Ambient music has historically thrived in the side rooms and chill-out rooms of clubs, where zonked partyers can stare at lights and pet the wall once they’ve danced enough for the night.
But at Holocene’s March 28 show, ambient will take center stage with an international lineup: legendary Austrian producer-guitarist Fennesz, young Kenyan artist KMRU and a DJ set by Portland’s own Patricia Wolf.
“It’s not just a side room, it’s not just like an art gallery or a museum, which happens a lot with ambient music,” says Philip Sherburne, a Portland-born DJ and music journalist who’s performed often at Holocene and will release Wolf’s next album on his Balmat label. “Here’s a club, and this is what you’re gonna see, and it’s three ambient artists. I think that’s really cool.”
It’d be unfair to anyone whose livelihood has been put on hold by COVID to say that ambient music has had a great couple of years, seeing as this show wouldn’t have even been possible a year or even two years ago. But in the absence of social events since 2020, a lot of listeners have found themselves gravitating toward lonelier, more contemplative sounds.
Wolf’s new album, I’ll Look for You in Others, is the product of such a transition. Following a number of personal tragedies, plus the closure of her gallery Variform and the isolation imposed by the pandemic, she found herself leaning into quieter, more contemplative sounds in both her own work and her daily listening.
During this time, Wolf discovered KMRU and his 2020 breakthrough album Peel, based on field recordings from his hometown of Nairobi. Since then, the two have become fast friends over the internet, working one another’s tracks into DJ mixes.
“Not only do I really love his music, but he’s transporting me to the part of the world that I’ve never been to, where he’s from,” says Wolf. “I found that to be such a wonderful trip and a wonderful escape, and it came at a time for me when I was already exploring field recordings.”
“There’s this whole cliché of ambient music being for contemplation or isolation,” says Sherburne, who profiled KMRU for Pitchfork last year. “But it is true, especially in those early days. The KMRU album felt grounding in a way, and I spent a lot of time listening to that.”
According to Sherburne’s piece, Peter Rehberg, late founder of the legendary Editions Mego label, was struck by the Kenyan’s music in a similar way. Stuck in Berlin during the pandemic with little to do but go through demo submissions, Rehberg clicked immediately with KMRU’s music and signed him to Mego that year.
All three participants in this show were acquainted with Rehberg, who died last year. Fennesz put out several albums for Rehberg’s label, including 2001′s beloved Endless Summer, and collaborated with Rehberg in the supergroup Fenn O’Berg alongside onetime Sonic Youth member Jim O’Rourke. And while still running Variform, Wolf helped bring Rehberg to Portland for a performance at the Oregon Center for Contemporary Art, then known as Disjecta.
“Peter Rehberg was always someone who was really excited for new talent,” Wolf says. “It’ll be really cool to see these two artists continuing on and knowing that, in a way, he’s living on through them. I’ll be slipping some music from Peter into my set too, just to nod to that.”
SEE IT: Fennesz, KMRU and Patricia Wolf perform at Holocene, 1001 SE Morrison St., 503-239-7639, holocene.org. 8 pm Monday, March 28. $27.