The first time I came across Pan Sonic (or Panasonic, as they were then known) was on a cold evening in 1994, in an empty outdoor car park in East London. On that occasion, they (at least one had to assume it was them, since they were never actually seen) had stationed themselves inside an armoured car belonging to Jimmy Cauty of the KLF, which had supposedly been customized to make it into a sonic weapon. This vehicle was driven repeatedly around the car park in circles, with sounds (supposedly generated by Panasonic) emanating from it. The whole thing was tiresome in the extreme, since these sounds were nowhere near as loud as they should have been, while there was nothing at all to see. A failure, then, in both its acoustic and visual aspects. But then one has come to expect failure and empty gestures from Paul Smith, the smug and irritating drudge responsible for the Disobey Club (of which that Panasonic event was part, and a number of other evenings of which I attended in the mid-90s), Blast First Records and sundry other cooler-than-thou ventures.
A couple of years later I found myself on tour, no less, with Panasonic. On the same tour bus, to be exact, since they were the support group on Swans’ final tour of Europe in 1997, on which I was the merchandise seller (see here for a brief reminiscence). An unlikely pairing, you might think, but in fact their pummelling and uncompromising electronic noise was a highly effective curtain-raiser to the main event – even after listening to it twenty-odd times as I did. With their spare and lugubrious humour, Mika and Ilpo were also excellent travelling companions on the long drives from show to show. During a lengthy tour-bus debate on the merits and demerits of tenpin bowling, Mika responded to a criticism that the scoring system was perhaps unnecessarily complex with the doleful comment “It does not matter what is the score.”
Another twelve years, and Pan Sonic (having lost an ‘a’) wound up in Vienna for what was apparently their penultimate live concert ever (the last one being next week in Athens). The venue was also notable, being a tiny club in the basement of the Secession building. After a long wait outside to get in and an interminable support slot, the duo came on and proceeded to shake the Secession to its foundations. Augmented by unnerving rhythmic patterns, the heavy drones and sine waves were wildly diverse and crushingly loud. Mika and Ilpo sat at their dial-strewn consoles, seemingly generating all their sounds from analogue equipment (there didn’t seem to be any computers in use). The only visual accompaniment was a flickering back-projection of a single thick vertical line, which mutated in response to the music (they had used the exact same visual on the Swans tour). This stuff was disorientating yet vastly entertaining, its endless arcs and twists the product of fierce and highly musical intelligence.
Exceptional concert of crushing noise from the reliably hardcore Peter Rehberg and his partner for the evening, American percussionist Z’ev. Aside from this brief review of an album he made a few years ago with David Jackman a.k.a. Organum, this was my first acquaintance with Z’ev, whom I was vaguely aware of as some kind of Industrial metal-basher. No metal onstage tonight, though; instead Z’ev played the V-drums, and did so with great skill and panache.
Because the V-drums don’t require a huge amount of physical exertion to play, the American was able to lay down all manner of complex and interlacing stickwork, which ended up sounding like a vast and heavy cloud of noise. Z’ev’s playing was especially notable for the way it almost-but-not-quite resolved into a steady rhythmic pulse, leaving the listener with a distinct sense of unease and discomfort.
Over on the other side of the stage, Rehberg made plenty of contributions to that sense of unease himself with the squalls of sonic violence issuing from his Macbook. Indeed, such was the totality of noise in the room that it was frequently impossible to tell whether a given sound was being generated by Rehberg or Z’ev. Not that it mattered. The two of them barely exchanged a glance at each other for the hour or so they were onstage, yet behind this apparent lack of communication lay a supremely intuitive understanding of how to ramp up the tension to monstrous levels. Possessed by a malign sense of urgency, Rehberg’s hissing drones and Z’ev’s clattering percussion are made for each other.