Tim Hecker, Jonathan Kawchuk, James Binary: Blade Factory, Liverpool

Jonathan Kawchuk

Jonathan Kawchuk

Tim Hecker’s hypnotic, mesmerising and trance-inducing ambient drones cause GetintothisPaul Higham to re-evaluate the meaning of modern psychedelia in the Blade Factory.

Canadian electronic musician Tim Hecker is renowned for his droning and ambient soundscapes, yet of the many words bandied about to describe his music, psychedelic is rarely used.

This in itself is peculiar for the term psychedelic is a much over-used term in modern music, describing acts often whose output bears little relationship with the original meaning of the term. Hecker’s show upstairs at Blade Factory challenged one’s preconceptions of psychedelic music and perhaps demonstrated a need for a re-evaluation.

Psychedelic music has its origin in the 1960s West Coast scene where LSD use was rife and a genuine artistic sub-culture emerged. Much of what made such music psychedelic was its difference and contrast with mainstream rock and pop culture at the time. Many modern artists who ape that scene to the point of mimicry are thus referred to as psychedelic. But are they really?

Surely such music has become so ingrained into popular consciousness that it is now mainstream and far from subversive. Does that mean it is no longer psychedelic?

Psychedelia should be about how music is experienced and less a catch-all term to pointlessly classify and order. In many ways the experience of a Tim Hecker show bears all the hallmarks of a genuinely psychedelic moment even if it doesn’t seem to fit with the popular classification of ‘psych’.

If psychedelia could be, however loosely, defined as a mind-altering experience that transports you away from the cares and worries of a humdrum everyday existence – enabling you to view the world from a different perspective – then Hecker most surely would meet that definition.

Perhaps the greatest current exponent of ambient electronic drone, Hecker has absolute command over sound and most importantly over texture. Where less accomplished artists are betrayed by a lack of subtlety and a too obviously digital sound, Hecker revels in complex ambiguities. His music is nebulous and enveloping, swirling and intoxicating the listener.

Playing to near darkness (hence our complete absence of live shotseditor’s note) alone behind a desk of electronic gadgetry (he is much more than a man with a laptop), Hecker immediately entranced and hypnotised his audience as waves of transcendental sound morphed into the space. The show was an almost religious experience, sounding akin to the lowest notes of a church organ, processed and distorted, filling the space. It is music to feel as well as hear as bodies vibrated and felt the force of his drone.

Ambient, textured and droning, the low-ceilinged Blade Factory proved the ideal environment in which to appreciate his music. The bleak post-industrial setting almost mirroring the sounds, at times destructive and terrifying yet simultaneously strangely warm and comforting.

A decent turnout was held rapt in hypnotic reverie as a sea of closed-eyes found themselves transported to places new, lost in their own world and alone in their own thoughts.

When Hecker brought the show to a close there was a momentary silence as if the collective were having to reacquaint themselves to their surroundings. A warm round of applause was, out of the darkness, reciprocated by a bow from Hecker and the night was over.

A psychedelic experience? By heck it was, for sure.

Earlier James Binary, known for playing bass alongside Forest Swords, opened proceedings with a short electronic set. Evoking the experimental traditions of mid-twentieth century pioneers of electronic music, his music was spooky and unsettling, recalling the seminal science-fiction soundtracks of that era.

At times dystopian and at other times elemental, its broad soundscape made like an apocalyptic and electronic reworking of British Sea Power‘s Man of Aran.

Immediate support was provided by Jonathan Kawchuk, a native of Canada but a resident of these parts. While we have seen many performers appear on stage armed solely with the ubiquitous MacBook, this set, performed as a duo, was notable for being performed solely on iPads.

His website, mirroring the minimal nature of his music, contains little more than an ethos, ‘The natural world is perfect, I go to absurd lengths to reflect that in my work‘ and a preview of an upcoming release.

His set was interesting, held the crowd’s attention and was well-received. We’re not entirely sure to what extent it reflected the perfection of the natural world but it displayed a minimalist trait interspersed with samples of found sounds and vocals ranging from almost spoken word to gospel-inflected.

There is an obvious eccentricity and individuality to his work which is to be applauded  and, on the basis of this performance, he is well worth checking out in the future.