As I walked up to the illuminated Opera House for the last time, I was overcome by a mixture of sadness and excitement. Sadness at the end of the Luminous Festival. Excitement at seeing Brian Eno.
Having already delighted us with a cavalcade of shows, ranging from the free-of-charge improvised performances at The MCA to Battles’ weekend of sonic glory at The Opera House, Luminous has been boiling up all the creative juices of this city that usually sit at the bottom of the cauldron during winter.
I was seated toward the back of the concert hall as Mr Eno, joined by The Necks, Jon Hopkins, Karl Hyde (Underworld) and Leo Abrahams sat in a small lounge area at the front of the stage (as well as the lounge area onstage, Eno and his chums also had their very own tea station and a tent at the back of stage, wtf). After a bit of an introduction and a joke about not being given a dressing room the performance began.
The music started out as amorphous ambience, each instrument swelling and receding, at times pulsing in sync with each other, and some wandering independently of the rest of the ensemble at others.
While the band went about their ambient business though, the three large diamond shaped screens above them were working overtime as Underworld’s visual-wizard Toby Vogel mixed and matched footage of the band members playing with some of Eno’s artwork we’ve all had the pleasure of seeing up on the Opera House these past few weeks.
The combination of the visuals and the Eno-led ambience of the music was genius. Imagine watching the stars as you float in a warm sea at night having consumed more peyote than is healthy, while the gentle moans of a passing colony of whales mingle with the sounds of the waves, lulling you into a soft delirium. That’s the sort of mind state I was in, which does explain why I was naked.
After about half an hour though, the music shifted into a more beat driven section. Jon Hopkins let loose his musical insanity with a double Kaos Pad solo as the whole piece took a decidedly more industrial direction. Think early 90s Einstürzende Neubauten with Trent Reznor adding drum machines.
After this piece Eno once again delighted us with his unique sense of humour, as he described the piece as “an example of a new form of music, Ikebana Noise Club, that was very popular in Tokyo in the early 2020s.” He went on to explain that is was a logical extension of Heavy Metal, as Heavy Metal is just White Noise at a very fast pace. “Ikebana Noise Club offered both Pink Noise and White Noise clubs, as well as Black Noise apparently, but it was later banned due to its association with hate crimes,” he explained.
Again embarking on a voyage of minimal discovery, the performance soon turned into an uber-ambient bout of call and response piano between The Necks’ pianist Chris Abrahams and Jon Hopkins, while Eno had to run to the toilet. Returning to the stage, he found the audience and the other performers rapt in the ivory dominated jam session and decided to make himself a tea and sit on the lounge before returning to his seat and starting up again.
Necks drummer Tony Buck drew my attention for a lot of the show, living up to his reputation as one of today’s most innovative and open-minded drummers. One minute he’d have a cymbal sitting on top of his snare, the next he’d be rubbing what looked like an abacus over one of the toms. His ingenious idiosyncrasy aside though, the man is like some insane atomic metronome. He was not only keeping perfect time with the incomprehensible wanderings of his band mates, but also with the schizophrenic electronic smatterings Hopkins, Eno and Hyde were schlanging around.
The whole performance had a once in a lifetime vibe to it (Talking Heads pun not intended), and watching these giants of their respective fields working together on stage was an intensely humbling experience for me as I had no idea what was going on half the time. Between the table full of pedal Karl Hyde had in front of him, not even mentioning Eno and Hopkins’s weighty racks of gear, there was so much sound happening on stage you’d need five ears and a degree in Audio Engineering to be even close to understanding how they were doing it.
The performance ended with Eno confessing he had been seeing other audiences asking if we could “please leave as they’ll be here in half an hour.” We all obliged, more than content with our brief affair.
I decided to return to try and sneak in to the next performance, but somehow through a mixture of stealth and my lack of self-respect I ended up at the after party just as Eno stepped up to the bar to say a few words about the festival and the performance.
Between giving thanks to a long list of contributors, Eno thanked the organisers and the rest of the performers who helped put Pure Scenius together. “That was actually one of the few times I’ve felt comfortable on stage,” he told the crowd as I moved furiously between the buffet tables. “I hate performing live, I think it’s one of the worst things a musician has to do and I give my respect to all those musicians who do it for a living. Thankfully I’ve managed to convince people I’m an intellectual so I don’t have to do it so much anymore.”
Well good for him, absolutely crushing for us, especially after such an amazing performance. At least I got to see it though, na na na na na.