Where: Seattle, WA Venue: Neptune Theater Date: October 31, 2016
First of all, go to shows with your friends. Like road trips and drugs, shows are better with friends. That said, do not miss a good artist because you would have to go alone, and a Nicolas Jaar live set definitely qualifies. Who knows, standing around in your bubble of self-consciousness might even cause you to pay even more attention (which might be the source of discomfort as it seems many go to shows to pay less attention, escape the mundane calculated action of reality, and live on a level of pure reaction to the totality of the soundscape). Nicolas Jaar it seems, is very self-conscious about his live sets, meaning that some extra attention ought to be paid by the listener. In his signature minimalism, there is a perceptible meticulousness, and it is this attention to detail that had the audience clinging to the silence between his stripped down beats, and basking in the totality of his layered compositions.
A lot has been said about Jaar in the past few years. The level of ubiquity that electronic music is establishing has resulted in diluted artistry in a genre with its roots in pure, fringe-culture art. Jaar and quite a few other producers have done very well to balance the contemporary excitement of dance music production with the musically-debasing vision that birthed it throughout the 20th century. If you asked Jaar, he would certainly be able to tell you (he is an educated man to say the least) that electronic music was essentially conceived in an artistic attempt to deny the existing rules and notions defining what beautiful music is. Now look where we are. I’ve noticed the online community often squabbles over the specific genre classification of the different styles of electronic music, when the original point was to deny classification altogether. It is a powerful heritage, and its current popularity is a monument to the importance of artistic innovators, and the unique visions that destroy taste and ultimately restructure it. I would argue that Jaar is amongst the current artists we could safely call innovators, and seeing his live set on Halloween affirmed that for me.
Jaar did take a while to introduce his set, no doubt a calculated introduction. By the end of the show it was evident that he conceives his sets as whole piece, rather than a collection of songs. If his piece of art is two hours long, then a properly extended introduction is in order. Introductions set tones and create first impressions, and with no opening act on the bill, this was an opportunity for Jaar to interact with a completely fresh audience. The show was scheduled to begin at 9:30, so naturally it began after 10:00, but it was packed by 9:30. When the set did begin, the ominously layered tones accompanied by Jaar playing a bass clarinet capitalized on the tension of the audience. A soundscape was created that sounded as if he were improvising, disparate at times but unified in the darkness of the theater and the anticipation of the audience. Slowly a rhythm emerged and a sparse beat evolved. Heads began to bob and sway and costumed bodies began to wiggle as the noise was stripped away and replaced by the low frequencies of a kick under a twitching percussive rhythm.
At that point when the introduction was concluding and the meat of the set was commencing was an important point in the set. It captured with uncharacteristic clarity that which underlines much of Jaar’s aesthetic. In his career thus far Jaar has certainly been diverse in the music he releases, ranging from the reimagined film soundtrack Pomegranates to a body of high quality remixes for popular artists. Yet there frequently is a juxtaposition between the approachability of the dance floor and avant garde artistic pursuit in his compositions. The effect on the listener (especially the live listener) is something that is intellectually stimulating and physically gratifying. Hearing the drawn out live transition was hearing Jaar balance his own musical ambitions. This juxtaposition naturally permeated the entire set as he worked in and out of popular tracks and unrecognizable sound collages. The effect was that even when he played favorites like “Time for Us” and “Space is Only Noise If You Can See” they felt improvised and almost miraculous as they emerged from the set. Tracks from his new album Sirens worked well in his pursuit of diversity. He picked up the microphone for the vocals during his rendition “Three Sides of Nazareth” and injected the converted movie theater with some aggressive rock and roll flavor.
As the night ended with a track featuring a soul vocal sample punctuated by a wall of epic sound, I thought of my friend alone a few nights before and one thousand miles away. I hoped she got to experience her initial discomfort dissolve in a solution of art, darkness, and dance mixed up by the talented Jaar. For all the pretention that may be associated with creating a piece of unique art, and pursuing artistic originality, there ought to be no pretention in cutting lose and enjoying it when it sounds like what Nicolas Jaar laid down on Halloween.