Pete Swanson: Arnolfini, Bristol – live review

Pete Swanson
Arnolfini, Bristol,
11th Jan 2013

Pete Swanson has carved out a niche for himself as one of the most high calibre pummelling techno noise artists around at the moment. Last Friday he played a show at Bristol’s Arnolfini & despite treating the table his gear was on so aggressively it collapsed, he still blew all in attendance away. Louder Than War were lucky enough to count themselves amongst those in attendance.

If you go to the Arnolfini & climb right to the very top; past the bar, past the toilets, past the art installations & offices, then turn left & left again you find a little room that up till Friday I, someone who’s been visiting the Arnolfini for 20 odd years now, never knew existed. It’s a dark, pretty spartan little room with a low slung ceiling and it turns out that, like the main Arnolfini performance space down below, it’s a brilliant setting for live music.

The room is called the Light Room but on Friday evening it was the very opposite. Indeed, a darker room for a gig I don’t think I’ve ever been in but as this evening it was home to a certain Mr Pete Swanson, late of Yellow Swans (free Yellow Swans Download) it was actually perfect, his music being not without elements of the shady. Swanson’s now going solo of course, and as such he’s built himself a reputation for himself as one of the most captivatingly & inventive experimental techno noise makers around.

Also on the bill tonight was H (try googling that name, motherfuckers, I can guarantee you’ll get nowhere. Alternatively just click this link). H, it turns out, is the artist who I’ve formerly known as “the woman who often does sound for a lot of the best hardcore gigs in the front room at The Croft” – (not an enviable job considering the “sound box” is embedded in the wall a couple of yards from the stage with absolutey no protection from the roiling mass of hardcore fans who’re invariably wall stomping, (accidentally) hate moshing, diving off the amps & just generally bundling into everyone within 10 yards of the stage). Set up on a table with all her equipment (circuit boards, keyboards, tapes & lots of stuff beyond my ken) she produced a great sound, all fractured beats & what would have been gut churning wallops of bass if the volume in the place had been anywhere near as loud as her music needed it to be. Still, her set was ace and I’m minded to suggest she aspires to model herslef on The Haxan Cloak who she really reminded me of except without quite that artists confidence to “go minimal”. Yet. The spiel repping the gig on Arnolfini’s site described her sound as being “drones and fuzz, mangled tapes and murky keyboards”. Apart from the “mangle” & the “murk” I’m not sure how much of that I actually “got” but I’m definitely looking forward to her next gig on 9th Feb with the mighty Big Joan & which if you’re anywhere near Bristol you should attend (Facebook Event Page).

Onto the unquestionable highlight of the night, Pete Swanson. Swanson specialises in bold, in your face experimental electronica but whereas a lot of artists working in this field forget about rhythm no one can accuse Swanson of that. Guy’s a fucking genius, right from the start of his set the beats were flowing and the urge to fire gun trigger fingers up into the air (also known as “trying to bowl a googly fingers” to those us in England more familiar with playing cricket than fondling guns) as though you were at the hippest party with the hottest DJ’s was hard to suppress (being reserved I suppressed the urge.) This was a captivating & exhausting performance, sharing as much with the spirit & ethos of hardcore as it does the most dazzling techno producers. Hard, in yer face music proving that you don’t need volume alone to batter people. Urgent clamorous rhythms are Pete Swanson’s oeuvre & boy did we get them here tonight.

Not for the faint hearted, Swanson’s music is aggressive stuff, granted he makes it a bit easy for the listener in that he keeps the beats flowing but he also swaps & changes tempo’s & noises all the time, mixing it up & keeping you on your toes. A lot of noises he foists upon you are not easy to listen to, but it’s this meeting of melodic beats that also destroy that set him apart (he’s described his imminent new release as “32 minutes of supremely demolished beats with more melodic hooks”, a description I only saw after this gig & which made me go “uh huh, yuup” as I read it). It’s that holy grail that up until this evening I never knew I was searching for of urgent but ordered chaos that took my breath away.

I may’ve been resisting the urge to punch the air during the gig but I certainly wasn’t holding shy as regards jumping up and down. However, just as I was reaching the point in the set whereby I was spending more time off the ground than on, and just as Swanson was building to his apocalyptic climax, the table supporting his electrical gubbins (which he was hammering away at pretty crazedly) gave up. The legs of the table at the end I was stood at surrendered & buckled at the knees. Everything slipped off the table as it went down, exuenting stage right. It may’ve put a stop to my dancing but like a fucking trouper Swanson wasn’t fazed for a minute. I guess this is what he means when he sez “When I see someone live, I want to see them take risks, I want to see them fail”. Except he didn’t fail. He just dropped to his knees & finished off, barely dropping a beat. Can’t say the same for myself, the only reason I was so hooked into it all at that point was because I’d been slowing lifted up the that “near euphoria” place during the preceding 30 minutes of his set. But never mind, it was a great show. When he finished he made some manner of comment that suggested this wasn’t the first time this had happened, to which the only response I could think of was “you don’t fucking say”.

In a recent interview with Impose Magazine Swanson was quoted as saying “I can’t quit music, I’ve tried too many times”. To which the correct response is “halle-fucking-lujah to that”. The world of music needs Pete Swanson, probably more than it realises.

There are a couple more UK dates left  on his tour, tonight, 14th Jan, at London’s Birthdays (14), and tomorrow (15th) in Cambridge at The Portland Arms.

Pete Swanson is also releasing an EP on Daniel Lopatin’s Software label in March, called Punk Authority. It’s going to drop both digitally and as a limited vinyl pressing. The first video for it came out last week. It’s a truly austere animation for the song “Life Ends At 30”. Check it below but be warned, it’s some scary shit.


All words Guy Manchester. More words by Guy can be read here. He tweets as @guid0man & uses Tumblr.



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