Why Manchester is the new creative epicentre of neo-soul and hip-hop
Text: Karen Ka Ying Chan
Photography: Aoise Tutty
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At 7:30pm sharp, I found my seat in the Queen Elizabeth Hall at Southbank Centre, where Sculpture, Daniel Lopatin and Tim Hecker were performing. London’s Sculpture came on almost immediately: two men stood on stage, delving straight into the realms of granular and irregular experimental-techno with some sublime visuals showcased on the screen at the background. Reuben Sutherland, the animator, was responsible for the video zoetrope turnable, which filmed and projected a kaleidoscopic collection of fragmented imagery both madly dreamlike and strangely hypnotising. Meanwhile, thanks to musician Dan Hayhurst, a mass of mutated, swirling, womb-like synths and samples emerged, slowly building up into a colourful ambience with droplets of shuffling, dance-inducing beats that recalled Actress’s mutated elegance and Gerry Read’s warm wonkiness.
In sharp contrast to Sculpture’s A/V show, the Montreal-via-Brooklyn pair Lopatin and Hecker opened their live set without any visual element. The lights were dimmed to a minimum, leaving Lopatin’s beardy appearance the only visible “object” on stage as it was reflected by beams of digital white lights radiating from his laptop. Hecker, who was standing in front of his keyboard set, became the typically elusive, shadowy figure hanging about in the dark. Looped piano whispers and curious chimes started singing, and the whole room went silent, adding to their ideal evocative working environment. The set properly kicked off on a bed of birdsong-like, tropical sounding synth leitmotiv reminiscent of one of Lopatin’s early productions; a trance-like, soothing feeling prevailed. Things then became much busier and more frenetic, with Hecker building an absorbing fuzz of dismantled textures that truly set off the misshapen, ear-shattering sonic experimentation.
Submerged in layering and looping piano chords and rippling, repeating melodies, I found myself in a motionless state with my eyes closed, zoning in and out to the space the pair were so adept at creating. A few moments later, the feeling elevated to a euphoric peak, and the sensation expanded. All that sublime numbness, that sense of completely immersive, vivid feelings, and that slightly awkward, mild tension was the result of a music that snatched my breath, creating a dreamstate of introspective ambience between abstract discomfort and wild disorientation. The intensity kept heightening for the remaining 20 minutes, ripping me from my internal meditations to bask in a brutally beautiful bliss. The set finished before I even realised the last strike of piano chord was echoing through the room. I walked away, with my ears ringing and chimes resonating in my head, never feeling more emotionally rewarded.