To Rococo Rot // Live Review

Café OTO – July 21st

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If you thought the cerebral Berlin trio To Rococo Rot were obsessive sonic perfectionists, think again. Because the electronica/bass/drums dudes just rolled up to Cafe OTO on Monday night and To Rococo rocked it.

In the studio, the band doesn’t play fast and loose. So it’s easy to brush aside their fastidious attention to rhythm, timbre and pulse on record as some Germanic fetish art. And while those same traits are still evident in a boiling hot OTO – their hour-long set was firmly grounded in a refreshing and expressive loose-limbed power. Their relaxed approach saw songs begin and/or breakdown on a whim, drums getting thrashed and a piano hammered. As sweaty onlookers, we could only behold the unexpectedly visceral attack from the veteran band.

After eight albums and 20 years, the trio released Instrument last month to vigorous nods of approval. While it maintains their aforementioned impressive focus on taut rhythmic interaction, the headlines were stolen by the singing of No Wave pioneer Arto Lindsay gracing three songs in the proceedings. Throwing Lindsay into the mix like a hand grenade added a freedom to the proceedings that, in turn, seemed to liberate the band’s clinical efficiency and turn it into a display of kosmische discipline.

Connect the dots between the new album and the OTO performance and it all makes a bit more sense. They teamed up with Lindsay because he brought a breezy spontaneity to their otherwise immaculate offerings. And live, the band is much closer to this ideal, trading rigour for finesse, rhythmic lockstep to meandering, while drummer Ronald Lippok powered the group ahead behind the kit.

Meanwhile, Stefan Schneider’s presence on bass was immense. Showing a penchant for dissonance while still cooking away on both ends of the fretboard, he recalled Tortoise’s Bundy K Brown as he kept an eye Lippok’s rambling beat to keep the engines stoked. Occasionally he would nonchalantly look out the window or flick his right hand out as if he was controlling some external force that only he could see. But his general upright poise and composure bore no relation to the frenzy of looping lines he was churning out.

Which left Ronald’s brother Robert to provide the electronic tomfoolery and light relief in the seven-song set. From an impromptu debate on whether they were ‘rotting’ as their name suggests or to scoring points on which of the brothers paid less for their spectacles (‘Mine were only €8.90,’ he chided), Robert manhandled a computer screen and his Ableton controls to cook up a batch of anarchic bleeps, bumps and creaks, as well as an array of spooky drones.

All of this good-natured industry and sonic anarchy was a joy to behold – especially for a band which rarely plays live. From my vantage point, I could see no signs of rot.

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Buy: To Rococo Rot – Instrument