Loscil & Marconi Union
Rich Mix, London, Monday 21 October 2019
Written by and images (c) Ben Hogwood
How do you define pure musical ambience? Is it music you can leave it on in the background and do all manner of tasks to, or is it the sort where you become so transfixed that everything else is blocked out?
Loscil’s music falls emphatically into the latter category. He may have been on the stage at Rich Mix for 45 minutes, but for that time the entire audience were gathered up and taken to the outer reaches of Vancouver, British Columbia. This is where Scott Morgan, the man behind the moniker, resides – and it is the wild, open panoramas of the region that his music so successfully evokes.
Equivalents, his most recent album, is a series of responses to black and white photographs of clouds by Alfred Stieglitz in the early 20th century, and the formations billowed on projections behind Morgan for much of his set. This aided the feeling of total immersion in the elements, meaning all we were lacking was the wind on our faces and the rain on our heads.
With little in the way of propulsive rhythm, Loscil’s music somehow captures the raw power and scale of the elements, the expanse of the Pacific coast stretching out as far as the eye can see. The mind’s eye is also drawn to natural phenomena closer at hand, with forests, lakes and birds all effortlessly alighting in the imagination.
We traversed five numbers from the Equivalents album in all, in a I – III – II – V – VII formation (with the image for the beautifully restful II shown above). The air was thick with big chords, Loscil’s keyboards and sequencing taking on quasi-orchestral designs. When silence arrived, in the middle of the set, nobody dared to move – and, after an intake of breath, on we went. It is a long time since I saw an audience so transfixed in a gig, and Loscil’s music took us somewhere truly special, way outside of a bar in Bethnal Green.
Supporting this transcendental experience was a more beat-driven variation on musical ambience from Marconi Union (above). The long-standing Manchester group make music that is more urban in origin, at one with the setting in which we found ourselves. Like Loscil they used projections, usually halved on the screen and complementing the more city-based and percussive approach perfectly.
Night time visions for tracks like Sleeper were transporting, as were the images of travel by car or train before them. Piano and guitar were key elements here, sensitively played as the quartet gelled effortlessly on stage.
The first part of Weightless was arguably the most effective, its subtly changing textures and evocations of twinkling lights most effective before an audience fully on board with this antidote to Monday night drudgery.
Both acts offered proof positive that ambience can be a transporting experience, and that the rich talent and intensity in this field remains undimmed. With well-chosen DJ sets from The Grid’s Richard Norris in and around the live acts, as part of his Group Mind initiative, this was a night to celebrate the surprising power of ambient music, whether foreground or background.