LIVE REVIEW: Manu Louis, Brad Field @ Cobalt Studios, Newcastle (17.06.22) | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

Narc. Magazine Online

Reliably informed

Image: Manu Louis by Arnau Pascual Ledesma

Sometimes the best musical experiences happen in dark seated rooms with 30 people and lots of strange equipment. 

Delayed twice due to Covid, it’s testament to Cobalt’s unwavering commitment to live music that the gig even managed to happen. The Friday night line-up was Brad Field – the audio-visual electro polymath followed by Belgian avant-garde-electro-art-pop provocateur, Manu Louis. Small and intimate down an unassuming cobbled street in Ouseburn, this could go one of two ways. 

Opening with the epic Cleveland My Heart is With You, Brad Field juggles a drum kit, organs, two vintage CRT TV’s and a projector. Footage of Cleveland’s failed 1986 Balloonfest flashes on the screens accompanied by frenzied post-rock drumming. I’m not sure if it’s supposed to be political, but it holds the same kind of cynical aesthetic as an Adam Curtis documentary. A lot of Brad Field’s stuff seems to be like this. Kraut-kitsch montages of public domain footage accompanied by uncanny drumming and organ playing. 

It’s funny too. Brad Field syncs the visuals to the beat. The drums act as a presentation remote control. At one point, the archived individuals on the screen start lip-syncing to the music. It’s all a parody. 

Manu Louis follows Brad Field’s multi-media precedent. But his music is heavier and more erratic. Playing the guitar whilst clutching the mic over synths and pedals, Manu Louis is an artist at work. He somehow manages to get people to dance. His music is cybernetic – titled things like Internet, The Screen or Internet’s Farewell.

What surprised me the most about Manu Louis’ music was how moving it was. Tracks like Data Farm are lonely, melancholic, desperate. As pretentious as it sounds, there’s a kind of existential ambience created through Manu Louis’ ethereal vocal synths and splintered drumming. The tracks build and build to new heights, accompanied by exercising infomercials and footage of traditional Belgian dancing. It’s the kind of musical experience that’s easier to feel than understand. 

I ask my friend half way through the gig whether she thinks this is art or not. Disturbing the boundaries between genres, high and low culture and audience and artist, both Brad Field and Manu Louis destabilise artistic conventions and flirt with subtle social commentary. Amidst rampant digitisation and environmental, social and political atrophy this is dance music for the apocalypse. And I don’t want it to end. 

Like this story? Share it!

Subscribe to our mailout