By Nick Cowan
May 12, 2012
Ninja Tune favourite Amon Tobin delivered a second tour of ISAM, an audio-visual spectacular of his most recent album at Brixton Academy on Saturday. On stage, an ominous structure is shrouded in darkness. It’s made up of a collection of large cubes resembling a giant game of Tetris that isn’t going too well. Inside, the homunculus electronic producer/DJ Tobin pushes magic buttons and a kaleidoscope of CGI wizardry is projected onto the cubes in time with the music, rendering far off landscapes, spaceships, vivid colours and other fit-inducing scenes. The awe-struck audience searches for the appropriate response to this sensory overload, some twitch and some dance but they aren’t in the majority. Those familiar with Tobin will know that danceable beats are not offered up easily on ISAM with hip-hop and jazz beats slammed against jerky, droning noise. On top of this there’s a massive cube made of spinning machine parts to watch; most people resign themselves to a humble head nod.
The large machine morphs into a spaceship that jets off into space, bid farewell by a chorus of ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ as shooting stars fill the cubes like a Window 97 screensaver. Every so often the central cube is backlit and Tobin is revealed. At one point he acknowledges the now quite high crowd and conducts ‘Wooden Toy’ in time with a giant projection of himself made out of sound waves before disappearing back behind the veil, presumably to read the paper while no one can see. Seeing music and cube work in harmony is enthralling but occasionally does feel a bit like a Nokia PR stunt. You half expected the CGI spaceship to morph into a snazzy phone showcasing all new social features that will finally make life worth living.
Later on Tobin moves away from ISAM to deliver a more conventional and danceable set and the visuals take a back seat (well, as much as a 25ft pulsing cubes of colour can take a back seat), which loosens the crowd up enough to dance some. For the encore, Tobin decides to calm things down and brings the show to a close with an ambient end. The decision seems slightly misguided given that it’s only 10:30pm and by the looks of the crowd, most will be heading on somewhere to satisfy their now expanded need for sensory input. But all in all it’s a good show and it’s great to see Tobin investing in creating unique live experiences, however you can’t help wondering how engaging the set would be without the visuals. Well, if all else fails, you can always put on ISAM and watch this.