Since their inception in 2005, the duo of Simian Mobile Disco have proven themselves as some of the most innovative producers in the industry. James Ford and Jas Shaw have stayed true to analog production techniques and the electronic rock experimentation. Sticking to analog to “prevent their own electronic dance tracks from sounding too polished and programmed”, this UK-based duo has created a sound all their own. SMD has a live performance style that is unique and organic. No two shows are the same – this Thursday night show would be the only Thursday night show of it’s kind. On stage they surround themselves with synths, sequencers and trigger pads of every kind—they are mad scientists of the musical persuasion.
For years, SMD has humbly occupied dance floors alongside the progressive house mega-hits of the day. As those artists have come and gone, Ford and Shaw remain. With a sound that is immediately individual and recognizable, Simian Mobile Disco has been churning out original, brilliant music for almost eight years. Their 2007 anthems “I Believe” and “Hustler” are some of my favorites for post-clurb dance parties with my $30 Ikea disco ball.
Suckers for a challenge, Ford and Shaw announced in early 2014 that their newest album would be a live recording of a quiet little show near Joshua Tree, CA in which they would play with just one synthesizer and one sequencer each. What resulted was a dramatic departure in terms of sound, style and energy. Whorl is a beautiful experiment in ambient electronic music. It is chilling, uplifting and perplexing, but it is not the Simian Mobile Disco we are used to. As we approached the glowing El Rey Theatre, we wondered what to expect – the gritty, dance floor bangers or the spacey dreamscapes.
With finesse, they managed to straddle both of these sounds. Starting small, a single light on each Ford and Shaw as they began ambient. It felt like something larger was coming to life.
As the sound grew and gained weight, the production followed. Lights and strobes added, but never distracted. On the screen behind them a glitchy, amorphous figure resembling their album cover grew in size and color. As they slipped in and out of the driving, high-octane techno of their early years, the energy of the audience shifted along with it. The LA crowd was surprisingly receptive to the integration of their new “scaled back” sound.
The dynamic range of the evening was a true testament to the talent of Ford and Shaw. On a larger scale, this performance would be legendary – I’ve heard raves from their latest stint in the desert Coachella. This is not to take away from their night at The El Rey. With that show, they proved that their new sound can stand next to their old sound with ease. They have some new tricks, but they haven’t forgotten the old ones either. They’ve got a handful of shows scheduled throughout Europe over the next few months, but we’re hoping these guys hit the studio again quickly after that. We’re ready for some more!