There is a sense of both history and the future in the Boileroom tonight, as it hosts two post-rock influenced bands, For Astronauts and Satellites (FAAS) and AK/DK. Both of them performs sets that are openly futuristic in their soundscapes, evoking images of an automated future of robots and inter-planetary tourism. But at the same time, the past haunts each set; not only do both bands implicitly draw on the 1970s and 1990s musical traditions of krautrock and post-rock, but there is also a frank embrace of the “retro”. On stage with FAAS are not just the usual instruments of drums, guitars and synthesisers, but also an original Game Boy and NES. Fed through effects pedals and computers, these become equally essential instruments to the band, acting at once as both nostalgic and futurist.
FAAS’s set sonically reflects this at numerous points. As noted, their sound is firmly rooted in the post-rock tradition – in their more upbeat moments they remind me of Public Service Broadcasting, performing an energetic and fast-paced brand of instrumental rock, layered with synthesisers and film samples, gradually building up to a crescendo. At their more melancholy points, though, they sound like Godspeed You! Black Emperor, crafting densely layered, slow, repetitive melodies imbued with drama and tension. In both modes the clash – or rather, inextricable relationship – between future and past is clear. When energetic and danceable, FAAS evoke Harold Wilson’s famous ‘white heat of technology’ speech, and all its notions of a prosperous tomorrow built on cutting-edge technological change. But when sombre, there is a marked pessimism. Slow, repeated, distorted and reverberating guitar sounds combined with a solid and steady drum beat do little to inspire hope; we begin to question if there is even a future we can enjoy.
AK/DK, despite being a similar brand of instrumental rock, are a less melancholy affair, but no less futuristic. The duo uniquely consists of two drummers, Ed Chivers and Graham Sowerby, who also double up as synth players at the same time. Already one feels as though they could have stepped into an alternative reality – there is something surprisingly startling about having two drum sets front and centre on stage, and the music only reinforces this. Absent the guitars present in FAAS’s set, the music is even more digital, electronic and robotic. Bleeping arpeggios, distorted synthesisers and loud drum beats characterise much of their sound, and the result is a mix of oddly danceable and engaging tracks that continually walk the line between dystopia and utopia.
It is certainly refreshing to see the Boileroom embracing this sort of sound. More often than not the sets I have seen have been standard guitar-led affairs, and it is a pleasant surprise to go there and be reminded of Battles and legendary krautrock band, Can (two bands I am big fans of). Indeed, both FAAS and AK/DK provide no doubt interesting sets of layered, intense and dramatic music that echo these musical ancestors. Unfortunately, neither ever quite reach these two bands’ levels of musical eclecticism and excitement. The music is no doubt futuristic and evocative tonight, but it almost seems to lack a certain substance, being robotic in both the descriptive and pejorative sense of the term. Considering both bands’ interesting use of electronic material and sounds, and musical influences, that is a shame. It turns out the future FAAS and AK/DK paint is one we have already seen before.
Text by Jake Roberts
Picture research by Jonathan W. Espiritu and Juliey Pham; featured image taken from derkevin.com.