Judge Bill Gibron loves to get his techno groove on.
"I have succumbed to this passive sensation
Prodigy were supposed to make it cool. They had the proper look, a collection of killer tracks, and the power of a major record label behind them. Once they hit the shores of the callous Colonies, America would soon be overwhelmed by the frantic fever that was techno.
And indeed they tried. MTV gave the band as much play as possible, critics hailed their arrival as the revitalization of rock (grudge having started to die off after its unofficial leader, Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain, ended his life in 1994), and pop culture was told to be prepared. A new age of dynamic, dramatic dance music was about to reconfigure what was called the emerging rave generation.
It never happened, however. Instead of the electrified fury of a keyboard and beat, it was the gratuitous glorifying of the gangsta lifestyle that the late '90s youth responded to, and the entire drum and bass revolution quickly faded away from US shores.
But just as the electronica movement was fizzling and dying in Suburbia, it caught fire in Europe, and especially the UK. Fueled by the Brits' long-term love of nightclub culture, and a wealth of amazing talent, the sound rejected by the misguided Yanks became the defining ambiance for the upcoming millennium. Many great acts got their start as the year 2000 approached, and one of the best actually got their start around the same time as the original techno boom. Calling themselves Moloko, the newfound group became the visual representation of mastermind mixer-producer Mark Brydon's instrumental studio muse. Pairing up with girlfriend Roisin Murphy on vocals, and enlisting a revolving roster of instrumentalists, Brydon's "band" stormed the British charts with albums like Do You Like My Tight Sweater, I Am Not a Doctor, and Things to Make and Do. Over the last 10 years, they have become a mainstay in the international music scene, a global act revered by fans and more or less favored by critics. And yet, ask an American who they are, and his befuddled brain is likely to seize up.
11,000 Clicks signifies Moloko's first foray into the world of DVD. Representing the final performance of their year-long world tour, and made up mostly of songs from their 2003 release Statues (eight of that album's 10 tracks are here), Moloko take the stage amid the ambient swirl of keyboards, and proceed to blow the roof off the Brixton Academy locale. The selection of material is fairly representative of their trippy, dance-trance sound. Featuring journeymen-like musicianship and the evocative, erotic presence provided by lead singer Murphy, this 110 minutes of pulse-pounding theatricality contains the following set list selections:
• "Familiar Feeling": from the album Statues
Right up front, it has to be said that Moloko will not be for everyone. Unlike, say, Moby, who tries to take his techno leanings into a more accessible pop arena, these house-heavy disco darlings make beautiful, complex, and very beat-heavy noises. Songs are structured in precise patterns, usually starting soft and slow and working themselves into a whirlwind of symphonic sounds and operatic moments. Polyrhythms are randomly applied, and Middle Eastern and South American influences can occasionally be heard. You are as likely to hear a preprogrammed sample as a standard Hammond organ sound as the band weaves a tapestry of arousing acidic ambience. While the melodies are intricate and evocative and the backing dense and detailed, there will still be those who hear what the band has to offer and resign themselves to one sad statement: It pretty much all sounds the same. Sadly, the sentiment is partially true. Moloko knows what gets their fans up on their feet and dancing, and they are not about the change their sonic stripes out of a general desire for some manner of accessibility. Much of the music they make is gorgeous in its sweep and scope. But as long as rhythm and keyboards rule the routines, there is a strange sense of sameness running through Moloko's music.
As a live presence, the group is equally elemental. Murphy is required to carry the entire act, providing the necessary audience interconnection, as well as an incredibly attractive image for the marketing (imagine Jewel wrapped in Téa Leoni with just a hint of Geri Halliwell, and you get the idea). She is quite the front woman, engaging the crowd every step of the way and injecting a great deal of emotional weight into the otherwise effervescent songs. The interesting thing about the music on 11,000 Clicks is that when Moloko is playing the Statues era material, the band seems looser, more soulful, injecting an undercurrent of jazz and some laid-back lounge elements into the performance. And even if the songs stay relatively the same, the playing is always perfect. Indeed, no one can deny Moloko's performance chops as the group spins each song like melodic candyfloss into a wonderfully clever confection. Fans will gladly indulge in the satiating sugar rush of this bold, brave beat combo. Anyone new to Moloko and their sound, however, may feel a bit frustrated at the Studio 54 formulas they have to hear all over again.
As a DVD, 11,000 Clicks is terrific. Sanctuary Entertainment, which is quickly making a name for itself as one of the premier presenters of music on the digital format, gives Moloko and their stage show a glorious audio and video package. The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen image is wonderfully transcendent (director Dick Carruthers gets a lot of credit for giving this concert a unique, approachable look), and the transfer is pristine in its color and detail. The Dolby Digital 5.1 (in either DTS or Surround) is just as breathtaking, allowing for maximum instrumental separation while still coalescing into a miraculous musical whole. Murphy's vocals blend effortlessly into the aural menagerie, and though this is a bass-heavy experience, the subwoofer doesn't de-evolve into a distorted mess. Everything here is balanced and sublime.
The sole bonus feature is a fun 30-minute "day in the life" video shot by Moloko member Eddie Stevens. More or less a glimpse at what happens during the downtime between shows, we get lots of entertaining eavesdropping and some silly situations (a fetching female fan trying to figure out how to get "tickets" to the show) that breaks down the wall between artist and audience. While there could have been more input from the rest of the band (they are mostly seen in snippets and brief bits), this is still an interesting addition to this disc.
With the first decade of the 21st century almost half over, it's fascinating to see the dichotomy between the US music scene and the rest of the world. Sure, both have their teen pop pariahs and rock and roll routines, but as America moves further and further into its urban obsession, the vast majority of the planet is grooving to the beat of its own ever-growing dance track. And the two appear destined never to meet. While those unfamiliar with Moloko will argue about their mannered mantra methods, there is no denying their power as performers. 11,000 Clicks could change more than a few minds. It is an excellent concert experience.
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