"Ether is Southbank Centre’s festival of innovation in sound and art with an emphasis on digital culture, cutting-edge collaborations and cross-arts experimentation."
Having listened to Spacemen 3 and Spiritualized records frequently for the better part of a decade and a half, I would say makes me a bit of a fan. The fact that I named one of my old radio programmes after their song "The Sound of Confusion", I suppose, makes me a total Spacemen nerd. As my tastes shifted between rock and electronic music over the years, their music not only stayed with me, but it was arguably the gateway drug that led me to explore the outer limits of the sonic galaxy in the first place. Although I've had the pleasure of seeing Spiritualized on several occasions, I had never attended one of Jason Pierce's more abstract excursions away from the band. Naturally, I was quite thrilled at the prospect of hearing Spaceshipp, his collaboration with jazz pianist Matthew Shipp, as part of Southbank Centre's Ether 09 festival.
With Matthew Shipp planted behind an organ on the left side of the stage, Pierce quietly took his seat by a small collection of guitars and amplifiers. As projections of jellyfish swam behind them, the duo unleashed an atonal drone that, despite sounding harsh, was ultimately rather tame. This sound was compelling for about five minutes, until it became painfully clear that it would never grow richer in texture nor more diverse in tone. This was the bulk of it: an unsubtle mess of monotonous guitar noise from J. Spaceman that eclipsed any effort Shipp could have contributed, had he not also been brutally laying on the keys for the entire set. In the final ten odd minutes of the performance, Spaceshipp abandoned their attempt at metal machine music for a completely different approach. Plinking and plonking sparsely, the second act of their collaboration was certainly more engaging than the first, but by then it was sadly too late to save it from reaching its inevitable unsatisfying conclusion.
I've never seen so many people stand up in the middle of a gig and just walk out. The casual observer might say it was the brutal noise assault, but I've seen plenty of amazing power electronics gigs where the audience stood riveted and wouldn't even budge to buy a beer from the bar. People left Spaceshipp early because the noise this duo generated felt lifeless and thin, all scream and no passion. Given how exceptional both performers are generally, I can only think it was an unfortunate off night for them. I've certainly been a fan of J. Spaceman long enough to give him a second chance.
For more photos from this gig, as well as other Ether 09 performances, visit my Ether 09 set on Flickr.