Words By Jeb Gavin, Photos By Clarissa Villondo
The proximity of the olfactory bulb (the part of the nose which processes smells) to the amygdala and hippocamus (parts of the limbic system which form memories) is the reason smells are the most effective trigger of memory. To my knowledge, there is no direct connection in the brain between sound and emotion (OK, yes, there is some mood stabilization in the temporal lobe, but the organic connection isn’t as well defined). That said, there are few instances in which I have had my mood so thoroughly elevated as Monday night’s Disclosure concert at the 9:30 Club. Sometimes when I find myself in a good mood, I freak out a bit and retreat into pedantic fits of academia.
This idea of music lightening the mood isn’t any kind of revelation, however desperately I search for its biological basis. Yet the interplay of rhythm and biology fascinates me. A beat is a concrete expression of a mathematical concept, and it jumps right over all the physics and chemistry lurking within us and instead relates itself directly to our physiology. Yeah, music makes you feel stuff, and this music makes me feel happy, but it borders on crossing some boundary from feeling to being, which is a semantic distinction, but also a real one. Just as there is a fine but actual difference between doing and accomplishing, how the hell do you tease out the psycho-aesthetic link hard-wired inside our skull, instantaneously turning waves of air pressure into an emotion into a reconfiguration of the mind set apart from the brain (which is then made manifest, expressed by flailing one’s arms and legs)?
Brothers Howard and Guy Lawrence make slinky, sultry, soul infused records which sound like the best possible London imitations of ’80s synth pop. Live, it transforms into taut coils of unbridled hedonism which spilled out into the cramped quarters of the club. Despite being removed from Manchester, this sound is the emotional legacy of 24 Hour Party People. It’s the euphoria promised in Human Traffic, chemicals entirely optional. The beats evolve live from pretty yet somehow restrained thumps into this cavitatious, off kilter energy physically altering your own biorhythms- overwriting them for the better. No arrhythmia, no palpitations, no fear, just ecstatic dancing in a room full of people guaranteed to feel the exact same way.
While bouncing through the crowd, along the balconies, literally dancing up and down staircases, I was mesmerized by the weird interplay of biological imagery and geometric shapes. Amorphous images of apotheotic cells projected on diamond screens, each flanked by arrays of hexagonal LED spotlights (mimicking the shape of the hexagonal drum pads) on servos firing off in a carefully choreographed pattern. The center screen switched back and forth from a three dimensional image of a floating, spinning gem to kaleidoscopic refractions morphing into what I chose to see as neural pathways being mapped, finally into a living sketch of a woman’s face, possibly Eliza Doolittle as it mouthed along to the vocals, again this high speed interplay of geometry and biology and people on display like a central thesis.
There were a few things I suppose I would like to see in future Disclosure shows. While Guy and Howard are great together live, I can’t help but wonder what would happen given a full band. Maybe with a serious Sheila E rhythm section, banks of synths and a Rhodes piano orthogonal to said bank, with Adrian Belew in the mix turning a guitar into a percussion instrument (hey, a guy can dream, can’t he?). Also, the songs feel effortless, but as it’s a live show they stopped between each track and those brief stops are enough to throw things off kilter. Perhaps that’s just the price paid for a live show rather than a DJ set. Finally, while playing for 75-minutes straight is by no means a short set, it’s just too short for these guys. I need three hours of bat-shit insane bass, followed by some delicious breakfast foods. I’m thinking waffles. DC really needs a Waffle House. Sometimes when confronted with pure joy I get uncomfortable and retreat to Waffle House, the seat of pure joy. It’s a virtuous cycle. Regardless, I cannot wait to see Disclosure again. Given this impressive performance, it’s possible they are going to fill the hole left in my heart by LCD Soundsystem.