BEN WILMOTT likes his martini shaken, not stirred. And he also likes his big beat a damn sight more interesting than the Propellerheads...
And the beat, as the song would have it, goes on. Fine song it is too – but would you base a musical creed on its minimalist principles? No, us neither. Propellerheads, on the other head, seem to have bought the idea wholesale. At least, there are more than a few moments during tonight’s hour-long, Sunday night session that defy all other description. The beat just goes on. And on. And… well, you get the picture. Which might not be quite so catastrophic if it weren’t for the fact that nothing much else happens in the meantime, either.
Alex Gifford, the Props’ beefcake Hammond-stroker, may flash an inebriated grin at Glasgow’s clubbing public or make an uncomfortable attempt to pogo his way into our affections centre stage. Then look embarrassed. Will White, his skinny partner, may cease tweaking his Technics and leap behind the drumkit like a big beat Phil Collins in furtherance of – yes – the bleeding beat again. And? Well, that’s about your lot actually. Hardly the pyrotechnic-singed, falling-over-drunk brilliant orgy a visit from the big beat circus should provide, is it? But a chronic lack of anything approaching presence never stopped The Chemical Brothers, did it?
It’d be utterly irrelevant, if it weren’t for the sloth-speed evolution of most of the Props’ repertoire. ‘Take California’ proves an able stomach-churner of an opener for sure, but drags when it hits the one-beat spin cycle that constitutes its second half. ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ succeeds on a pub techno level, at least eliciting a hearty bellow of Pavlovian recognition. But once that pair and a passably punishing ‘Spybreak’ have passed and it’s down to the more obscure corners of ‘DecksandDrums-andChipsandGravy’ to keep us busy, energy levels flag all round and the call of the bar takes over. Which probably perplexes Propellerheads immensely. What they evidently haven’t sussed is the reason their elders – ostensibly the Chemicals and Norman Cook – are also their betters is that they’ve learnt to temper the inevitability of big beat with cat-and-mouse tease tactics.
Without that, it’s all too much like listening to a bit of terminally scratched vinyl wear out your stylus. Forever. But no, the Props simply set up the machinery, turn the machines on full and hope for the best. Which, of course, isn’t for the best at all. If that seems a wee bit harsh on their ultimately friendly pop racket, remember they’ve had it pretty easy up until now. You know, Radio 1 drooling over their every move, a Top Ten album without so much as a gig to promote it and Shirley Bassey turning up like some pop fairy godmother and doling out charisma from her spangly handbag.
Perhaps this 14-date, un-sold out trawl round the country – the equivalent of national service to the average techno fop – might kick a bit of reality into the Props’ seemingly effortless world. Because tonight, especially with Ms Bassey unsurprisingly unwilling to brave the Scottish weather to be here, there are far too few reminders of why we actually fell for them in the first place. The pub techno jukebox jury is still out.