Nicolas Jaar at Old Granada Studios, Manchester review

Nicolas Jaar exhibited a shape-shifting performance of the world mercilessly stomping to its end - Andrew Williams reviews.

Ben Smith

Last updated: 12th Dec 2016.
Originally published: 7th Dec 2016

Image: Now Wave

26-year-old Chilean-American musician Nicolas Jaar is more outspoken than most electronic artists about the refuge of the club, creativity and music as an antidote to the contamination of society. 

In a 2015 interview, the genre-evading prodigy – he rose to prominence before his twentieth birthday in 2009, and is now onto his third album via a number of LPs and his prog-infused side project Darkside – spoke honestly about our world being “toxic in so many different ways”, and explains that he thinks we are stuck in a prison of broken systems. 

But when asked if music can actually make a difference he replies, “not yet, sadly”. That’s not to say it’s pointless providing effective opposition to the insurgency of aggressive and suppressive populism, whether that's through activism or progressive liberal politics, towards which the arts predominantly gravitate. 

Conceding that arts, not for want of trying, might not make that much difference hasn’t stopped him taking on the machine in his own ways: it was mainly the opening segment of Jaar’s gloomy new live show – the first of three notable shifts in mood his set explored – that reflected the fragmented and poisoned, dark and nightmarish world he references whenever he speaks to the press. 

Housed in one of the expansive recording studios in the Old Granada Studios, shrouded in moody fog and barely visible behind his configuration of equipment, the New Yorker masterfully orchestrated the palpable sounds of a world stomping mercilessly to its end – which will be upon us sooner rather than later, if 2016 is anything to go by. 

Nicolas Jaar performances are one of those everyone knows what it feels like but yet no one knows exactly how to describe it

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The gargantuan, splintered opening, layered intricately with broken-down mechanics coupled with flashing strobes and trippy lasers, eventually ceased with the tension-easing introduction of the transient ‘Variations’ from 2012 album Space Is Only Noise

With the edge taken off and another gear found, Jaar switched direction and hurtled towards the thumping tour de force, ‘Swim’, off last year’s more dance-orientated Nymphs EP. That, at long last, provided a club-driven sound that continued right up until the hard-hitting post-punk sounds of ‘The Governor’.

“We’ve created a monster”, he sings in his trademark monotone. He recreated that monster for us, musically. The sounds of jackhammers striking the Berlin Wall spring to mind. Danceable? Not as such. At that point, no. More Joy Division or Neu! than his contemporaries – David August or KiNK, for instance, with their live sets exploring more conventional club sounds. 

That’s no bad thing, though. Jaar is a well-learned musician: his carefully woven live shows, soulful mixes and remixes, albums, DJ sets, even film scores, have always been about creating sophisticated musical odysseys. 

His Warehouse Project performance did not disappoint. Witnessing his live show once again six years after he played Spektrum for Wolf + Lamb’s Christmas Party, he’s undoubtedly grown to become become a much bigger entity. One that, still in his mid twenties, is, excitingly for his admirers, probably just getting started with his brand of intelligent dance music.  

His ambition to create sophisticated sounds that transcend more than music mean that he, in his current guise as this angry one-man rebellion, is continually challenging himself. He always, whether speaking to journalists or when performing, invites the listener to dissect the obvious elements of his music and engage politically to challenge existing theories and culture.  

Whatever Nicolas Jaar you witness – live or on record – expect a treat that’s mindfully constructed with architectural precision. Whether that’s hauntingly beautiful techno, tracks such as ‘Space Is Only Noise’ (listen above), or as he did to draw his set to a close, a feel-good salvo and uplifting final scenes that concluded an electrifying Monday night. 

His show, part of an extensive world tour, was carefully engineered from start to finish. That, though, is what you should always expect from a bold performer with one eye on making a profound statement, and another fixated on his diverse and shape-shifting sounds.

Jaar, the thinking man’s electronic producer, thoughtfully merges the two in the name of his art.

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