"What is house?
Technotronic, KLF or something you live in
To me house is Phuture, Pierre, Fingers, Adonis
The Pioneers of the Hypnotic Groove
Brian Eno, Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk, Depeche Mode and The Yellow Magic Orchestra"
- LFO, "What Is House?" (Warp Records, 1991)
Given their famous name check in LFO's classic track "What Is House?" from Warp Records' early days, it seemed appropriate to have a Warp artist open for Yellow Magic Orchestra's Meltdown appearance. Although Autechre, Aphex Twin or Plaid would first spring to most minds as the likeliest of candidates, a three piece rock band from Australia rose to the challenge. Pivot has recently been touring the UK making their name known as Warp's latest rock signee in advance of their soon to be released debut for the label, O Soundtrack My Heart. Sharing a stage at Royal Festival Hall with one of the most influential acts of the last few decades isn't such a bad way to spend your time abroad.
Owing in part to sharing the same label, comparisons to Battles are unavoidable since both bands boast a minimal line-up capable of producing tight, strong rhythms. Whereas Battles has always been a take on dance music using rock instrumentation, Pivot are a rock band through to their core. Except that is, of course, a lie, because as soon as they have you convinced of that, they ditch the driving drum beat in favour of a lovely ambient space jam using primarily electronics. With all three members squished together at the very front of the stage, Pivot kicked us awake before Yellow Magic Orchestra came to comfort us.
Against a cool, computer blue backdrop, Yellow Magic Orchestra began their first UK performance in over 25 years. The original trio took their positions in one row of tables as they were joined by three additional musicians behind, including experimental luminary Christian Fennesz. Six figures against a solid colour provided a minimal enough setting to afford the legend surrounding these pioneers of the hypnotic groove some room to breathe.
Fans hoping for a session of greatest hits left disappointed, but anyone open to an evening of enchanting technopop found much to delight in. Although often unfairly reduced in the western world to "the Japanese Kraftwerk", Yellow Magic Orchestra have always possessed lighter, more whimsical pop sensibilities than their German counterparts. Whilst Kraftwerk's legacy can be heard in Detroit techno and electro, Yellow Magic Orchestra's performance demonstrated how their gentler approach is perhaps the missing link between Brian Eno and the Kompakt label's Pop Ambient series. In not delivering classics like "Firecracker" and instead focusing on glitchy ambience, the band were able to set a relaxed mood perfectly suited for the seated venue.
As their set progressed, so did the accompanying visuals. Shifting from shimmering drops of light to meditations on urban solitude, the imagery artfully complemented the band's muted techno tones. We most enjoyed the retro pixelation that accompanied "Rescue", as lyrics from the song appeared on screen that not only accurately summarised the gig, but emphasised a question that lives at the centre of all electronic music: "Progress or regress, why not go forward?"
Kind enough to reward our applause with two encores, Sakamoto, Takahashi and Hosono were obviously having as good of a time on stage as we were off it. As they exited each time with their arms around each other's shoulders for a bow, we thought we could see a farewell to London in their eyes. Although we hope they prove us wrong by returning soon, we're happy that we had a chance to witness these masters in action.
Photo of Ryuichi Sakamoto of Yellow Magic Orchestra taken from daveknapik's Flickr photostream.