Sydney Festival Live Review: Matmos - City Recital Hall, Angel Place (15.01.14)

Experimental electronica wizards Matmos are a duo that have no respect for boundaries; a team of gifted musicians - M.C Schmidt and Drew Daniel - who enjoy manipulating every sound they can get their hands on, and creating both skeletal and gorgeously layered productions, spun into their thematic studio albums like Civil War - an LP which delves into the folk music of the civil war era and chops it up into electronica.

Sydney Festival placed the artists – for their first Australian tour in their 15 year career - in the intimate and underrated City Recital Hall on Sydney’s Angel Place, a classy venue the duo seemed rather bemused by, stating that they usually play in dive bars with “people spilling drinks and shitting on the stage” rather than seated theatres. This change for them obviously had a calming effect as they remained relatively still while fiddling with the many bits and bops laying on their desk, giving us some truly intriguing productions underneath a gigantic screen.

The visual accompaniment were large projections of hypnotic and deeply involving patterns, some so intense I couldn’t look at the screen for more than a few minutes before feeling a strong case of vertigo. Geometric shapes would often paint themselves onto the screen, swallowing each other continuously as if this was trickery from two mastermind hypnotists who just happen to excel at the art of creating a song from fragments of odd sounds.

Local guest Andrew Tuttle had a rather disconnected rant throughout his brief stay for ‘Very Large Green Triangles,’ one of the duo’s earlier offerings, concluding with a polite address from Schmidt.

There was even amateur footage of a plumber extracting excrement from a drainpipe of a New York toilet, right before the screen took us all down the drain, with us being stuffed further in by a symphony of disparate sounds all coming together and breaking apart with mesmerising force. This was apparently the first time they have ever attempted such a thing live, deeming us all “test subjects.”

Another first for the duo came with a live-streamed metronome, triggered by Schmidt and serving as the base for a complete construction of progressive electronica, showing us each building block with which they create their disjointed and unorthodox works. The end result was the highlight of the night and the thickest of all the few extended tracks they offered us.

Male nudity was plastered on the screen for an encore, accompanied by some balloon tricks which were mirrored on stage by Schmidt, playing with his own red balloon; the uncomfortable and jilted stabs at performing lent a light, fun element to the confronting set; almost dragging us out of our induced hypnotic state and reminding us that this was not your average concert, it was more a playful experiment in sound disguised as a concert.

Matmos put on a performance that was perhaps a little too strange for most to stomach, evidenced by the bemused look on over half the crowd while they slowly ushered out of the venue. Their studio works are polished in comparison to the raw approach in their live sets, with everything from guttural chanting to live flute solos melting into each other against a backdrop of bizarre imagery. I really don’t know how to feel about what Matmos did at City Recital Hall, but I doubt I’ll be forgetting it anytime soon.