[A/V CLUB] Having some sort of visual accompaniment—usually films playing behind the musicians or an elaborate light show—is the norm for electronic musicians. Deadmau5 has the colorful mouse masks; DJ Shadow has a large white globe he performs inside of while videos are projected onto and around it.
But one of the few artists to attempt to connect the audio and visual to the point the music affects what the audience is seeing is Tom Jenkinson, the polymath who records and performs as Squarepusher.
The 37-year-old musician’s live setup finds him standing in front of a large panel of LED lights while wearing a mask that also has LED lights embedded in it. Using self-programmed software, the images or patterns that come to life on and around Jenkinson depend on what he plays on his keyboards and which knobs he twists on his sequencers.
“The visuals are being produced in real time onstage,” Jenkinson says, speaking on the phone from Montreal prior to the start of his current tour. “There’s a degree to which it’s never the same each time you do it. So there is a potential for glitches, but I’ve tried to make a virtue of that.”
Considering the often-mangled tone of Squarepusher’s music, those visual patterns could get downright dizzying. Jenkinson started his career in the early ’90s, carving off jagged slices of drum ’n’ bass and acid house (often augmented by his virtuosic bass playing).
Unlike most of his peers, Jenkinson refused to sit still, trying his hand at electro played on live instruments, and letting the influence of jazz and modern classical music creep into his recordings with delirious results. Squarepusher was even ballsy enough to release a full album of solo bass instrumentals.
Squarepusher’s most recent album, Ufabulum (released this May on Warp), finds him returning to the speedy beats and high-pitched squeals of melodic drum ’n’ bass. But it’s a more mature approach to the genre, allowing one moments to catch one’s breath, with lighter melodies and ambient-style soundscapes as in the entirely beat-free “Red in Blue.”
As an album, Ufabulum coheres more easily than some earlier Squarepusher efforts. The songs feel tonally connected and uniform even when they spin off in different directions. “I was hearing a sonic identity before beginning the project,” Jenkinson says. “And I was working on the visual material at the same time as the sonic material. There was a vision of what I wanted to see alongside what I wanted to hear.”
With both elements
now in place, Jenkinson can have fun with it all, deconstructing older
as well as more recent material in real time, and reconnecting the
pieces into a massive feast for the senses. “I’m generally trying to
work with as much instinct as possible,” he says. “Once it becomes too
intellectualized and too much speculation comes in over what I could be
doing rather than what I should be doing, you’re taking a lot of energy
away from that instinct. I feel like this is the way that suits me.”
SEE IT: Squarepusher plays Wonder Ballroom, 128 NE Russell St., on Tuesday, July 31. 9 pm. $30 advance, $35 day of show. 21+.