It was a striking ascendance, with the duo negotiating the rising volume and chaos with precise flair. The visuals proved slightly tacky though, with a fire effect occasionally flaring up on screen, bearing a distinctive resemblance to a shoddy fragment of clip art, though small incongruities did little to detract from a set characterised by heavy, burring tones and arrhythmic percussive clangour. The sharpness and clarity of their sound was made all the more engaging for the propensity they showed for allowing the sum of noise to spill into something which felt less governable towards the climaxes of each fluid construction. 

The subsequent interim following their set proved unmemorable, defined less by what came over the speakers and more by a scramble to score a few meagrely sized beer cans at wallet ruining expense, at least in the case of yours truly and a fairly significant heft of the crowd. Buoyed by a few swills of extortionately priced lager, I returned to view Vessel. Adorned in head-torch regalia – mostly the preserve of those in the trade of ‘serious’ techno– Seb Gainsborough concocted a twisted torrent, with wardrum punch and electronics which felt as hard and skewed as mangled metal. Although the whole set proved a savagely heady trip, the two clear pinnacles came with ‘Red Sex’ and ‘Anima’; both of them took on a wickedly thuggish throttle, the synth organ sound in each somewhat remindful of ‘Rocket USA’ and just as anthemic. But it all pumped, feeling like the catalyst for some spontaneous outbreak of full blown demolition. Gainsborough mirrored the ferocity of the sounds with hyperactive writhing, as if he was gripped by a fight with himself. The abiding facets of the display was how original it all felt, it’s hard to think of anyone else venturing into the same uniquely hardcore and deformed area of sound that Gainsborough explores. That and the gratifying notion that electronic music, specifically in the more interesting, generically nebulous areas, isn't always defined by temperate pose in performance. 

After Vessel’s set the crowd grew into a heaving throng, sweat beginning to form; expectancy and anticipation giving the whole place an unstable mood. A projection of kaleidoscopic whirls filled the stage screen before the lights went down. Then figures emerged and the band burst into a volcanically fervid rendering of ‘Pro Anti Anti’. I think the guy next to me encapsulated the larger-scale reaction pretty well, quickly assuming a wayward pogo, something which became amusing on account of the crop of curls which bounced with every moment, from behind it looked like the lunatic bounding of an unsuspecting novice hit by the onrush of a lethal ingestion of uppers. Angus Andew was equally captivating, his face obscured by pantyhose, cutting a formidable form; giant henchman, bankrobber and scruffy purveyor of uncompromising vocal assault all rolled into one. Eventually that veil was lifted, replaced by a shock of dirty blond streaks, which rarely stood settled for the remaining duration. 

The set was mainly constituted by material from ‘Mess’, ‘WIXIW’ and ‘Sisterworld’, with only the encore turning to earlier glories. But to the untrained eye any shift revealing the change in direction over the course of their recent and earlier career was not an immediately discernible element. It was a uniform tirade, flavoured by a danceable pound, nothing short of a blitzkrieg. They continued in such a vein with ‘Mask Masker’, ‘Vox Tuned D.E.D.’ and ‘I’m No Gold’. At one point in this juncture I recall a couple in an inappropriately timed embrace, ardently pressing their lips together as if they wanted their faces to combine into one great fuse of flesh, to a backdrop of jumps, flails and bobs. This was a good crowd. 

The band littered their infectious, relentless crash with stranger impasses in the form of ‘No Barrier Fun’ and ‘WIXIW’. At the midway point a disarmingly affecting moment came, with the dual sublimity of the more reflective ‘Can’t Hear Well’ and ‘No 1 Against The Rush’, which allowed the room to breathe a bit, a fortunate relief on account of the carnage wreaked nearer the front. The former really hung in the dark closeness, the fact it was a heartfelt dedication made it all the more powerful. That really pushed it to new heights, and if I wasn’t pretty much indoctrinated before, this functioned as an iron-tight guarantee that I was witnessing something truly special. Dazzling form was resumed with ‘Mess On A Mission’ and ‘Brats’. But by the time of the encore I’d got a little over excited, plied as I was by then…so much for critical distance and omnipotence. 

After the band left for the final time, Daniel Miller surged into a techno-heavy set but unfortunately the venue cleared quite rapidly, as if the limit had been reached; any more might have sent the majority over the edge. There was only one personal gripe that stuck as I joined those making for the exit; why had I not acknowledged and experienced this before?

The best gigs always reduce you to hyperbolic streams and this possessed such a capability. A night with little let up, bruising and majestic, one which drove home why the cult status of Liars is now virtually enshrined.

(Photos courtesy of Zoran Veselinovic)