Music from the Future

October 24th, 2012

El Ten Eleven – The Bowery Ballroom – October 23, 2012

The scene: two figures in silhouette against a backdrop of illuminated square panels, one playing a double-necked guitar/bass, the other on drums. The square panels pulse with color like computer bits flipping between 1’s and 0’s as the two musicians produce a dense, fractal sound—a music from the future. The fluorescent image is of some digital dance party, a rave inside an X-Box, Tron style, but this isn’t a video game, it’s The Bowery Ballroom in New York City on a Tuesday night in October, and those guys aren’t a computer program but El Ten Eleven from Los Angeles playing music live and in the flesh.

Their set started, appropriately, at 11, and the energy level in the room started at level 10 and didn’t let up for a full 90 minutes of music that matched mathematical precision with surprising beauty and fluttering dance grooves. Despite a new album coming out in a couple of weeks, the duo played a set filled with much of their live-show staples from the past five years. Their first time playing The Bowery Ballroom after years in the smaller clubs of Lower Manhattan, Kristian Dunn on bass and guitar and Tim Fogarty on drums made the most of the opportunity while the audience of acolytes old and new joyfully yelped and boogied away this not-a-secret-anymore show. Dunn and Fogarty are a synthesizer in the truest sense of the word, chemists building up each song from a foundation of simple elements: beats and riffs, layered, looped and self-accompanied until POOF!: ecstatic explosions of mind-melting music. The overheard whispered commentary in the crowd was entertaining, all of it roughly paraphrasing “How’d they do that?”

As the set wound through the late night, newer songs were introduced. “Yellow Bridges,” the single from the forthcoming Transitions album, was exemplar: a nearly unfathomable array of sounds. The panels took on, predictably, a yellow hue, but this wasn’t a digital yellow/not-yellow shade, but more like an analog rainbow of Pantone yellows, perfectly representing the varying shades and degrees in the music itself. You didn’t need a degree in structural engineering to unpack the layers of sound within the song, the inspiring beauty packed under strata of disco thumps erupting through flourishes of calculus and non-Euclidean geometry … but it couldn’t hurt. Another new one, the title track, was a 15-plus minute epic that was self-described as “really hard to play” by Dunn and unfolded in a confounding, prog-y origami of odd time signatures and whiplash energy. You didn’t need a degree in psychology to figure out how one guy could produce all those conflicting sounds and emotions in one piece, joy on top of anger on top of inquisitive curiosity… but it couldn’t hurt. —A. Stein