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North London V-tard splicing beauty to the beats

Hexstatic @ Koko

The question hung over us all night. Do we stand and watch? Or sit and watch?

The AV at Videocrash’s tremendous Koko gig this Saturday didn’t get going til 12, so we ducked out to the pub at about half 9 and ‘lowed the DJ line-up for a few. We rejoined the fun at Koko around midnight, catching the end of Pest’s set, just in time to see the vast cinema screen’s sterile metronomic geometry give way to gaudy zooms into stills of robot toys from Space Age America as the Hexstatic set kicked in, witnessed by a full house. Behind the screen, dimly lit under unobtrusive coloured bulbs, Stuart Hill and Robin Brunson triggered sound and video loops, music promo cut-ups, film and TV snippets, recognisable pop hooks and catchy electronic sequences. If you squinted, you could just about make them out in the gloom, murkily perceptible like that engraving of the Queen looking well vexed in a twenty pound note.

Establishing a single viewpoint for the visuals in this way – one monolithic rectangular cinema screen – inevitably encourages a certain amount of passive standing and gawping. When you’re obliged to focus on one area of a club as you dance, an atmosphere can tip over into being very static, and almost formally reverent. Not so the music: Hexstatic’s set was all dance. You could get down to every track. And yet if you did you sort of felt like you were part of the fringe minority who chose physical participation over a sort of dumbstruck scrutiny. A more immersive set-up of a ring of equally-sized screens around the dancefloor would promote dancing and interaction, instead of presenting the implicit demand that the audience must face the front, sit up and pay attention. The other draw-back to seizing centre stage in this way is that when a tune begins to wind down, the visuals can start to look redundant, and there were some moments in which the set sagged under the weight of expectation. Or maybe it was sensory fatigue from hours of scintillating polyrhythmic imagery. Like the Chems or Justice, Hexstatic understand that their actual performance isn’t much to look at, nor do they wish to draw attention from the AV, so they duck behind the semi-translucent screen and get on with it. I found myself wanting to see them at work, wishing they were beside or beneath the screen, or even that they brought a cameraman with them to zoom in on the intricacies of their handiwork as it played out (Is that simply because I’m a fucking nerd, or did the technical flair of the performance create an appetite to see more? Your comments below please).

Aside from the duo’s occasional reliance on safe floor-fillers like House of Pain’s Jump Around (that wildchild screech sample stopped being acceptable for artistic purposes after Bacardi got hold of it) their tunes were propulsive and the range of musical styles, bafflingly broad at first, gradually revealed its form and made more sense as the evening fell away and the beats got harder. Airings of the band’s own original tracks, Timber and Machine Toy, were greeted with roars of approval, and woven smartly into 3 hours that were well paced, structured with depth and experience, triumphant and sweaty, wittily spanning Beck, Led Zeppelin, Kraftwerk, Talking Heads, the Prodigy, Britney, breakbeat, dubstep and deep house.

The concert worked beautifully as an AV experience – neither the visual nor the audio would have made sense in isolation, it was in their perfect accord that the magic could be experienced. Had they given the audience a heads-up, I would have fetched some 3D glasses with me for those tracks which were clearly rendered with red and cyan outlines for depth effect (making me unquestionably the coolest person there in the process… right?). I moshed my way to the front for a few songs to feel dwarfed by the screen and headlocked by the heavier dub, dnb, house and techno beats, sharing the dancefloor with an energetic and enraptured crowd, most of whom were obviously familiar with the Hex boys’ back catalogue. The crowd was young, energetic, and kinda hot. As for the venue, I think I’m in love with Koko. Sumptuous interior, cutting edge AV capabilities and very good sound, and the stage looked/sounded good from the circle and the gods.

I didn’t stay long after the headline act; DJ Food and DK had readied a great show, but when they played the Rapture’s amazing House of Jealous Lovers video in full, then mixed it into Blur’s Song 2 and played that in full, I was ready to leave. I didn’t come to watch music television, live or pre-sequenced. It just didn’t sit right alongside more ambitiously mixed material which involved isolated shots culled from the videos. They also let themselves down by using at least 3 of the same tracks that Hex used; including that House of Pain sample and the Led Zep sample which sounded cheesy to begin with and weren’t improved by a second outing. Having said that they were a formidable duo, not as accomplished as the Hex boys but as their dynamic set proved, evidently gathering steam with plenty of ideas yet to come.

A winner of a night for the artists, for Videocrash and for Koko. More, again, now.

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