The Chemical Brothers bring their psychedelic circus to HARD Summer
It’s Saturday night of HARD Summer. The afternoon heat has finally burned off, and there’s a steady procession of attendees flocking towards the main stage for Dillon Francis. Over at the HARDER Stage, an intimate crowd is gathering in front of the sound booth in anticipation of the night’s other headliners: the Chemical Brothers.
What should have been one of the most packed performances of the weekend was ultimately one of the most criminally under-attended. Those who opted to embrace the big beat legends’ return, however, were rewarded with a harrowing audio-visual journey.
With a full moon overhead, Tom Rowlands and visual mastermind Adam Smith got down to business as usual, creating more orchestrated noise than seemingly possible from the hands of two humans. What became immediately apparent was the scale of the performance. This was not your average live show, but a diligently planned arrangement informed by years of experience touring the world’s biggest venues. Every detail, from the sound to the visuals, felt finely tuned for arena-sized perfection.
While familiar tracks like “Hey Boy Hey Girl” and “Swoon” sprinkled the tracklist, it was ultimately the newer material from Born in the Echoes that took the show to the next level. “EML Ritual,” for instance, adopted an awe-inspiring intensity in the live setting. “Just Bang” turned into a ravey, warehouse concoction. “Go” became an instant crowd anthem.
Like seasoned masters of suspense, the Chem Bros kept the crowd constantly on edge. Seemingly driving forth into madness at times, their buildups rattled with huge phasers and flangers. The impending relief — in the form of deftly manipulated distortion or clattering drum breaks — would only arrive after minutes of tension, but was all the more emphatic because of it.
The backdrop to this riveting display was a psychedelic circus of imagery, just as compelling (and perplexing) as the music itself. Everything from their signature exploding balls of paint to multicolored, holographic faces blanketed the screen over the hour and a half. Perhaps most memorable was the image of a bald, ghost-like figure spitting the lyrics to “Elektrobank” over a jazzy drum loop. This was followed by a barrage of occult figures in masks and robes performing various rituals to the soundtrack of “I’ll See You There:” the disorderly big beat throwback from the new album.
The Guardian recently dubbed the Chemical Brothers “ordinary people who make extraordinary music.” As their clamorous performance from HARD Summer came to a close, the description rang in the air like some proverbial truth. Their set was more than a refreshing break from predictable DJ sets, but a reminder as to the appeal of the legends that paved the way for today’s scene. Twenty years later, the Chemical Brothers are still in a league of their own.
Photo Credit: Erik Voake