Shacklewell Arms – March 8th

Adam Betts probably knows something about the line between passion and obsession. Anyone who has every made the conscious decision to get good at something will recognise a glimmer in Adam, who at this point in his career could be described as ‘disgustingly talented’. The Three Trapped Tigers drummer, who appears solo tonight for an airing of choice cuts from Colossal Squid, is known to be by all accounts a chill dude, too. He occupies the stage before the set, tall and broad in the Shacklewell’s cramped alcoves, occasionally pushing his glasses up his nose as he tests sample pads and secures patch cables. If you didn’t know better, Adam might as well be setting up for a day of drum lessons (he teaches at BIMM London if you fancy picking up the sticks yourself). But this unassuming presentation belies an exceptional talent.

Adam Betts on record calls for context, and Adam Betts live provides it. Colossal Squid stands as an enjoyable electronic record in its own right but becomes extraordinary with the realisation that the beats, the samples, the triggers and accompaniments, are all played live, by one man. Colin Stetson fans will recognise the sensation: it’s easy to be told that what you are hearing is a solo performance, but seeing it live is a true confirmation. The show tonight is a visual display of brawn and brains. Limbs wheel through the breakbeats of ‘Win Bop’, sticks blurring from pad to skin and back again as hands and feet coordinate. Somewhere in the wiring of Adam’s brain, synapses are flaring. There is a focus on technicality, consistency and precision. ‘FUB’s syncopated kick drum to hi-hat attack is softened by the bass rattle of triggered synth waves. ‘Substance Enthusiast’ meanwhile is a demonstration of endurance, as dense soundscapes, closer to the postrock blueprints of Jakob than another electronic act, compete for airspace with tight fills.

Any demonstration as singularly-minded as this runs the dangers of becoming indulgent. It is to Adam’s credit that the show feels noticeably varied (no small feat), while the tracks are brief but impressive as displays of dexterity and skill. A technical hitch on ‘Drumbones’ is a reminder that this is a battle between human input and machine output, and watching the strain and near-struggle as Adam wrestles his creations into strict increments of time is a thrill. There are points where he makes it look easy, while in others instances, such as in the twinkling synth-caves of ‘Aneek’, the calculations to keep pre-programmed set-ups synced with the fallibility of a human tempo are written in the beads of sweat on Adam’s face. But seeing the workings for such a complex problem are half the fun.

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