Words & Photos by Liam Moody
There’s something to be said of bands who actively choose to play smaller, more intimate venues when they could easily fill larger rooms, at a cost to atmosphere. Portlandian space-rock outfit Moon Duo, the current venture by former Wooden Shjips guitarist Ripley Johnson, are an example of this – playing Band On The Wall to a full house on the second night of the UK leg of their European tour, promoting their new album Occult Architecture, vol. 1.
The night began with a delay. Considering there was enough cabling across the stage to cover a micronation, chances are there may have been a technical issue. Unfortunately the consequence of this was that DJ Fitz, the first support act, did not take the stage.
Avant-garde duo Best Before ’84 were up, operating from a folding table completely covered with all manner of electronic equipment. Starting with a single, piercing shriek of feedback created by sweeping a microphone across a monitor, Best Before ’84’s set consisted of harsh, shuddering noise, digitally manipulated and forced through a number of effect pedals and building up a dissonant soundscape reminiscent of Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music- or the works of Merzbow- with the occasional semblance of rhythm and even melody hidden within and underneath.
After some time – it could have been 3 minutes, it could have been an hour and a half – the noise subsided down to a single kick drum sample and an eerie vocal, slowly morphing through increased modulations into something resembling Throbbing Gristle’s early efforts, before building back up into an unrelenting wall of noise again. This was the soundtrack to the Heat Death of the universe- the logical end point of any and all electronic music, and by extension any non-acoustic music. End of the line, everyone off the bus.
Moon Duo (a trio, in a live environment) took stage flanked by a rather sophisticated projection system; a set of mirrors operating remotely projecting lights and images onto a central piece. The band (namely husband-and-wife team of the aforementioned Johnson and Sanae Yamada) were joined by a live drummer who played in relative shadows. The screen and projections- a mixture of multi-coloured lights and hyperactive moving images – felt almost as important as the music, complementing each other perfectly. Beginning with Occult Architecture opener ‘The Death Set’, the tight, propulsive rhythm quickly gave the sound a hypnotic quality, very much like Kosmische Music forebearers Neu!, while Yamada’s use of warm, subterranean analogue synthesisers felt similar to electronic pioneers Suicide.
The band seared a hole through their material, playing most of their new album as well as some from earlier albums Circles and 2015’s Shadow Of The Sun, occasionally reaching out into extended improvised instrumental passages- however, at no point did these feel self-indulgent. Ripley Johnson’s guitar playing floating above the locked groove of keyboards and drums. Album highlight ‘Cult Of Moltoch’, played at the end of their main set, showcased Moon Duo’s Krautrock leanings perfectly, mixing driving, repetitive percussion with fuzzed-out synthesisers and spiralling guitar. The choice addition of a Spacemen 3-esque cover of The Stooges’ classic ‘No Fun’ during the encore was inspired- a droning, menacing retro-future take on garage rock, bridging the genre’s past and (hopefully) future.
Moon Duo played at Band On The Wall, on Thursday 16th March, 2017.