I haven’t been to a show in a while. Ask me six months ago, and I could have told you about a number of shows I would have seen on any given week. My absenteeism from the Vancouver live music scene is due to many not-worth-mentioning factors, the most significant of which is that post New Forms Festival, there hasn’t been too many significant electronic shows to see. To be honest, the last two electronically- inclined shows I saw in 2004—Books on Tape, and yes, Swayzak—both landed in the shoulda-stayed-home-and-contemplated-my-navel category (although the line art of Olo J. Milkman’s at the Books on Tape show was definitely noteworthy). But I’m supposed to write about Swayzak, aren’t I?
The date was December 8th, and as far as I was concerned, the bill was a double line-up with minimal techno darling Matthew Dear. For me, the venue, Sonar, was a bad omen to begin with. If you’ve never been to this bastion for suburban kids and (on this particular night) place for aging electrona-hipsters, then you’re in for a night crapper to say the least. Imagine a place with the maze-like feeling of an Escher painting where you end up walking around looking for but never actually seeing the people you came to the gig with until the night has finished, and you have the not-so-pretty picture of one of Vancouver’s “premier” bars. Determined to have a gay old time despite the venue, the night started off well. In case you didn’t know, Matthew Dear is riding high on critical acclaim, not to mention being the darling of one of North America’s hottest electronic labels, Ghostly International. Basically, think Warp records if they didn’t get crappy post-millennium and you have Ghostly. Matthew’s set was as expected: a nice mix of minimal techno with electro elements thrown in for good measure. If Matthew decided to give the Swayzak clan the middle finger and worked the Techniques all night, I would have bought the man a drink or five. Unfortunately, Matthew was finished all too soon.
Swayzak are one of those groups who have achieved legendary status but perhaps need to throw in the sampler. With their genre-mutating (tech-house, dub, micro-house, etc.) critically-acclaimed studio albums and multiple 12”s under their belt, they seem to have run out of ideas. Still riding high after their 3rd full-length Dirty Dancing, their latest Loops from Bergerie is, frankly, flat and not representative of the masterful production that the Swayzak duo of James Taylor and David Brown have come to be known for. Boasting of a live band performance equaled by no other electronic act (who make the jump from geeks in the studio turning knobs to a full-live band) my expectations were sadly unrealized.
When the quartet that is the touring Swayzak took the stage, the half-full Sonar seemed ready for greatness. What we got was something different. A few songs in, I quickly realized that this wasn’t the Swayzak on the records. All my posturing about how a full band can often flesh out synthetic sounds live was lost on the friends I dragged along. There was a drummer, but I couldn’t hear any of what he was doing due to the drum machine drive on almost all the tracks, coupled with the simply retched sound quality of the room. This was unfortunate since the man on the skins really looked like he was enjoying himself. Maybe having a mixer as the focal point for a live performance isn’t the best thing for sound despite its uniqueness.
The highlight of the night was the band’s nod to electro-clash, “In the Car Crash” (which is a local favorite due to Vancouver’s own March 21 having worked on the track with the Swayzak boys), which was thumping, but somehow they managed to shit on this solitary gem through vocals sounding like ‘Born Slippy” era Underworld, not to mention playing the song fucking twice over the course of the night! I doesn’t matter how much Ecstasy or overpriced Stella the crowd had consumed, not even low rent one hit wonders try to play the same song twice live. I tried to give Swayzak as much of a chance as I could, but in the end, their anthem of “In the Car Crash” was too much of an analogy for the show in general.