With 8 full-length albums, 21 EPs, multiple compilations, soundtrack work, and an array of collaborative efforts under his belt, Amon Tobin can best be described as industrious. His dauntingly pithy discography coupled with his love of constant experimentation make describing this avant-garde Brazilian producer’s style of music as difficult as answering the obligatory “What are your biggest weaknesses?” question in a job interview. Such was the case when my photographer for last Friday night, fellow LAmb writer Tim Wut, asked me what he was in store for as we walked up to the Greek Theatre from the adjacent parking lot.
“It’s pretty experimental. Mechanical almost. Some trip-hop, but with elements of jazz.” Unsatisfied with my own answer, I followed this up with the “I don’t know, man. It’s cool shit…” cop out.
Equally difficult to describe is how ridiculously astounding Amon Tobin’s ambitious ISAM visual setup is. Stacks of 3-D cubes, the central one of which houses Tobin himself, come to life with jaw-dropping video projection-mapped visuals set in time to the music that’s played. It’s part musical performance, part art installation, and wholly mesmerizing. I had already seen the first iteration of the show twice before last Friday, but the announcement of the revamped ISAM 2.0 was enough to pique my interest for round three.
We arrived at the Greek Theatre at the tail end of UK based Holy Other’s set. I didn’t get to hear much of it, but I dug the moody and progressive sound as well as the intricate sound layering work.
By the time we made our way over to our seats and settled in, it was go time. The lights were dimmed and the black curtain on stage was drawn to unveil the familiar 25′ x 14′ x 8′ 3-D cube setup amid cheers from the audience. Those cheers soon turned into expressions of wonderment as the familiar puff of white smoke fluttered on the cubes in time to the opening track.
The theme of space and exploration, already prevalent in ISAM’s previous iterations, was seemingly more pronounced this time around. This can partially be attributed to the fact that Amon Tobin opted to wear a space suit (sans helmet) for this version. The outdoor setting also heightened the galactic theme; there’s something magical about a faint breeze rolling by as you’re watching a spaceship cruising around a neon galaxy.
Apart from the mind-fucking 3-D aspect, Tobin’s visual spectacle is made so by its mastery of textures. Brought to life by V Squared Labs and Leviathan, this ambitious project required a lot of thinking outside of the box (see what I did there?). Gone are the seizure-inducing flashes of LED panels and the flurry of fireworks that have become staples in the electronic scene. In their stead are the subtle imperfections of wood on a stack of crates, the grinding gears of a machine pumping in time to the frenetic soundtrack, and the illusion of delicately balanced cubes tumbling downward only to reassemble before our eyes. It’s truly engrossing in its own unique, quirky way.
Track selection this time around was more to my liking. When I caught this show in its previous runs, I felt that some of Amon Tobin’s music was a little too experimental at times for my taste. That didn’t detract from my overall experience in the slightest, but I certainly welcomed ISAM 2.0’s added drum and bass elements from Tobin’s collaborative act, Two Fingers, as well as the unexpected hip hop-tinged beats. Audience reaction was more vocal than I had remembered in the past, and I suspect that has a lot to do with the more accessible tracks selected for ISAM’s revamp. I definitely noticed a lot more head bobbing and toe tapping this time around.
Photographs, though lovely, don’t do the set justice. Videos don’t either, but barring me rewinding time and bring you with me, this is the best I can do.
In line with audiences around the world, Angelenos in attendance last Friday were floored by the combination of envelope-pushing electronic beats and stunning-yet-trippy 3-D visuals. If I had a dollar for every time Tim said, “Oh whaaaaaaaaaat?!” I’d be able to buy enough Doritos Locos Tacos to last me through the next 6 months. And I eat a lot.
With Amon Tobin’s ISAM 2.0 run concluding at The Greek, I can safely say he’s cemented his status as a must-see artist for years to come. I, for one, can’t wait to see how he intends to outdo himself next time.
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