Tim Exile goes pop!

Jimmy Tidey reports…

Planet Mu’s ’200+’ celebration of their 200th release, held at Corsica Studios, promised to be significant not only for the numerical milestone it celebrated but also for Exile’s performance of his new material.

If you haven’t come across him already, Exile is the antithesis of the bored looking laptop DJ skulking around behind an inscrutable pile of electronics. His act used to involve using a headset microphone to harangue the crowd for feedback on what genre of music they want to hear before he ‘composed’ a glitch fuelled chaos of beats in the chosen genre, aided by samples of him making various noises into his aforementioned trademark headset.

But at Corsica Studios he gave a taste of his new direction, and it’s a genuine shift in style. The material on his new album is downtempo and although it still has the distinctive Exile-style mass of synths and glitches, the vocal is now the centrepiece:

Catchy, pithy and nihilistic phrases delivered as processed vocals borrow from booty bass and Adam Freeland to give the music if not a “pop” sensibility then a structure and theme that makes them compatible with three minutes of radio play; as always, having a catchy vocal makes music infinitely more accessible.

His performance matched the new style, with a lot of wild gesticulation and crowd interaction. Halfway through the set he ducked down behind the parapet only to reappear bare chested. As in every performance I’ve seen by him, he had equipment problems – I’m beginning to think he does it deliberately to add a bit of nervous energy to the performance.

With the headset microphone and singing along to pre-recorded lyrics Exile seemed every bit the pop star. Given the “Vice” generation’s predilection for exploring novel musical territory, sarcastic, vapid sub-political comment and the authenticity that Exile can derive from being a genuinely talented musician it’s easy to foresee his brand of music attaining a great deal of popularity, albeit with the more fashion conscious consumer.

Of course you can’t please everyone all of the time, and the audience at the Corsica Studios perhaps wasn’t exactly the target audience. The biggest crowd pleaser was an all-too-brief foray in to jungle, and there were mutterings of disappointment at the low BPM count of the set.

Apart from Exile the highlight of the night was a brutal dubstep set from Mary Anne Hobbs. It was certainly augmented by an ear shattering sound system. The toilets benefited almost as much from the punishing vibrations as the room they were intended to serve and I enjoyed watching transient ripples of sound energy coruscate across the trough of urine in front of me while taking a piss. An equally enraptured co-pisser reported that he could actually feel the bass traveling back up his stream of urine, although I’m inclined to suggest that it was probably due to drugs or an STD.

I don’t know if it was the quality of the sound system or Mary Anne Hobbs’ tune selection, but I did see a side to dubstep that I haven’t encountered before – for the first time I was able to properly have it to a tune that goes half the speed of drum and bass.

As for Exile, he’s certainly doing something very interesting, and he’s got plenty of musical ability and stage presence, but alongside all this there is a palpable sense that he has abandoned the creativity of his previous work in order to pursue a larger audience. I can’t say I could hold that against him though.

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