The problem with electronic music is it doesn’t always lend itself well to big stages – born and bred for sweaty basements and underground clubs, the ferocity of a bass beat gets lost in an arena. And a couple of guys fiddling with knobs instead of instrument-playing band members can leave little to entertain the eyes. But if there is one set of artists who can convey their electronic party sound to a large group of concertgoers, it’s veterans of the genre, The Chemical Brothers.

Accompanied by their now renowned visuals, these guys know how to play a crowd: ending a 2016 tour in London, they seamlessly soared a Hammersmith audience high and simmered low, with laser beams and strobe lights casting their glow in time with hypnotic beats. Avoiding the pre-record temptation of many electronic artists, the Mancunian Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons determinedly mixed live, within the first few tracks packing in infectious Hey Boy Hey Girl (1999), Do It Again (2007), and Go (2015). From a seemingly endless repertoire they layered old and new, such as 2015’s Born in the Echoes number Sometimes I Feel So Deserted with 1995’s Chemical Beats. With not one but two encores, the pair milked every last second until their 11pm curfew, coming back with Don’t Think, Galvanize and Block Rockin’ Beats, then again with Hold Tight London and C-H-E-M-I-C-A-L. What lends their music to larger audiences is also its variation in sound: dirty beats and heavy synth doing their work, vocal layers adding texture, hitting euphoria on the likes of Swoon, trip-out on Noel Gallagher collaboration Setting Sun, and leaving fans nothing to do but dance on Galvanize.

The characteristic psychedelic visuals, drawing on the mastery of their music videos, were equally mesmeric, ranging from the stunning to the grotesque, from the ethereal to the sinister: silver tracksuit-clad roller skaters, underwater swimmers, clowns, silhouettes of comedy police, ravers and dancers, elephants and butterflies, an irate man shouting into the phone, and stained glass windows of religious imagery lit up the screens behind the pair as they went about their equipment with skill and precision. The stage entertainment climaxed with two parodically-enormous raving robots shooting laser beams from their eyes and blowing smoke from their ears to a Don’t Think/Under the Influence mix. Brilliant.

The demographic of the audience reflected a career of big beat dance tracks that have cracked the mainstream charts as well as hit clubs and festival stages over 20 years alongside The Prodigy and Fatboy Slim, with the clubbers of the 90s giving it as much gusto as the younger millennials. They might not be the boundary-breakers they once were, but with all inhibitions and pretension flung aside, The Chemical Brothers were able to channel the nostalgic sensation of an all-night rave into the civilised space of the Eventim Apollo, ie “Don’t think, just let it flow”.


By Sarah Bradbury. First published on The Upcoming on 12th December 2016.
Photos: Guifre de Peray

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