BROTHERS IN RHYTHM
As they continue to innovate and rock some choice festival crowds, The Chems beat The Prodigy to secure the Best Live Act gong…
When we asked you who the best British live act of the year was, you answered almost unequivocally that the honour should be bestowed upon The Chemical Brothers. As such, 2015 was the year that the old masters showed the young guns how it was done, and they did so all over the world from Glastonbury to Sonar in Sao Paolo, Electric Zoo in New York to Bestival and even at the Apple Music Festival in London.
Of course, ahead of that, the pair released an eighth studio album, ‘Born In The Echoes’. It spawned some immediate hits such as ‘Go’ and ‘Under Neon Lights’ but as everyone knows, The Chemical Brothers are best in the live arena and are one of the few groups in dance who manage to really make their stadium-filling show as compelling to look at as it is to listen to.
A sense of mind-blowing spectacle characterises everything Tom Rowlands and Adam Smith (who is a visual collaborator and live replacement for original Chems member Ed Simons, who no longer tours with the group) does, and that was the case again on the most recent spate of live shows.
Once again they were backed by gigantic screens showing psychedelic images of ghostly dancers, cut-up lights and lasers and alien lifeforms. Blasts of ice and smoke continually belch out to envelop the crowd in front of them, and key words from many of the tracks are pulled out and projected onto screens to encourage audience participation.
A Chemical Brothers live show, then, is a visceral and involving experience that cannot fail to make an emotional as well as physical impact — if for no other reason than it is so damn large.
Musically, the live show is never less than earth-shaking, rib-rattling and tooth-loosening in its raved-up fusion of serrated synths and massive drum-breaks. Tracks from every era of their back catalogue get called upon, and that means that classics like ‘Hey Boy, Hey Girl’ and ‘Block Rocking Beats’ get the same wild and raucous reactions as newer tracks from ‘Born In The Echoes’.
There are plenty of the scuzzy electronics you would expect, oodles of fist-pumping chords and foot-stomping beats, but also, importantly, some moments of light and calm do exist in amongst the sonic destruction, and they help the overall set seem much more like a carefully orchestrated journey than a mindlessly physical affair.
Over the course of a live show, many anthemic Chems vocals ring out over the crowd at various points and encourage some of the most famous singalongs in all of dance. They come as a mix of moods and grooves that range from hellish and maximalist to more soul-infused and emotive — all cut-up into one restless and energetic orgasm of light and sound.
Scary clowns burst out on the screen in front of you, paintballs explode and voodoo priests made from lights loom large up above. Technologically the show is right at the vanguard too, with geometric lasers mapping and webbing the room as pagan figures appear behind the stage, and at one point some vast robot figures descend from the heavens to dangle down above the mass of writhing bodies and clenched fists below.
Cleverly, The Chemical Brothers’ live show appeals to the die-hard old fans and the more dubstep and EDM-attuned newcomers alike. Both sets of fans can find things they love, and whilst debates about just how live the show really is (the group insist it is all mixed live and that they have just a rough outline of a set-list before each show) there can be no arguments that it is one of the most complete and impactful in all of music, let alone just dance music.