Servant Jazz Quarters, London – 18 February 2014

"Proper electronic music - an unforgettable night"

PhotoWrangler are Phil Winter of Tunng, Benge, perhaps best-known for being the half of John Foxx and The Maths that isn't John Foxx, and Stephen Mallinder of Cabaret Voltaire fame. In fact, Wrangler were originally just Winter and Benge, then the former Cabs front man joined, rounding out the current line up and, to be honest, was the reason the band leapt to the front of my admittedly limited attention span and w(r)angled their way onto the dsoaudio gig 'must do' shortlist.

For me, proto-industrial funkster's Cabaret Voltaire remain one of the four seminal electronic bands of my youth. (The others being Kraftwerk, Depeche Mode and Front 242.) Even though I started buying their records in what I consider to be their heyday (starting with 1981's Red Mecca) I never got to see them live. The only one of my 'golden four' of which that can be said. I did travel to Manchester in 1986 for the Factory Records' “Festival of the Tenth Summer” at the G-Mex to see Cabaret Voltaire who were on the bill (alongside New Order, OMD, The Smiths, A Certain Ratio, John Cage, The Fall, Luxuria and others). It was only once I arrived that I learned they had cancelled. I never found out why and I was gutted. Having seen Richard H. Kirk (the other major Cabaret Voltaire member) a number of times down the years, this then was my first chance to see Stephen Mallinder live. I share all this personal history as it goes a long way to influencing my experience of this evening.

From what I'd listened to of Wrangler prior to today, it's honest to say my interest was suitably piqued even if I wasn't exactly bowled over, but I was enticed sufficiently to think that a full gig would be worth the trip. Hence we find ourselves
in the basement of this neat jazz club venue (part of the cluster of Dalston jazz clubs in London). I'd also heard they play the odd Cabaret Voltaire track too. And so it proved to be. Ballpark wise, much of this wasn't a million miles from early to mid-Cabs. This is proper electronic music that can only be done on electronic gear. So, we're talking fat bass synths, rhythmic sequencers, thumping dry drum pads (courtesy live of Benge), free-wheeling sample dropping, and Mallinder's unforgettable, characterful voice phasing in and out. My sense of appreciation was likely to have been heightened by the realisation I was finally in the company of one of my musical heroes but, on the night, this set was a thrill from start to finish.

I knew I was in for an unforgettable experience as soon as the opening seconds of the intro kicked in with what could have been an outtake from Bebe and Louis Baron's score to Forbidden Planet, seemingly excised on account of it being too psychedelic. It was the first of many hair-on-the-back-of-your-neck-standing-up moments. Quite literally. By the time we'd gotten to Harder, the most overtly funky track in the middle of the set, the intimate audience, crammed into every corner were yelling their approval. The line up was augmented on a couple of tracks by the presence of Tom Rogerson guesting on a Juno 60 synth (and who appears on Wrangler's forthcoming first LP LA Spark). Tom was the curator of this evening, under the Proof Positive banner, and had opened proceedings this evening.

The band of three are obviously just in this for the music. Everything they did was in service to the sound they have created, with no apparent distractions like being concerned as to how others might expect it ought to sound. This was a group of like-minded individuals, coming together with the aim only of creating music that moves them. With nothing to prove to anyone else. There was a genuinely relaxed air about the evening, typified by Mallinder's lighthearted quips and banter between between songs. This culminated in Mallinder saying, in response to hollering cries for more at the end of an impacting if compact 45-minute set, “Hey, it's alright, it's a fiver - value!”, delivered in his still thick Sheffield accent, and that, besides,
 he needed to catch the last train home to Brighton before it was too late.

Some people might recognise this...” said Mallinder before the opening, unmistakable samples of Cabaret Voltaire's Crackdown kicked in. Finally, I had my five minutes live with one (half) of the most influential bands in my life. It was a sublime way to finish what was an unforgettable night. 8/10

Setlist: Intro, Theme From Wrangler, Lava LandSpace Ace, LA Spark, Harder, Modern World, Crackdown

Rob Dyer