Somnambule - Writing About Music

Prefuse 73

The Scala, 24th April 2005

After an enjoyable set from mathrock support Battles, followed by a lengthy hiatus to set up their equipment Prefuse 73 take the stage. Given both Kieran Hebden (named as support on tickets though only contributing a dj set) and Scott Herren’s elusiveness in press photographs, there’s been some confusion as to who’s playing, but the music’s heavy beats lead to a swift and undeniable conclusion. Until the latest album Surrounded By Silence with its gaggle of guest rappers, Prefuse 73’s output has generally been the preserve of Herren, but live he gathers a band around himself. Scott stands to the left, hat covering his curls, bent intently over his instruments. Two colleagues strike similar poses centre and right stage over their decks while a burly, bearded bass player stands towards the back. The crowd tightens round the stage, little pockets of space quickly disappear in the urge to get close to the reason most everybody’s here. The bands’ heads nod to the big, meaty beats rendered pleasingly effective by the venue’s efficient p.a. while the crowd responds enthusiastically, camera phones raised aloft and bodies moving as much as the limited space will allow.

Prefuse 73’s music is sometimes referred to as abstract hiphop. The description is apposite: the group’s abstractions act like rust on the rocksteady bedrock of hiphop’s all important breaks. Should the corrosion become too intense, the music’s grounding in the real might evaporate in a pungent, but shortlived cloud of steam. That the real is up for debate now that hiphop’s a worldwide, catholic church that stretches from Clouddead to Mr P. Diddy is no matter: the (heart)beat persists. Prefuse 73’s temporal deconstruction is limited to breakdowns and occasional pauses: rhythms are established and then either persist or are quickly terminated, subsumed in the next attack, to become fleeting memories. Meanwhile ambient sound and analogue noise seethe and skate overhead forming a second, ultimately more interesting line of attack. Unfortunately catching this action is difficult: the p.a. inevitably privileges the bass over the upper registers. Perhaps it’s our sonic vantage point near the stage. In hindsight it might have been better to have sacrificed some of the atmosphere and retreated further back. Instead, the mid-tempo barrage becomes monotonous and the other levels of the music are too hard to spy, too low in the mix. Prefuse 73 climax with a barrage of beatless noise, but this listener’s gone before the encores.
Colin Buttimer
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