There was no way James Holden could have left his audience in that euphoric state. There would’ve been a riot, had he not come back to deliver his encore. It was Caterpillars Invention, that whipped the audience into this frenzy as they pulsed up and down throughout the main hall of the Muziekgebouw aan ‘t Ij. It was a stark contrast to the start of the night as a relaxed crowd perched on the edge of the stage to a great repertoire of music, as selected by Luc Mast. When Holden did take to the stage, the crowd was still somewhat subdued and his unassuming manner and shy smile, now seems mischievous in hindsight to what was to unfold on the Saturday night.
Sticking mainly to the songs on The Inheritors, Holden was joined on stage by drummer, Tom Page and intermittently by saxophonist Ettiene Jaumet. A line-up that could have easily turned into an experimental journey through self-indulgence but never did. What was most surprising was the Saxophone. The timbre of the instrument was a perfect fit for the modular synth manipulated by James. It never overwhelmed any part of the performance and instead weaved an intricate texture with the synthesised elements that made it difficult to tell the one from the other at times. The drums too, I felt played a significant role and it became particularly apparent during Renata. An instantly recognisable song as the crowd confirmed their knowledge of its existence with a loud cheer through its opening bars. It was when the live drums kicked in that a new dimension to the track was introduced. It added an unmistakable energy to the track that is not as obvious on the album. On other tracks, like Gone Feral it developed the half-time beat into something that could not easily be achieved on a drum machine. Combined with the live manipulation of Holden’s modular synth and Jaumet’s reserved sax, it all gave the performance a very pleasing human element.
James Holden’s DJ experience shined through this live performance. It took the audience through various stages of the album from energetic tracks like Renata to the subtleties of Circle of Fifths only to reach the crest of that climax at the penultimate track, Catepillar’s Invention. Building tension and offering release all along the way through the 1 odd hour of the performance, there was never a boring or tedious moment. Even the off-hand improvised encore had its role to play, bringing the audience back down to a reasonable state of euphoria for the rest of the night. The most interesting element of this whole performance was however the lack of anything resembling a vocal sample or lead vocal. Apart from the odd unintelligible ‘oh’ or ‘ah’ from the saxophonist, there was no melodic vocal hook in site. This responsibility fell on the synthesiser alone, and this is quite significant in the grand scheme of things. If an audience of that size is able to enjoy this music at that level, it says something for the future of electronic music performances of this sort.
James Holden has always known how to entertain a crowd with his DJ sets and this has been confidently transposed to his live performances. It was an exciting encounter with his music I will not be able to forget any time soon. I would urge anyone to go and see this performance, regardless whether you enjoy electronic music.