The Chemical Brothers // Alexandra Palace, London // 5.10.18
While Alexandra Palace may not be The Chemical Brothers’, largest booking, it is a landmark moment in the duo’s phenomenal career. A projector lights up the walls of the astounding Palm Court with the title of the pair’s most recent single, ‘Free Yourself’, a call to arms as it stands proudly over North London. Playing Ally Pally is, for any artist, a significant accomplishment.
The ‘people’s palace’ is steeped in history, and in the 1960s was a beacon for the London counterculture, holding some of the scene’s biggest events, such as the infamous 14 Hour Technicolour Dream. The setting provides the perfect backdrop for fans of all ages to be unashamedly ‘free’. I overheard many conversations of forty-somethings hoping to relive their younger, raving years of the nineties that the Chemical Brothers had provided the soundtrack for. I, on the other hand, had seen them at Benicassim Festival back in 2016 and had been eagerly waiting since for the opportunity to experience their live show once more.
The set itself is a perfect showcase of Ed Simons and Tom Rowlands’ two-decade spanning career. Beginning with ‘Go,’ a single from latest album Born in the Echoes, they set the pace for the rest of the set, it is an anthemic start and they make their intentions clear: “We’re only here to make you go!” They move through their expansive discography with ease, the music never stops, and the pair don’t need to say a word. The Chemical Brothers bring the big-beat genre to Ally Pally and hold nothing back. This comes out the most in the synthy loops throughout tracks such as ‘EML Ritual’ and ‘Swoon’, the latter of which creates an intensely euphoric feeling throughout the crowd.
It would be impossible to talk about this show without emphasising how important the visual production is. For every live show the Chemical Brothers go above and beyond to create a multi-sensory experience. From a confetti-canon in the centre of the set, to huge balloons released on the crowd, and to finish, two huge robots shooting lasers from their eyes. The production crew must be credited with creating a show that is absolutely awe-inspiring. The set itself is rather simple, a few decks for the two to get to work on and behind them a giant projection screen where all the tracks come to life. Sometimes the visuals are calming, a woman floating through water, and sometimes just downright terrifying, a masked man shouting the mantra ‘I ain’t gon’ take it no more!’ Most of the time, however, they are purely confusing, such as a man painted in acrylic white shouting down the telephone the repeated line in ‘Elektrobank’. Whatever the visuals are meant to represent, somehow, they work.
It is in the big hits where the crowd truly lets loose. ‘Hey Boy, Hey Girl,’ ‘Galvanize,’ and ‘C-H-E-M-I-C-A-L’ are moments where the sold-out Great Hall is sent into a frenzy of different styles of dance, each person enjoying their own experience as much as the next. They end the main set with Dig Your Own Hole opening track ‘Block Rockin’ Beats’ before leaving the audience and waiting enough time for many people to leave before returning for a much-appreciated encore. The highlight of the encore is in aptly named ‘Hold Tight London’, the title of which is projected onto the screen as the whole crowd screams with pride for their hometown. The set is a triumph, with the Chemical Brothers at the centre, surrounded by an incredible production team, a monumental venue, and a ten thousand strong devoted crowd. If you get the opportunity to see them live, I urge you please do, it is a live experience incomparable to any other.