Matmos and Tanya Tagaq
Triangulating the perfect drone
Tonight's appearance from electronic prankster duo Matmos is part of the Glasgow mini-festival programmed by minimal classical experimentalists the Kronos Quartet, who have invited a selection of friends and collaborators to the fair city for a series of concerts that have by all accounts been a roaring success.
If you know anything about Matmos, you know that this is going to be anything but ordinary. Previously from San Francisco (I'm assuming that's where they got together with Kronos), but now based in Baltimore, where Drew Daniel is an assistant professor of English, they delight in creating downright strange but often catchy and toe-tapping electronic music using a variety of bizarre sound sources - anything from the gruesome ripping and squelching noises of the surgical operating room to...well, to the Kronos Quartet reluctantly bowing deep fat fryers, as I was amused to read in The List.
Before the gig, we find ourselves meandering between Merchant City bars and spot a group of people gathered around a tall, academic-looking man in a brown tweed suit playing a cheery kazoo-like ditty on an orange drinking straw. It is Martin aka MC Schmidt, one half of Matmos, giving us a small example of the sense of fun that makes the band much more interesting than many of their experimental peers.
Tanya Tagaq in blue mood
We sit in cabaret style around tables in the dark Fruitmarket hall. Opening for Matmos is a lady in a cocktail dress from the icy tundra. Tanya Tagaq has been working with Kronos over quite a few of their Glasgow gigs, but here is performing as part of her own trio. Her vocal approach is lifted from a traditional Inuit singing game, and involves making throaty grunts and rhythmic breath sounds at the same time as sung notes, akin to beatboxing but much weirder. I've heard recordings of this singing game and she definitely takes the style way beyond its roots. A huge video backdrop projects primary colours and compliments her melodramatic writhing. Heavily effected haunting violin and hypnotic percussion join to create a pleasing and strange experience. Quiet reflective moments build to Banshee screaming and frantic drumming. She is an intense and odd performer.
A brief hiatus, and onto the stage bounds Matmos. There are three of them tonight - on guitar and effects is long-time friend J Lesser, while Drew Daniel stands at what I think might be a laptop and MC Schmidt sits at a tiny drumkit and keyboard...as far as I can tell. It's an unsettling opening: a voice intones 'triangle' repeatedly as sampled notes from said basic instrument layer into a complex drone epic while Lesser plays mournful wails on his electric guitar.
The choir - but where are the baguettes?
Their sense of intelligent mischief is soon in full effect as it becomes clear they have enlisted an impromptu choir in comedy glasses to chant inane sentences from the balconies in a monotone. The disembodied voices overlap and spin around the quadraphonic sound system spouting stream of consciousness phrases from every angle ('flying baguettes' was the one that stuck in my head). The projections on the big backdrop mix po-faced stills of Matmos performing Kraftwerk-like with abstract and mundane images of corridors.
The more dance-oriented side of Matmos begins to emerge as MC Schmidt plays intricate patterns on his little drum kit which are looped and mangled into something approaching a groove. The set continues to build with strange and elaborately perfect sound sculptures until incredibly we realise it is 1am and the band wave goodbye.
The resultant pocket of 'one more tune' chanters are rapturous when Matmos return, and the band seems energised by whoops from the small group of enthusiastic dancers who form a mini-rave down the front, bopping away to the decidedly funky beats that constitute their encore. We are very sad they don't have another hour.
More Kronos In Glasgow: