Eskmo: the ghost of techno lingers

Real artists are always stuck in the lower right-hand corner

Like most concertgoers I pay little attention to opening acts, and the older and more jaded I get the more likely it is I’ll skip them altogether unless it’s someone I either know and like (rare) or don’t know but am curious about (even rarer). The latter sentiment made me truck out to Shibuya last night for no other reason than to see Eskmo, a San Francisco-based DJ who was part of Beat Records’ Twentieth anniversary showcase for Ninja Tune, which Beat distributes in Japan. I almost never go to techno and DJ shows any more unless they’re at the Red Marquee in the middle of the night at Fuji Rock, but yesterday morning I read one of Robert Christgau’s little miscellanies at the ARTicles blog site where he mentioned Eskmo, and though he didn’t commit himself one way or the other, just the fact that he went out of his way to write about Eskmo meant something. Christgau’s tastes in pop don’t always dovetail with mine, which is understandable considering how wide the field is; but since his taste in techno is necessarily narrower I usually find his picks in the genre more interesting than those of dedicated electronica heads. In any case, the name Eskmo rang a bell. I had just received an invitation to the Ninja Tune showcase and it was printed at the bottom of the lineup–opening act.

Not surprisingly, I was the first person to hit the floor at O-East. In typical techno showcase fashion, the DJ was already working even before the doors opened. There would actually be two showcases this evening: one at 6 pm and the other at 10:30, and Eskmo was opening both. Other than myself there was only a handful of people–all male, all very young, most already drunk–who deigned to show up this early, and they seemed suitably perplexed by Eskmo’s music, which had less to do with DJing than with creating layered melodyscapes using a sampler, his voice, and various ad hoc percussion devices (PET bottles, tiny sand-filled containers). Though any intersong development managed to evade my attempt to engage in the music, I still recognized distinct songs, and the effort to make sense of Eskmo’s fetching way with simple melody lines and integrated textures eventually yielded a thrilling Gestalt. By the end of the 45-minute set it appeared that I wasn’t alone in my absorption. The crowd, now a sizable five dozen strong, applauded heartily, not quite sure what they had just heard but glad that they had. We didn’t have time to savor the afterglow, because, again in typical techno showcase fashion, the second act, Britain’s Toddla T, a real DJ, immediately launched into his set with certifiable bhangra dance sides. Everybody shaked their booties, and Eskmo was quickly a pleasant but distant memory.

I stayed about twenty minutes and tried to enjoy the manic beats for what they were, but the ghost of Eskmo’s music kept haunting me. If I couldn’t tell you why, it’s because I only heard it once, so only the sensation remained, no clear recollection of the music itself. I went home and looked him up at Allmusic, discovered his name is Brendan Angelides and that he’s been doing this stuff for ten years already and only has one full album to his name, released a month ago (thus Christgau’s sudden interest). The entry concentrated too much on texture, when it was the way his melodies fit together than impressed me; and while the tempos were invariably slow-to-middling, I would never characterize what he does as “dubstep,” which is how the Allmusic guy described it. The thing is, I don’t know how to describe it, which is why I want to hear it again. I guess I’ll have to beg Beat for a CD-R. For some reason they’re only distributing it here as an import.

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