All images: Tristan Kneschke
Squarepusher’s Tom Jenkinson is most known for his drill n’ bass assaults, impossibly chopped percussion explorations that will melt faces after prolonged exposure. Yet, he’s not one to remain tethered to a singular sound or genre. He recently released an entire album of live solo bass performances and a curious side project called Shobaleader One, a chill listen speckled with jazzy chords and vocoded lyrics. Jenkinson’s jazz influences, like legendary bassist Jaco Pastorius, have been present since earlier works like Music is Rotted One Note and Budakhan Mindphone, and at New York City’s Le Poisson Rouge (still never seen a bad show there) his career comes full circle, performing Squarepusher tunes through the Shobaleader fusion jazz quartet.
This mysterious, otherworldly project retains the insane drum programming Squarepusher is known for, except played by a real drummer. This is a gargantuan feat, as Sqarepusher’s violent, 200 beat-per-minute breakbeats truly require a master’s hands in a live setting. With Jenkinson taking charge of the bass, the drummer becomes the real star, deftly performing his programmed fragments with perfect human precision.
Faceless techno has enjoyed a long tradition, from the most obvious and mainstream example of Daft Punk to many of the Warp Records artists in the early 90s at the forefront of the pretentiously-named intelligent dance music (IDM) genre. Among these was Squarepusher himself. When he put his mug on the cover of 2004’s Ultravisitor, everyone finally realized that he looked like…just another dude.
Shobaleader continues the faceless tradition by dressing all band members in druid-style cloaks and donning LED masks that sync in time to the music. Jenkinson doesn’t talk to the audience, nor is there a singer, unlike the vocoded messages on the Shobaleader album. He barely even faces the audience, preferring to vibe off the other space aliens in his lineup.
Laptop musicians have always had to face the challenge of making the live performance visually interesting. Years ago, it was acceptable (and boring) to trigger loops with a laptop. Some performers still rely on this, though everyone prefers a spectacle when they see a show. IDM band Mouse on Mars solved this problem early in their career by converting their squelches and bleeps to a prog rock show. The Glitch Mob has created “The Blade,” a sophisticated performance system to deliberately correlate visuals to their live performance.
Jenkinson standing behind a laptop for an hour-plus set would be a drag. It turns out Shobaleader is the ideal way to experience Squarepusher’s music. One hears songs in new arrangements, as opposed to MP3s played back on a bigger system. It’s also a visual treat to watch the LED lights blink and strobe to the music. Several tracks are converted into elongated jazz jams, like “Hello Meow,” featuring a punchier synth than the original, the more bombastic “Squarepusher Theme,” the adrenaline-junkie “Anstromm-Feck 4” and the concert-ending classic “A Journey to Reedham.”
Even though everyone is there to see the mighty Squarepusher, Jenkinson fades into the band. When someone in the audience screams “Squarepusher’s your fucking daddy!,” a reference to the title track off Do You Know Squarepusher, Jenkinson is mum, intent on focusing on the next track, silently communicating that this is about the music, not idol worship. Jenkinson never takes the opportunity to separate himself from his mates with an extended bass solo; he’s just another dude.
Check out more pictures from the show:[tg_gallery_slider gallery_id=”9673″]
Listen to Squarepusher’s most recent release, Damogen Furies, below: