Portico Quartet: The Duchess, 06/3/2012

‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic’ – Arthur C. Clarke.

Technology has always played a huge part in modern music, from tape-stretchers in the ‘60s to the synth pioneers in the ‘80s, the sampling of the ‘90s and the autotuned ‘00s. Nowadays, as technology becomes more accessible yet more advanced, practically anyone can experiment with techniques that have previously been reserved for the very best studios. This has invariably opened up a whole range of sonic possibilities to all musicians.

The live stage is where these new possibilities can be most readily experienced, but there are few bands who have mastered the art of live electronics with the ease and naturalness of Portico Quartet (A case in point, in fact, are Neushlaufen, the support act, whose proto-krautrock noise music contained some interesting ideas, lost somewhere in the mix of awkward overuse of loop pedals and guitar effects). Portico Quartet’s blend of minimalism, free jazz, funk and dance music has an ethereal, hypnotic quality that at points lulls you into a false sense of security, swirling around in seemingly infinite loops, only for Duncan Bellamy’s incredible funk drumming to take on an off-kilter groove, pulling you back into the room. Rubidium, a track from their new self-titled album was the most enthralling moment in their set, with a recurring melody played on the Hang (a beautiful steel-drum style instrument) underpinning an ambient soundscape created live on stage through loop pedals and samplers. City of Glass showed influences from 2-Step artist (and fellow Mercury prize nominee) Burial, with Bellamy’s drum machine grooves locked into Milo Fitzpatrick’s syncopated and intuitive bass playing.

The one downside to the use of all this tech was that the less dancey tracks from earlier albums seemed to have been cut from the set, with only Clipper and Dawn Patrol making an appearance from their previous album (the latter used as a set closer, played as part of a mash-up with Spinner).

Listening to Portico Quartet playing live is a wholly different experience than on CD. The lines between man and machine blur as loop after loop of bowed double bass are seamlessly blended with a mix of drum-machine-beats and delayed saxophone, building to a noisy soundscape crescendo, and with the immersive element of it all happening right there in front of you – as if by magic.

Jacob Harrison