Amon Tobin's ISAM @ The Palace, Melbourne (05/06/2012)
Thu 7th Jun, 2012 Event Reviews 212 viewsin
Amon Tobin’s ISAM live experience debuted to universal acclaim almost exactly 12 months ago at the Mutek festival in Montreal, Canada. Since then, it has made its way around the globe and this month, it finally reached Australian shores as part of the 2012 Vivid line-up.
The heavily synth-based sounds of ISAM represented a step further away from his earlier, more sample-based affairs that began with his 2005 soundtrack to the Splinter Cell 3 computer game. Tobin’s albums have never been easy listening affairs by any measure, yet his latest release is one of his most disjointed yet. However, tonight’s show was a sell-out – and for a very good reason. Not only does Tobin have a lot of fans in Melbourne (his 2004 live album Solid Steel Presents… was recorded at The Prince), but the ISAM show has justifiably been generating a lot of hype.
As we entered the already crowded Palace, DJ JPS was up on stage manning the turntables while part of the crowd bobbed along to his blend of dark, bass-heavy jungle and break-beat sounds. Bon Chat Bon Rat was up next, though they were possibly an odd choice for this particular show. While their low-key brand of indie pop / minimal electronica was pleasant and inoffensive, one couldn’t help thinking that they might be better suited to a smaller venue as their subtler sounds were lost in the loud chatter. Unfortunately for the duo, they received more applause as they left the stage, when they accidentally revealed part of the ISAM rig on their way out.
After a brief wait the lights went down, and the curtains opened to the sight of the massive Tetris-like construction. Projections of bubbling smoke and lighting flashed all around the multi-dimensional rig, each block lighting up separately as if they were defective spaceship monitors. The whole structure pulsed with life and energy, as the introduction lead into dramatic opening number from ISAM, Journeyman.
One of the biggest crowd reactions was reserved for vocal number Kitty Kat, during which a giant projection of Tobin moved about in time to the melody. The cube at the centre of the structure in which Amon was encased would light up occasionally to show him controlling the projections with his movements. Part two of the show centred on more the dancefloor friendly drum and bass numbers, which harked back to Amon’s earlier productions. I saw a several dozen older drum n’ bass heads smile appreciatively, as they did their familiar head-bob, in time with the off-beat.
But quite possibly the highlight of the show was the finale: the eerie Horsefish, from his 2007 album The Foley Room: the ethereal harps, moody soundscapes, and lazy breakbeats all classic Amon Tobin hallmarks.
The visuals were also suitably bizarre. Whereas for most of the show the projections were more of an assault on the senses, this time the design was more geometric, taking advantage of the rigs shape. The boxes appeared to move around, collapse, explode, and suddenly come back together. The track peaked in visions of bright blue gas, evolving into blazing fire and brimstone, and ending in a snuff.
The intricate visuals of the live show, and pure passion displayed by Amon Tobin, breathed new life and gave much needed context to an album I had initially written off as sounding like another (albeit very well-produced) video game soundtrack. The next time I play ISAM, all I will need to do is lay back and close my eyes.