Pye Corner Audio/Alice Hubble

Electrowerkz, London - 16 December 2021

"I began to relax, feeling myself getting drawn into the rhythms"

I'd never heard of Brit Martin Jenkins' Pye Corner Audio project until a friend thoughtfully tagged me on Facebook the day before this gig to see if I was going. I wasn't. That is, I wasn't until I started streaming some of PCA's radiophonic pulsations. Support came from electronic pop musician Alice Hubble who I'd been partial to when she appeared on the Happy Robots label in 2019.

Thursday night: sorted (thanks Clive!).

I'd been at Electrowerkz, just 20 days before. But that gig was downstairs. This one was upstairs. There was some debate between friends about which floor was the better. I'd never been much of a fan of up here, basically because unless you're standing at the front of the audience (or 6ft+ tall) the view of the artists is pretty crap. Although I was told the sound system had been upgraded. Certainly, on the back of tonight's show, I had no complaints on that score. Oh, and I got down the front for both acts. So I was happy enough.

Alice Hubble (real name Hubley) had apparently stepped in after original support act Graham Dunning had to pull out. Kitted out in a silky blue kimono-style kaftan number and armed with a Moog Prodigy among others, Hubble wasn't as obvious a support as Dunning but a welcome one nonetheless.

She shared the stage, musical duties and the occasional exchanged smile with Tom Hilverkus (who played a little guitar on the new album) who looked like he'd just stepped out of Romero's Night Of The Living Dead. His bespectacled 'nerd dad' demeanor perfectly suited the Alice Hubble throwback vibe. The two switched equipment a couple of times which made for a nice little number of changes in roles.

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Photos L-R: Alice Hubble x2

Having just recently released her second album, Hexentanzplatz (literally 'witch dance place'), on Happy Robots, tonight was an opportunity to both showcase new material and to win over some new fans. Five of tonight's seven song set came from the new long player. The other two taken from her 2019 debut Polarlichter.

Her set opened with Make Believe's creeping drone that gradually builds up to a trippy slice of psychedelia, nicely laying the ground for the headliner. The opening moments of My Dear Friend has faint echoes of Broadcast, upped the tempo slightly, got audience legs jiggling along in time and, you could sense, was winning them over as a late replacement.

Next up was the percussive bell intro of Still Polarlichter, taking us further back, to a more feminine take on 70s German prog synth territory. The mood is complemented by Hubble's distinctive voice that flits in and out of the mix as the synths create a dense atmosphere. English pastoral horror references in the back projections provided a neat visual counterpoint to the rich sounds.

The bass synth intro to Goddess (a single taken from Polarlichter) sounded like Reproduction era The Human League. Clearly a good thing. While I get the vocal style Hubble is aiming for, there were a few times that they came across as a touch flat. Some breathing exercises to enable a bit more projection, depth and power to hit the notes more accurately would work wonders.

The playful Hexentanzplatz and then Power Play from the new album followed. By now it was apparent that the audience had more than just warmed to our late replacement, but were whooping for more between each track. Hubble closed out her set with the wonderful instrumental Gleichfalls, think looping Japanese koto blended into a motorik rhythm and beat. It was the perfect end to a set of aural ear candy, and nicely setting us up for Pye Corner Audio.

Alice Hubble's entire set made me think back to treasured memories of seeing Broadcast live a couple of times at the Wag Club in 1996, when they'd just had a couple of singles out. Good days - then and now.

Set list: Make Believe, My Dear Friend, Still Polarlichter, Goddess, Hexentanzplatz, Power Play, Gleichfalls

Pye Corner Audio - Although working without vocals, Martin Jenkins' Pye Corner Audio's soundtrack electronica shares similar influences to Alice Hubble, rooted in the radiophonic recordings of the late 1960s and 1970s. Recall the experimental bleeping music intros to those bathed in brown Open University science TV programmes from the era and you're on the right track.

Maybe it was all the smoke that had accumulated by the time Jenkins took over the stage, and that he appeared virtually in silhouette, but there was a faintly menacing air for the first five minutes of Pye Corner Audio's set.

However, once the first distinct melodies sauntered into the fray I began to relax, feeling myself getting drawn into the rhythms. The room filled with hypnotic pulsing drones, washes of sound and it was impossible not to let their narcotic nature seduce your ears.

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Photos L-R: Pye Corner Audio x2

Throughout his hour or so set, the Stygian gloom was only briefly pierced by the beams of light emanating from the projector hanging from the ceiling. And even then it mainly highlighted the peak on Jenkins' cap, further shrouding his face in darkness. With just fleeting glimpses of beard, it could have been Fidel Castro up there for all we could see of the man.

But then, this wasn't about the 'show'. Perfunctory projections of school geometry lessons were welcome enough, but hardly required viewing. Even the equipment was of the always underwhelming 'array of boxes on a very large table' variety rather than towering displays of modular synths or a melange of iconic analogue synthesizers.

But, tellingly, none of that mattered. This was, as it always should be, all about the music.

Having only heard Pye Corner Audio for the first time the day before, this was me dropping in at the deep end. The entirely instrumental set rightly focused on the sounds and the sound. Both were most agreeable. So it doesn't surprise me that throughout I found myself referencing related genre artists who, I'm sure, Jenkins would be happy to share the limelight with.

The heartbeat thumping, bossanova beats, shrill percussion and looping melodies recalled Jean Michel Jarre. John Carpenter's influential score to his own 1976 classic Assault On Precinct 13 emerged at one point. And the minimal dronescape ending to his set reminded me of James Ray's unforgettable performance of his epic 4080 Peru project 16 years ago.

As there was so little to engage visually, it almost felt wrong to be standing in front of Jenkins. (What were we supposed to be looking at?) Instead, it seemed more appropriate had he been high in a gallery looking down on the audience, the same way he was looking down on his equipment. And below, everyone else in the room all rapt in the sweeping pads, the beats, the atmosphere he created, just absorbing.

If you experience Pye Corner Audio as a kosmic sound installation then you'll love it. If you're expecting to 'see' anything other than hear the music - maybe even the occasional nod from Jenkins' face or arms - then you'll be disappointed. Still, an hour's worth of blissed out, hypnotic drones and thoughtful ambience is not an easy thing to turn down.

Was there much to see? No. Was there much of a 'show'? No. Could we have easily stayed at home and listened to this? Sure we could.

But here, now, live in person something majik happens.

The reverberating air and its impact in your stomach takes experiencing the music to another physical dimension. It's why we came. And why we'll continue to come to hear music performed live. 8/10

Review + Photos: Rob Dyer