Whenever I walk up New Oxford Street and branch off onto Bloomsbury Way, my mind wanders more than it usually does during walks about town. Because this particularly dismal stretch of central London is so bland, I invent games to play in my head in order to avoid the dementia that can be induced by an endless stream of Caffe Neros and tourist tchotchke shops. Maybe if I were a French student in 1968 I’d embrace the ennui, but on Thursday night I was content to busy myself with a combination of thoughts that centred around estimating how much of the Haswell/Hecker set I was missing and whether or not the gig would be selling beer (and, if not, where I could buy beer – I like beer).
Arriving at Conway Hall, Haswell/Hecker was already in progress. The auditorium doors were closed as if to prevent a vicious pathogen from escaping and infecting whomever may have been lingering around after work in the mostly empty streets of Holborn. I sorted out my ticket and received a hand stamp marking my paid entry: a magic marker scrawl of the letters “HP” on my right hand. I was happy to publicly express my support of brown sauce.
With no caution whatsoever, I swung open the performance room doors only to be assaulted with a harshly high-end blast of sine wave treble. I was pleased to discover that after all these years listening to noise, I could not only still hear sounds in that range but also feel pain from them. It was pretty horrible, so I knew I was in for a good night.
The room was also filled with green laser beams shooting in every direction. Although not nearly as energy-efficient, I think some Throbbing Gristlesque halogen lamps would have worked better with this sound. My ears were bleeding but my eyes were watching a Pink Floyd night in a 1970s American planetarium.
Haswell/Hecker did scale back from that high octave onslaught to show us some low-end mercy. The more than capable sound system that they packed into Conway Hall vibrated the bones, but I still needed beer to warm the spirit. Now, I know, this makes me a bad music fan, and perhaps an alcoholic as well, but I left after about 15 minutes of their set to find some lager.
On returning from Sainsbury’s with a 4 pack of Kronenberg (which I think I chose subconsciously because of the differently-spelled film director of the same name), it was intermission and most conversations I overheard seemed really impressed with Haswell/Hecker. I felt a bit bad that I had skipped out on so much of it, but I was really impressed with my ability to find beer in Holborn on a weeknight.
Time for Pan Sonic at last came around, providing me with a bit of déjà vu, as their accompanying visuals hadn’t changed as far as I could tell in the few odd years since I’d last seen them. Why bother changing anything that works so well? The black vibrating wave on a grey screen, as minimal as the sound it represented.
Static fought against the beats, reminiscent of a mix between Autechre's LP5 and Merzbow's Merzbeat. Despite the many layers of sound, everything felt like the work of a duo. You could clearly hear the pure elements of synthesizer and rhythm jockey for position. In the end I think it was a draw. If there was a winner it was definitely the machine in the back on the right side of the table: a synthesizer controlled by what appeared to me to be a lever. That thing was badass! If it were a guitar, it would have been V-shaped with 10 necks (and a lever).
From people I talked to after the gig to other reviews that I've read in the past week, the consensus appears to be that Haswell/Hecker blew everyone away, whilst Pan Sonic was mildly disappointing. I couldn't agree less, however, as my favourite part of the night was the Pan Sonic set. Yes, admittedly, I was on a beer run for most of Haswell/Hecker, but from what I saw of their set, it was more extreme and maximal. I quite like extremity, and I love what I heard, but Pan Sonic's more restrained approach may have been an anti-climax after a display of such sheer sonic force.
Regardless of how the two sets measured up against each other, overall it was an ace night. £12, two artists, one simple room: no nonsense, nice and simple. I can only hope to lose more of my hearing to them in the near future.