As you weave through the maze of glass-coated back streets connecting Moorgate to the Barbican, your sense of space and proportion begin to bend. The restaurants, bars and office spaces at eye level give a false sense of variation, attempting to distract from the monolithic buildings looming over you.
Millions have been spent to add a warm human sheen, but the cold reality of central London can’t be lifted. An art installation close to the venue projects a shadow just behind you as walk past. You stop to check the movement out the corner of your eye. You think for a second that the moving shadow image somehow mimicked your movement, but you realise that it’s the same loop for everyone. Intentionally or not, it seems to embody the superficial variety throughout the area. Novelty covering-up mundanity.
The effect of Huerco S.’ set supporting GAS is the antithesis of the soulless glass buildings to the east of the Barbican. Opening with a solitary bass hum, the music sticks to a constant pace and rarely goes for cliched peaks or troughs. The variation is not superficial, but spiralling out from the detail. Hints of familiar sound float into and out of hearing. What could be a grainy, muffled vocal track. At other points something that sounds like the echoes of a steel drum melody without the initial attack.
"The effect of Huerco S' set supporting GAS is the antithesis of the soulless glass buildings to the east of the Barbican."
Structurally the whole set feels like a reversed sonar. Rather than soundwaves radiating out from a single centre, disparate audio seems to keep being pulled in from around and coalesced into a single, unified point. Given pristine clarity by the Barbican’s sound system and space to comfortably diffuse and evolve through the theatre, the murky detail of Brian Leeds’ music is given full expression.
When Wolfgang Voigt launched his GAS project close to two decades ago, he claimed he strived to bring the forest to the disco, and vice versa. At the Barbican, Voigt brought the forest into a brutalist theatre and it seems to be the perfect environment for it.
From the sighing opening strings onwards, the set captures the brooding intensity that haunts 2017’s ‘Narkopop‘, sticking closely to the album’s material. The elements that have always defined GAS, the romantic strings warped out of context and the huge, drenched beats, are all present. Now they’re delivered with such immense weight it’s impossible to imagine them on a dancefloor.
On stage, Voigt is accompanied by a massive video projection. Naturally synced to the music, they zoom in and out of the forest. Circling around in a panorama or zooming into woodland detritus, the images frequently melt away into formless colour blurs. Here nature gives way to the synthetic.
"Voigt brought the forest into a brutalist theatre and it seems to be the perfect environment for it."
The echoes shimmering off GAS’s lush forest evocations have always been tinged with a certain nostalgia. With the sights and sounds delivered in the modernist confines of the Barbican this feeling is ramped up, celebrating the forest, but reminding you of its distance in present time.
As the set climaxes the hall is consumed by a huge bass throb, one which seems to be sucking in all the other familiar GAS tropes. The room grows into a moment of levitation and it’s impossible to gauge how much time has passed. Not so much a crescendo as a moment of total immersion, the music and the forest eventually fall away.
Huerco S. and GAS are both expert purveyors of seriously deep electronic music, of excavating sounds that envelope and surround the listener. When performed live, their compositions are structured in markedly different ways. GAS’ music stretches out in immense plains of audio, Huerco S.’ circles around and seems to explore the confines of a smaller, more claustrophobic space. Armed with the power of the Barbican’s soundsystem, both are given the freedom to build their own vivid universes, ones totally removed from the dark city that surrounds.