New YorkAvant Gardener
April 11, 2019
Avant Gardner thinks it’s an airport. Security is paramount—just look at their website to check out the heavy restrictions on what’s allowed inside its warehouse-like cavern. Rows of metal fences zig-zagged, herding this capacity crowd into a performance that was understandably in phenomenal demand. It’s been a pair of decades since Aphex Twin (Richard D. James) has played a New York City gig, not surprising since, regardless of whichever city you live in, the English electronics adventurer rarely appears, preferring a stage-managed mystery existence and a carefully rationed recorded output. This was a show that pretty much everyone who’s into extreme electronica wanted to attend.
Warp Records artist Richard D. James has lately adopted an even more deeply buried under-profile, sticking to EP-length releases. When an event is looming, the Aphex tactic is to feed obscure visual or audio hints into the universe, this particular show first hinted at by strategic, arcane poster placements.
Avant Gardner is a relatively new East Williamsburg club for electronic music. Perhaps there are sound reasons for the venue’s only-bring-your-toothbrush policy, as this night was certainly not compatible for those with a claustrophobic bent. Once inside, security is dedicated to banishing anyone who alights on a pleasing vantage point: they have to keep the flow moving past the high-traffic area of the long bars, so that folks can use their bank-card-paired wristbands to purchase high-priced beverages. Several punters were overheard wondering how they could bring life to their wristbands, as they were poked towards the corporate slaughter.
Not that there’s room to hold a beverage. There’s also no space to dance, let alone move at all, which wouldn’t normally be a problem at an Aphex gig, except that his current approach involves something that can only be deemed “bangin’," rife with booming metronomic bass weight, and with only sporadic glitch dismemberments. At least we can see him in action, centre-stage, facing the hordes, visible amidst the impressive barrage of multi-screen visuals and spurting laser-lines, standing beside his wife Anastasia Rybina—who’s probably responsible for the images, and perhaps some audio as well. For around 100 minutes most of the set pummels along a linear highway, beat-orientated and powerfully techno-monotonous. Cellphones aloft!
James’s welcome aural perversions are manifested as storms of noise-flakes, rising up before splintering into dust. Twisted voice matter is overlaid, Satanic hissing over low throbbing, and particles of disruption bloom, mostly during the first hour of the show, such angular decorations diminishing as the climax nears. In the final run, jungle breakbeats take over, accelerated and aggressive, but James is not so interested in space this evening, or in unpredictable time signatures either. Conventional rave language is spoken, but no one has room to twitch. Facial recognition is reborn and bastardized, as audience member mugshots are trapped in a digitally-perverting box, spawned anew via characteristic Aphex Twin caricaturing.
There are apparently multiple unreleased Aphex Twin items, with the later stages of the set getting into more of a DJ vibration, as edits and cross-stitches of other acts are rattled through, including a pair of spinners from one of RDJ’s chief contemporaries, Venetian Snares. As the sonically rebellious elements recede, it is time for the visuals to provide even greater input, with a parade of New York identified visages (Lou Reed, Debbie Harry, Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Spike Lee, Run-D.M.C., Philip Glass) subjected to flattening distortions, large chunks of their middle faces struck out, creating eyes-and-mouth flat-beings.
During the last stretch, more space becomes available, which is a puzzling state-of-affairs. Have folks gone out for a smoke? Have they gone home early? Has the crush shifted over to the other side of the hangar? On his way to Coachella, James has crafted a show that is probably more in keeping with that festival scale. Perhaps he should just play sports stadiums now? Or do gigs more often? Or return his sounds to a more mangled, abstract existence?