DRAGONS/Ulrich Schnauss/The Fluids

Underworld, London - 1 March, 2008

"Ulrich Schnauss is my new favourite act"

DRAGONS flyerCome the morning of 1st March, I was feeling pretty knackered after a tiring week and in two minds as to whether or not I could summon up the energy to attend tonight's gig. Sure DRAGONS were impressive enough, but I'd only seen them last month. So I turned my attention to the support acts. A quick skip over to the Earth Loop Recall website revealed they'd chucked in the towel just days beforehand - pulling out of all live commitments. The Fluids were uninspiring rock, but Ulrich-Schnauss.com (whose name was only vaguely familiar) was full of totally compelling instrumental ambient sounds that made the decision an easy and instant one. I started packing my camera.

The Underworld feels very different these days, almost neutered thanks to the smoking ban. But can't say I miss no longer stinking of cigarette smoke when I get home. True to the Underworld's history, The Fluids were conventional bottom of the bill fare fulfilling their grungey rock and roll dreams... if nobody else's. To be fair, they did get a great reception though that seemed to be mainly due to the fan club being in attendance. Not ones for the DSO website though, so we'll leave it there.

Ulrich Schnauss: nirvanaWith such a rocking and a rolling start to the night, I thought that Ulrich Schnauss' ambient soundscapes might go down like a lead balloon with the eclectic bunch in attendance. However, he didn't seem to have any such concerns. Or, if he did, then it didn't show. It was irrelevant anyway, as the power and talent of Schnauss' songwriting won over any doubters within minutes of taking up position in front of his laptop and other assorted boxes of tricks. Not even the lack of a stage 'show' could impinge upon Schnauss progressively drawing more and more people down to the dancefloor as his set continued. What I'd heard on his website earlier that day assured my that I'd enjoy at least some of his set. What I wasn't prepared for was to be TOTALLY blown away by it. And, apparently, I was not alone.

DRAGONSNot pausing between tracks to take any applause, the German simply ploughed deeper and deeper into his unique take on a much mined genre. This was like the very finest moments of Michael Rother (sans the hippy taint), Jean Michel Jarre and Tangerine Dream coming together in an almighty trinity of audible wonders. Best thing though was that this was no Krautrock retrospective but an entirely contemporary take on those aforementioned meisters of the epic, dreamy, electronic instrumental soundtrack. Whether he was taking on flotation tank ambience or hammering train track rhythms, Schnauss succeeded at every turn. Sweeping lush strings wrapped themselves around primal analogue beeps and bleeps creating a massive sound to travel by - without moving.

The crowd listened intently as he drove ever onwards. Once the guitarist joined Schnauss on stage, adding yet a further dimension to the already enveloping noise, I knew we were entering nirvana. The rapturous applause, roars and whistles when he did finally come to a halt will hopefully convince Schnauss not to leave it too long before returning to our shores (Infest anyone?). I couldn't have dreamt up a better sound. Ulrich Schnauss is my new favourite act.

Well, having had an out of body experience, DRAGONS had to be on top form to impress again. They just about managed it but, perhaps unsurprisingly, I was less enamoured than when I first saw them. Tonight was the the seventh night of a Spring European tour (the band are due to perform in Cologne this evening as I type this) and sees the band promote two new singles Trust and Treasure both released today (10th March). The set began though in regular fashion with the terrific Condition, followed by a ballsy trip around the debut album. Two new songs were performed back to back mid-set. One is a typical DRAGONS anthem, the other a more reflective, slower number. Of the two I preferred the up beat one. Only I didn't catch the titles. Again, Remembrance (also from the debut album) was a glorious way to spend four minutes of one's life and I can thoroughly recommend doing the same whenever you get the chance.

At a glance, you'd be forgiven for thinking lead vocalist Anthony Tombling Jr is an angst-ridden, troubled soul. But it's merely an outpouring of his emotion for the songs DRAGONS write. At times Tombling's moves are undeniably (and unintentionally) part Ian Curtis, part Dave Gahan. Nevertheless, it's good to see someone not afraid to wrap themselves in their emotions instead of being obsessed with how they look. Tombling impressed again with the strength and flexibility of his voice. DRAGONS certainly deliver on the performance side, and with their line-up of stylish-looking guitarists they would be a major label's dream act to promote, but what sets them apart from the majors is their passion and commitment to what they do. Oh, that and they can write some pretty darn fine songs too. There's no faking that. 8/10

Rob Dyer