Live Music: Shpongle at the Warfield, San Francisco
An electrically charged group of people gathered at the Warfield Friday night to check out what promised to be a sensory overload of a show from UK psytrance heavyweights Shpongle. Simon Posford is one half of the duo that makes up Shpongle, and he is flying solo for this specific tour that has been dubbed “The Masquerade,” which combines advanced stage production technology with his unique blend of psychedelic electronic beats and sampled sounds from all over the world.
Portland based producer Phutureprimitive warmed up the crowd earlier in the night, and people eagerly got into the groove to his constantly pulsing mix and vibrant video projections. Phutureprimitive’s dubstep tinged downtempo beats were the perfect accompaniment to constantly streaming footage from nature documentaries and outer space visuals. He was constantly in motion, and his kinetic connection to his own music easily translated to the rest of the crowd, who collectively ebbed and flowed along to the clear toned melodies that led into sporadic deep bass wobbles.
In the middle of his set, Phutureprimitive took a break from the steady mix of glitchy beats to play a dark and bass-heavy remix of Gary Jules’ “Mad World” (originally written by Tears for Fears). This new spooky derivative version of the song was definitely a neat interlude in the middle of the set. At the apex of his performance, Phutureprimitive built up layers and layers of different beats and harmonies on top of each other until they reached a tipping point, and then the beat dropped in unison with a video projected burst of millions of monarch butterflies that swarmed across the stage and the producer’s body in motion. This intense burst of energy swept across the room and primed the crowd for the headlining act.
There was a short break in between sets that was abruptly interrupted when the white sheet that had been tacked up across the front of the stage dramatically fell to the floor, revealing the elaborate arcing stage that was built specifically for The Masquerade tour. Posford took up residence in the middle of the stage and jumped into his set with a huge grin on his face and a fancy feathered hat on his head. If you caught a glance into his eager eyes, you could tell that everyone in the audience was in for a ride.
The music started off on an eerie note with a xylophone accented dark and stormy clockwork beat. As the tempo picked up and more sounds were added to the mix, the stage burst alive with melting and oozing colors that warped in and out of each other in dazzling fractal-like patterns. It was impressive to see how the set designers of this show effectively used this cutting edge technology to create such a captivating audiovisual experience that truly fit with the music on such an intimate level.
Shpongle is known for taking music and sounds from all over the world and mixing them together to give everything new context and meaning. It was really great to experience this in a live setting, as flamenco guitar scales were combined with what sounded to be religious ceremonial chanting, hip hop breaks, tribal drumming, and even what appeared to be narration excerpts of an old documentary. Emotional vocals were also threaded in and out of the mix, which added a very specific human element to the music. All of these sounds were united together by a living pulse of infectious low-end bass beats and high-end melodic vibrations. As the mix got deeper and heavier, the crowd got sucked further into the whole experience and shifted their dancing into an even higher gear.
The whole vibe of this show was very inclusive and carefree, and at times you would look around and feel like you had arrived at a spontaneous hippie gathering in the woods. Many fans took the masquerade theme to heart, and showed up in elaborate makeup and colorful feather studded outfits. The trippy and rhythmic music fueled new interactions between strangers as people free form danced up and down the aisles of the different floor levels of the Warfield. It was definitely a great example of what an electronic music experience should be, as it was original, experimental, and engaging in so many different ways. Raja Ram, the other half of Shpongle, was once quoted as saying that Shpongle “is an umbrella term for feeling positive and euphoric emotions,” and this show definitely lived up to that definition, as everyone walked out into the San Francisco streets in a communally uplifted state after they had been officially Shpongled.