My second evening at Decibel Festival began at the Neptune Theatre with the intriguing-sounding Shpongle Presents: The Masquerade. I wasn’t familiar with Shpongle‘s work, but the showcase description mentioned a blend of traditional acoustic instruments with “computer wizardry”, and more importantly “an elaborate, 3D video-mapped stage configuration”. Last year I had been fortunate to see Amon Tobin’s amazing ISAM production, which also involved 3D-mapped video projection, so I was expecting great things from this show.
First though, Phutureprimitive warmed up the room with a blend of downtempo, breakbeat, and house music. The artist’s very name evoked the sort of post-apocalyptic love tribe vibe often seen among Burning Man types, and the music was suitable for the rave crowd. And indeed there were definitely Burners in the audience, but not as many as I’d have expected; there were a lot of regular folk just there to check things out. I had more or less expected an hour of continuous music without any real distinct songs, but after playing for about a half-hour straight, he brought the music to a close before starting a new song. The second half of his set seemed to be shorter tunes that perhaps were remixes of others’ work; definitely he dropped in recognizable samples, such as the vocals from Gary Jules’ cover of “Mad World”, and his closing tune borrowed from Massive Attack’s “Teardrop”. It was an interesting mix with a slower, groovier feel to it that I was happy to sway along to but not quite dance, I think because the overall beat was a touch slow for my dancing taste. I also thought Phutureprimitive had cool visuals (including his nifty logo), but expected that they’d be blown away by Shpongle’s Masquerade.
So, I’d best address that up front. “The Masquerade” was not a serious disappointment, but it did not live up to my hopes and expectations. The thing is, Amon Tobin’s ISAM show set a high bar, and it’s unfair to judge other shows by that instead of on their own merits. However, if you’re going to the trouble of having a three-dimensional structure and computer-mapped projections, you have to do something with the imagery, motion-wise. Like Amon Tobin, Shpongle was performing from inside a structure, this one kind of a large oval-ish medallion or mask with a pyramid shape protruding in the middle—multi-textured, but in a way less elaborate than the stacked-cubes structure of ISAM, and at the same time harder to work with by not being as simple as cube shapes. And so the video projection involved lots of swirling color patterns and outlining of the medallion-and-pyramid shapes, but for much of the show it rarely offered optical tricks to make the structure appear to change or move, or give a real 3D feel to the imagery. (Here I need to add the caveat that I ended up not staying for the entire show, leaving about 15 minutes before it was scheduled to finish in order to catch a bus.)
Now, all that said, 3D-mapped video projection plus lasers always equals cool visual show; and also in fairness, the showcase’s description said it was “normally experienced in much larger venues,” implying that we might not have had the full experience. So it was definitely fun and impressive-looking, but less exciting and astounding than ISAM, and not a huge leap beyond the visuals for Phutureprimitive.
As for Shpongle’s music, if Phutureprimitive was a post-apocalyptic love tribe, this was pyramid-building space-alien harmony—still tribal in that Burning Man way, but more shiny futurism than survivor chic. I’d toss “New Age” in there, but that would give the wrong musical impression; this was definitely heavier and dancier than New Age music, definitely techno/house, but with strong world beat influences and touches such as Spanish guitar work, Middle Eastern rhythms, or didgeridoo samples. It felt more varied than Phutureprimitive’s set, but still in the same overall deep house style. I enjoyed the music quite a bit and even felt more like dancing, but I also had plans to catch some of the Pop Fusion showcase at the Crocodile, so as mentioned, I cut out early to catch a bus downtown.