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Anamanaguchi at the Triple Rock – May 26, 2013

3 Jun

By: Connor McDaniel

Anamanaguchi_byMrGIF

In all honesty, I had gone into this show expecting to hate a large majority of what I heard.  I didn’t know all that much about Anamanaguchi other than the Slime Girls seemed to worship them, they liked 16-bit rainbow gifs, and they were still trying to ride that whole “nyan cat” fad.  That and I saw they managed to get something in the Tumblr spotlight a few days before.  Good for them.  So the assumption was they were some sort of marginally popular chiptune artist or something with your typical awful chiptune fans playing your typical generic chiptune music.  Luckily enough, I was proven wrong on most counts.

Gordon Voidwell, a solo act whom apparently recently made a move from New York to Minneapolis, opened the show.  The first thing I noticed about him and his setup (other than his nice jacket) was that his entire rig was on one of the Triple Rock’s floor tables. You know, the little black square ones that are about four or so feet high.  To this day I never really understand why openers subject themselves to this sort of thing.  I suppose the amount of exposure you get outweighs the embarrassment of only being able to use a fraction of the stage as the headliner’s gear sits behind you draped with massive cloths that remind the audience, “Oh yeah, the REAL band is coming on soon.”

Anyway, Voidwell’s “thing” is sort of hard to describe (insert your own joke here).  He had your standard loop pedal set up, some prepared material, a microphone, and something I couldn’t really figure out attached to the microphone stand.  His actual performance was primarily vocal, with a few setups and loops being done by hand but the majority pre-recorded and queued.  It was very interesting to watch the crowd try to move to this music (the few members of the crowd willing to that is, of course. God forbid you dance to the opener!) because a lot of the time it was somewhat arrhythmic.  A lot of the vocals seemed intentionally choppy and off-beat, something that I found quite entertaining, a definite plus.  The only thing majorly lacking was a lower end, his airy vocals making up most of the mix.  I can’t tell if this was his fault or the venue’s, but it was unfortunate none the less.

The crowd seemed to become gradually more confused as his set went on. For the first three or so tracks he took a break between songs or at least tried to say thank you, essentially have to directly tell the audience, “Yes, that one’s over!  Applaud!” Eventually he just gave up on this, and rightfully so. His music had a drone-like quality at times, and each song flowed well enough into the next, so there was no real reason to stop, though there was definitely an air of “do we clap now?” I can’t fault him for that at all.

Chrome Sparks took the stage next. Two keyboard players (keyboardists?), a drummer, and electronic kit. This band is defined by many as “chillwave,” a genre picked out of the air around 2008 which has been trending again more recently.  These dudes/this dude (apparently it’s a solo project and the other two dudes are just along for the tour) got featured on Pitchfork not too long ago, went to SXSW, you know the deal.  In summary they have about six times more “likes” than the opener and 1/3 of the headliner.  New York.  Chill Wave indeed.

Anyway, they played their music.  At first, I was quite surprised!  Chillwave is a genre that does indeed sound pretty cool, even if its origins are far more listenable. Their music in a word is very “atmospheric,” really filling the room with that low end that I was missing during the first act’s set. Emotive is another meaningless word that could be used to describe the music they played. Another notable feature of their music is that it was primarily instrumental.  I don’t know about you guys, but I don’t really trust people that only listen to instrumental music.  Maybe I’m paranoid though.  Don’t look at me~!

The real takeaway I got from this “band’s” “performance” was the fact that they were not really playing any of the music.  I’d say roughly 50% (on average) of their music was being played live. To be honest, the guy on stage left…  I could not tell you what the hell he was doing the entire time. During songs with so much layered music going on literally all he would do is set off one TINY little sound effect at the end of, say, one in every four measures, and then just dance a little? He wasn’t a hype man by any means, as he stood behind his keyboard, but he really didn’t bring anything to the table either. It was baffling.

So there you had on stage a drummer wailing away at an electronic kit, the “main dude” (you can tell because he’s in the center) playing like five notes, and this dude on the left setting off little sound effects every now and then.  Occasionally both (yes both) of the keyboard dudes would go back and play xylophones (the 2000s are a good century for xylophones) with ALL of this massive sound still playing. My ultimate takeaway is that it was like watching a bunch of kids at some Disneyland “you can make music too!” setup where they could just smash their keyboards and pretend they were playing live music when in reality the whole thing was just being played off of the backing track.  I mean the guy clearly had a macbook sitting there and he would go to it each song to “start the next one” or whatever, and it all leaves me stunned. How do they go about choosing what little parts they will actually play live? Are they playing some notes and just looping it? If so, why do they make a point of looping all of this backing stuff but playing small certain sections live on their keyboards over and over and not looping them as well? I suppose that wouldn’t look very cool, would it?

The biggest surprise came in the form of not Anamanaguchi’s cool light set up, or the movies they played on the screen behind them, but the fact they were playing “real” instruments.  Two guitars, bass, a drummer, and no keys in sight. I’ll admit I don’t understand how they managed to sync everything up, (lights, video, sound) outside of playing a click through the monitors, but they pulled it off surprisingly well.

Their lighting set up was pretty interesting. Three massive tube like things, each about seven feet tall, sat behind the band, and throughout the show various colors would stream up the tubes. Then you had these two massive cubes, one on each side of the stage, in front of the band, which not only changed colors but also projected fragments of the videos played on the projector, somewhat like a hologram.  Finally you had the club lights and the actual video playing behind them, and when all of these elements synced together it made for quite an incredible, club-like high energy atmosphere.

Now I made note of the fact there were no keys on stage earlier, but throughout the majority of the songs played that night keys were abundant. Not only that, but it seemed that on certain songs, mostly keyboard heavy songs, electronic beats played on top of the actual song, augmenting the drumming already taking place. The guitars themselves were fairly low in the mix, though at times it seemed that both guitar players would use certain pedals that made their guitars sound like keys, to the point where it was difficult to distinguish the two (in a good way).  Of course this only applies to “solo” like sections, I don’t think they were able to emulate the way chords sound on a keyboard, and if they did/could, props too them. I couldn’t properly tell, I’m just assuming here. That said, some songs did play with pre-recorded vocals so at the very least I can be sure they were playing to some sort of click track.

The music itself had two different styles; very high energy and crazy major key “fun” songs, or dance songs. You could tell the difference purely in the BPM, with the fun songs being around 140 and the dance songs around 100. I only point this out because not only were they playing to a click, but after a certain point their songs seemed to be very, very formulaic. Similar to a drop in a dubstep song, during slower Anamanaguchi songs you could just count the seconds until they would “drop” the dance beat, the chorus and core of the song. Tracks like this became very difficult to tell apart at a certain point, rotating around four or so chords, and again all with either a very small amount of prerecorded vocals or no vocals whatsoever.

Thinking back on the show and my expectations, I can’t deny that I was proven wrong, though I can’t necessarily say I’m a fan, either. Anamanaguchi may have the energy down, and the stage show, but there seem to be a lot of gimmicks at hand, and a complete lack of experimentation. Though they may in a way be the founders of this “genre,” they seem to have sort of pigeonholed themselves in the process, much like the founders of other electronic based genres. I won’t be listening to their records anytime soon, but I will most certainly be at their next show to see where they take things, and to watch some cool rainbow sprite stuff flash on a large projection screen (if they let me in, that is).

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