If you were lucky enough to catch Amon Tobin’s audio-visually spectacular ISAM album tour last year then you’ll know just how groundbreaking it was, and even if you didn’t make it along then chances are you saw the enthusiastic reviews crop up on your social media portals at some point.
I previously wrote a blog here discussing the tour’s possible impact on other electronic artist’s live shows, and judging by recent performances by the likes of Skrillex and ______ it looks like Tobin’s peers may be struggling to catch up. “I’m a bit bewildered by the whole rush to massive productions and light shows this seems to have triggered, in most cases it’s not needed because they are still dance acts where you’d think the focus would be on the dance floor rather than on stage,” he told me. “I have a feeling were going to see a sort of funny AV arms race for a while and then there will be an inevitable backlash. From my own perspective the show will always follow the objective of the record. I’m not an entertainer after all; I’m just trying to find a legitimate way to share the things that fascinate me.”
Because of his frankly geeky approach to making music – eschewing live studio musicians for manipulating sounds and samples – his approach to the live show was never going to follow the likes of Groove Armada or Basement Jaxx. After releasing his first album on Ninja Tune, Bricolage, he joined other label mates for on tour playing a mix of his own productions and favourites from his record collection. To complement the complex and detailed sound of ISAM though, Tobin wanted to explore new ground beyond DJ culture and break away from what he describes as the confines that electronic music was being pushed into.
“ISAM is built from combinations of existing production and sound design techniques which have often never been applied together before to make music. It reaches really far in terms of what is possible with sound and consequently left me with a record that couldn’t be performed in a conventional way. It couldn’t be DJ’d or done with a band and I think its success is largely attributable to the fact we were forced to think differently about the nature of electronic performance.”
However, he is by no means against the purity of experiencing dance music in a dark club, devoid of distracting visual stimulus. “When I DJ I don’t typically have any visuals, it’s been difficult to get the point across to people that ISAM isn’t dance music despite being electronic,” he responded. “I’d go further and say that some music doesn’t need to be performed period, because it has nothing to do with performance. ISAM falls into this category to an extent which is why it had to be done on new terms if it was going to be done at all.”
After the success of the initial tour, Tobin is out on the road again, stopping by for another date at the Brixton Academy this weekend. He fondly remembers last year’s gig at The Roundhouse as a special moment. “It wasn’t just that the venue was so amazing, it was that myself the crew and everyone at Ninja had that shared moment of pride. We’d all taken such big risks in trying to do something different both with the record and the show and it had really paid off.”
Born in Rio de Janeiro, Amon Adonai Santos de Araújo Tobin then lived in Morocco, the Netherlands, Portugal and Madeira before settling in Brighton, England. An early release on Ninebar Records caught the attention of Ninja Tune, who signed him up in 1996, quickly defining the label’s sound during the late 90s trip hop and leftfield electronica boom. In 2002 he relocated to Montreal where Ubisoft got him to soundtrack the third game in their Splinter Cell series, which was subsequently released as a standalone album in 2005. His sixth studio album, 2007’s Foley Room, was created entirely from manipulated field recordings captured using an omnidirectional microphone.
“Music and sound are pretty all consuming for me, I hope I can continue to explore both for as long as possible in whatever form it takes,” he said on the subject of his methods. As for the next project, he’s going back to basics for something called Two Fingers. “It’s where I’ve put my love for straight up beats with no attention to much else. This will be one for the DJ’s with no AV in sight.”