Holocene: Electronic Ambience

Jordan Rasmussen

On a dreary but warmer-than-expected night in early December, concertgoers packed into The Holocene to witness a live performance from one of the world’s most groundbreaking artists – Laurel Halo.

Beginning the night was local IDM-auteur Strategy, whose dub-heavy set tactfully bounced between ambient and experimental stylings, never letting the audience rest. Strategy’s latest release, The Infinity File, was put out by Geographic North in March of 2017, putting him on the same label as the legendary Jefre-Cantu Ledesma. Strategy has been making music in Portland long before I had the spatial awareness to understand where Portland was on a map, so hopefully his set inspired those in the younger crowd (like myself) to dig into his deep and varied discography.

Following Strategy was the Portland-based Golden Retriever, whose mixture of modular synth drones, noisy but articulate samples, and absolutely perfect saxophone tones coalesced into one of the most emotionally turbulent, intense, and engrossing ambient sets I’ve ever witnessed. Fans of transcendent drone and ambient music need Golden Retriever in their life.

Since releasing her breakout album Quarantine on Hyperdub in 2012, Halo has distinguished herself amongst her peers by being one of the most off-kilter yet tastefully restrained electronic artists of the decade. Her latest album, Dust (also released on Hyperdub), was more collaborative than her past few works and as a result Dust is Halo’s most free-flowing and ambitious work yet, incorporating perfectly precise free-jazz percussion to create something that sounds unlike anything I’ve heard.

At The Holocene on December 3rd, Dust came to life. Featuring live percussion from Eli Keszler, Halo played drawn-out, somber reinventions and amalgamations of the tracks featured on Dust. Even amidst a whirlwind of voices being regurgitated through her sampling and bountiful sound atop that, the drumming of Keszler was perfectly clear and never once was the sound palette cluttered. The majesty and complexity of the whole performance left me in shock; we might be living on Earth in 2017, but Laurel Halo is worlds and decades ahead of us.

IMG_7762Strategy performing at Holocene; photo by Eirinn Gragson
IMG_7801Golden Retriever performing at Holocene; photo by Eirinn Gragson

Laurel Halo performing at Holocene; photo by Eirinn Gragson