It’s ironic that Pete Astor‘s artistic renaissance has coincided with a downturn in his personal fortunes. In the ’80s, his band The Weather Prophets were straitjacketed by a need to make commercial music for their major label paymasters. In the ’90s, his schizophrenic work as both [a]Ellis Island Sound[/a] and The Wisdom of Harry have made any such considerations irrelevant.
The result is that in the past 12 months Astor has been producing a steady supply of inspired singles that have seen him expand his palette way beyond anything he attempted in the early stages of his career. The Wisdom Of Harry are characterised by a fractured, intensely beautiful lo-fi sound that eschews songs in favour of minimalist electronica and half-heard tales of London lowlife.
Their triumph is in making the best use of their limited resources. Most of their songs tonight are underpinned by a rudimentary drum machine and are filled out with scratchy, barely-audible guitars and dissonant samples. Yet despite – and probably because of – this skeletal approach, The Wisdom Of Harry are able to create a series of scuffed, unsettling soundtracks, full of unexpected jolts of noise and intense atmospherics – backlit by still-life projections.
In 25 minutes, they build a sound that’s equal parts Sparklehorse, Suicide and Underworld. Held together by the ever-present throb of electrical static, they navigate a sea of stabbed-out instrumentals, interspersed by an occasional fragment of singing or rattle of bongo. Their finale, ‘Pure Gold Henry’, is a ten-minute hiss of menacing drones and feedback that echoes from one side of the stage to the other.
Now he’s been forced back on his own resources, Astor is producing the best music of his career. The restrictions he finds himself governed by have resulted in a unique and loose-fit experimental sound. You hope that someone offers him a deal soon. But maybe he’s just happy as he is.