Festival Frolics: Mute Rewiring Short Circuit 2011.

Daniel Miller's Mute Records has epitomised excellence and eccentricity for decades, and for artists yet to sign on the dotted line, it's the line many would most want to sign. The Roundhouse, meanwhile, is questionably the London venue most artists would yearn to play, a Grade II listed hub of beastly beauty lumped on the Chalk Farm Road. Decadent setting, arsenal of genuinely captivating electronica, Vince Clarke, Andy Fletcher and a throng of "proper music" obsessives, Mute's takeover of the annual Short Circuit bash could never be anything short of spectacular, whilst simultaneously remaining entirely overwhelming. A few weeks back Camden was inundated with an entirely unrecognisable crowd from tonight, yet Short Circuit holds more appeal and eclectics in a few short hours than the Camden Crawl managed in forty-eight.
In the wake of the brash thrash of yesteryear's Sisterworld LP, Liars have indelibly etched their brand of portentous sonic disconcertion into many a volatile mind, yet where they voyage to from here is moot, their all-too-succinct set bereft of new material. Taking to the Roundhouse Main Space a smidgen after six sees their cerebrum-contorting cacophony fall on largely deaf, or disinterested ears, as many of those that scrabble at the barrier are here for electro stalwarts in place of Antipodean upstarts toting trashy guitar lines and weirding out their own vocals. Opening with a warped Proud Evolution, Angus Andrew bends processed yelps to breaking point, his gangly figure writhing around microphone stand as he intermittently, and often, swigs Carlsberg. A general ambience of bemusement overrides all in the under-attended arena however, the ominous, clattering bass drive of No Barrier Fun proving, lamentably, to be rather aptly entitled in this setting if, aurally, ultimately devastating. The guttural guitar romp of Clear Island, although now four years old, still sounds gloriously incipient whilst the twisted lullaby drawl of I Can Still See An Outside World morphs quite beautifully into pure abrasion. Plaster Casts of Everything is similarly acerbic, before the gruelling, dual rhythm smattering of A Visit From Drum interjects. Andrew is decidedly deferential, periodically lauding Daniel Miller throughout, a visceral, time signature-shifting Scissor justifying every penny, pound and banknote thrust in their direction of late, with the calming The Other Side of Mt. Heart Attack purveying the shimmering, harmonious side to the often wondrously roughed up coin Liars trade in. A rabid denouement of Scarecrows On A Killer Slant and an irrevocably brilliant Broken Witch brings things to a predictably cataclysmic climax, jacking up the raucous, leaving ears ringing with volume levels anything but muted. Down in the doldrums meanwhile, Maps + Polly Scattergood anxiously cobble together half-baked nuggets of unrefined pop splendour as queues form to squeeze into the heaving Studio Theatre. A reasonable one in, one out system ensures next to nothing is missed, whilst rational timetabling manages to nullify many a clash. Camden Crawl: take note.
Upstairs, the great bemused are further baffled by the incurable lunacy of The Residents. Peddling their eerie Talking Light show, "Chuck" and "Bob" take to the stage in sequinned tailcoats atop morph suits, as metallic Jackson guitar histrionics meet MacBook manoeuvres, "Randy" regaling the unamused with tales of his faith in ghosts and "mirror people". Like Devo cascading down a Cirque du Soleil-shaped rabbit hole, the spectacle provided by The Residents is mesmerising for over an hour as time scheduling slips, the prog rock tendencies of The Old Woman a highlight amidst the seemed psychosis. A particularly perturbing Semolina is altogether mind-melting in many a sense, as the latex-coated, harmonica-molesting "Randy" puts a disturbing face to the faceless Louisiana troupe, before the projected nicotine-inspired narrative of The Unseen Sister sees things cascade further into the unwell and bizarrely outstanding.

With timings slightly askew, Big Deal are unfortunately wiped from our agenda, as exclusively black attire and myriad Depeche Mode T-shirts swarm towards the DJ booth from which Andy Fletcher churns out everything from Martin Solveig's Hello to his own Personal Jesus, all to the throb of crystalline striplight. It's then the turn of Vincent Clarke to hijack proceedings, as he dons headphones and plods away on a MIDI controller, joined by Alison Moyet for what may prove to be a Yazoo swan song, Moyet having admitted to her inability to foresee further collaboration between the two electro pioneers. As inevitably dated as it may be, Nobody's Diary is still explicitly exhilarating, Moyet looking appreciably more alluring than many a contemporary songstrel, whilst a rapturous Don't Go is quintessential '80s euphoria of exquisite calibre. Somewhat less exquisite are Erasure who, whilst whipping leather-garbed "straight" men into equally frenzied rapture, probably ought to be representing Blighty over in Düsseldorf on this fair eve, an outlandish Heavenly Action excessively melodramatic, and perhaps even more throwaway than Blue, Jedward, Lena, Ell & Nikki etc. Andy Bell looks particularly terrifying in black wifebeater and lavish eyeliner, his Club Tropicana dance routines equally upsetting, however vaguely smashing "smash hit" A Little Respect and a schmaltzy, Feargal Sharkey-featuring Never Never elevate Erasure to the semi-cogent. Fuck it, as lighter/iPhone-aloft anthemia goes, Never Never just about does it, and is probably ameliorated by Bell's relegation to backing vocal duties. Pre-Erasure Erasure fan fury subsided and electropop thirsts sated, infernal temperatures and Krautrock tempest rage in the Studio Theatre as a reinvigorated S.C.U.M. appear finally to have become the thoroughly engaging, self-celebrating act they always quite incontrovertibly believed themselves to be, the Placebo-ish drone of Summon The Sound delectable in the extreme amidst stroboscopic tumult. Somewhat less self-obsessed is Texan bearded beauty and tonight's gritty diamond in the rough, Josh T. Pearson.
Billed to play 'Mute Songs', he's evidently under the influence, and is all the more endearing for it as he mumbles gracefully through musty facial hair, before attempting to draw distinct lines between "genius and shit". A heartfelt rendition of A Little Respect slots seamlessly into the former, as his protruding talons tumble over and under his six strings. Woman, When I've Raised Hell, devoid of violin accompaniment, is quite sublime, heart-on-sleeve stuff, whilst a rendition of Moby's Natural Blues, calculated carefully in front of the dressing room mirror (apparently) is altogether exultant. Given that his revered Last of the Country Gentlemen LP was released on Mute, artistic license permits Pearson to draw heavily from it, Sweetheart, I Ain't Your Christ perhaps the emotional apogee of the whole evening, before a curtailed cover of Enjoy The Silence has the room divided in hysteria and humility. As heady electro booms from the Main Space, the 2011 Short Circuit finally powers down, having provided perfect respite from the over-commercialised, globalised festival aesthetic, rewiring preconceptions all the while.