At 2 a.m. on Friday in Washington, most of the city was fast asleep. Hardly anyone was out on U street, but beneath the pavement a master technician was sandblasting a techno beat with jets of white noise.
Elbows cocked and finger tips puckered, Clark was running back and forth between a massive Moog synthesizer and a teeny-tiny effects pedal. A projector cast a silhouette of the electronic maestro behind him, and in the blinding strobes he looked mad atop the DJ booth. The music he was whipping up sounded even madder, like it might just run off the deep end in a blaze of noise and percussion.
But then, with a flick of the wrist, Clark sucked out most of the mid- and high-range frequencies. The underlying bass kick jutted to the front of the sound system, and a crystal clear bassline sprang from behind the clatter. If it weren’t so loud, its likely you’d have heard a chorus of gasps in the crowd.
Clark, real name Chris Clark, is a veteran of the UK electronic music scene. He’s released 7 albums on the iconic label Warp, and like label-mates Aphex Twin, Autechre and Boards of Canada, his music rarely fits into conventional dance music sub genres. It melds elements of house, techno, drum ‘n’ bass, and jungle into winding sculptures, with sharp angles built from buffed timbres. On his eponymous album released late last year, Clark molded grim atmospheres out of interconnected hardware. But hidden beneath the gloom is a neon effusiveness that can spew out with startling force.
Like the music on his albums, Clark’s live show took very abrupt turns in both rhythm and mood. He almost looked like a symphonic conductor who couldn’t decide whether to cue the drums or brass, strings or woodwinds. So he would cue them all, bring them to maximal levels, pepper them with delay, then smash his symphony to bits and rebuild from the ground up.
The beats flipped from hip-hop to house, onto to blistering rave and ambient scapes. It was the moments when Clark stripped back the busier upper registers that his sound worked best on the recently tweaked U Street Music Hall system. The line running from his synthesizer sounded crisp and full.
At times the brighter melodies were blinding, too shiny to pay attention to for long periods of time. But in the darker passages there was plenty of room to explore, though he never gave you much time to hang in the beat.
There were minor volume issues towards the beginning of the set, but those were fixed swiftly and soundly with an assist from a shadowy figure in the booth. Despite a drowsy turnout, those that stayed up got a show worth losing sleep over.
Yenigun is a freelance writer.