In spite of its title, Simian Mobile Disco’s Live doesn’t play so much as a showcase of their live performance as it does an attempt to escape certain pigeonholes, and to provide a new statement of intent by way of an overview of their existing body of work. Recorded from the mixing desk of a show in Philadelphia without edits, the production is nonetheless remarkably sharp, dynamic and immersive, putting the clean analogue electronics front and centre, and playing down the sense of occasion.
To be sure, it’s a far reaching set, melding 15 tracks from the nooks and crannies of their back catalogue into an hour-plus mix. But this is no instantly gratifying crowd pleasing sleepwalk through the biggest hits, accentuating the wildest drops. Instead this is a matured, measured meditation on their move towards deeper house music, and a set which is unafraid to shy away from their early reputation as four to the floor indie-dance artists just as well known for producing the Klaxons as for their dancefloor-smash ‘Hustler’.
The resistance of straight up beats and high flying tempos occasionally extends to the point of outright contrarianism. The iteration of early hit ‘It’s The Beat’ works excellently – its reconfigured bassline, all wobbly, filthy and irresistibly groovy, acting as inarguable justification of SMD’s rhythmical refocus from the beat to the bassline. But the extent to which ‘Hustler’ is reduced to such a skeletal and frankly unrecognisable state makes you wonder why they even bothered putting it in at all, and plays out like a borderline mean-spirited attempt to undercut expectations. Time and time again, SMD underline the fact that they’re more than happy to let the beat bubble along on a softly pumping kick drum, letting the songs evolve as a pulse rather than with the urgency of their earlier recorded output.
It’s their prerogative of course, and it’s a frequently successful approach, resulting in moments of exquisite release achieved from very understated shifts in texture. Nevertheless, the final third of the set – where they permit themselves to air a few of their most assured numbers in a more brazenly showy manner – really does distinguish itself with a sense of vitality some of the early passages lack, purposefully or not. As the excellent ‘Put Your Hands Together’ entwines itself into the even better ‘Sleep Deprivation’, with a whip cracking snare sound moving up through the mix, it’s hard not to wish that Simian Mobile Disco had permitted themselves to indulge in this more visceral euphoria a few times more often.
Live ultimately plays more like an accomplished mixtape than it does a live concert. And it’s hard not to suspect that this is at least partly deliberate. Rather than demonstrating their abilities to provoke a dancefloor to hysteria, Live uses Simian Mobile Disco’s past to signpost their future – resulting in a record which is occasionally frustrating and even underwhelming, but one which is also a demonstration of confident execution, and a promising forecast of mature dance music to come.
7Russell Warfield's Score