Clockwise from top left: Richard Devine, Josh of Phoenecia, Luke Vibert.
We’re in Dresden, the once beautiful East German city that was flattened by Allied bombers during World War II and later blighted by grimly functional Communist architecture. The close-cropped, multi-disciplinary artist and hard-drive jockey Russell Haswell has already bludgeoned three hookers to a bloody pulp with a baseball bat and blown limbs off several innocent pedestrians. Soon, having stolen and crashed an array of vehicles, he’ll wreak terrible vengeance upon the local police force with a flamethrower and shoot down three helicopters that dared to fire at him. Then, for the umpteenth time in an hour, he will die horribly in a hail of gunfire. We’re playing Grand Theft Auto III on the Warp tour bus because we’re a bit bored.
This is not Mötley Crüe. There are no groupies to do coke off of. We do not have Jack Daniels for breakfast and there are no barfing competitions. It seems like when you turn up the IQ on the music the party turns itself down. Way down. And we’re glad. You may not believe me, but I’m not here to eat Jello shots and finger adolescent girls. I’m here for the roving techno revue organized by the world’s greatest electronic music label, Warp Records. During the month of May, the Magic Bus, a souped-up silver coach proudly bearing the Warp logo on its rear and the word Magic stenciled in graffiti-style red and black on its sides, has been cruising the motorways of Europe, stopping off in 24 cities to dispense nothing less than six hours of maximum rave action each night. In its 13-year history, this is Warp’s first ever official label tour, a mobile laptopia that showcases the diversity and strength of the London-based imprint’s new wave of electronic talent. Fuck IDM nerds. This is the best in pluralist hip hop, techno, noise, disco, and digital soul. Warp’s more an attitude, another way of looking at things, than a definable sound. This tour takes it further. You already know the label’s heavyweights (Aphex Twin, Squarepusher, Boards of Canada, Autechre) but the Magic Bus is all about stuff you haven’t heard yet. It all started last year when Warp threw a series of parties called “Nesh” in the Electrowerkz, a grimy, labyrinthine north London disco dungeon with damp, paintball-smeared walls and Amazonian barmaids where everyone from Richard D James to Autechre, Leila, and Fennesz played to 800 pill-damaged mutants every month. Nesh proved so successful that, after months of planning, the label decided to bottle the audio spirit of these nights and take the event on the road into Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, France, Greece, and the UK. For the parts of the tour that VICE joins the Magic Bus, Plaid is playing. The English duo of Ed Handley and Andy Turner are fresh from a comprehensive US tour and keen to promote their delightful new “P-Brane” EP, a four-tracker of feminine digi-pop and ear-tickling electronica. After four mind-blowing shows, we head to Berlin where Plaid are replaced by bearded breaks guru Luke Vibert, who spins an outrageous acid house selection, and Rephlex’s Finnish dreamer, Ovuca (aka Aleksi Perala), the cheekboned chap behind Rephlex’s Astrobotnia project. As it’s a rotating lineup, Keith Radioactive Man&Mac226; Tenniswood, Chris Clarke, Mira Calix, Mark Bell, Vladislav Delay, and Prefuse 73 will join the tour at some stage. But here in Germany we’re entertained mainly by Rom and Josh of Phoenecia (a handsome, begoateed pair from Miami who run the influential Schematic label) and by Atlanta’s machine funk psycho Richard Devine (a muscular, bullet-headed, 25-year-old skater and ultra-smart computer design student who makes tons of money doing Nike ads). Devine’s a friendly, twisted soul who gets off on annihilating audiences with the most brutal G4-to-the-floor techno corrugated with that familiar ATL digital bounce.
Life on the road, from Grand Theft Auto III to Peaches.
Instead of chugging Coors Light between cities, we spent most of our time going through Devine’s laptop and watching movies of Japanese people eating shit and drowning in their own vomit. It was odd to watch him use the same laptop to destroy revellers in Dresden’s Scheune club and Berlin’s plush Volkesbuehne Theatre, where he played after local celebrity Peaches. “I’m having a blast. I love it,” enthuses the weird Asian porn buff, downstairs in Munich’s Pathos venue. “I want to take it even further next time.” Haswell agrees: “It should be deluxe, man, it should be slick. I wanna get helicopters everywhere.” Haswell will do it, too. This is the guy that painted cockroaches with Chanel nail varnish and filmed them slowly dying for a Stockholm art institution. Haswell’s real genius, however, is the diabolical racket that comes from his laptop when he DJs everything from pure techno to the darkest black metal. “I call it brain floss,” he tells me with a four-pound gold timepiece in his hand, “because the fundamental frequencies are not as centrally located as they are in every other type of music, you know? It sounds like lions scrapping inside your skull.” I can’t even imagine what the fuck is going to happen when Warp puts out his collaboration with Japan’s digital terrorizer, Merzbow. Out of all the bands playing this tour, Haswell was the one I was least sure about. I thought he might be too much for people, but I was wrong. The crowds always loved being annihilated by him. In Dresden, where this kind of circus doesn’t happen too often, people were initially shocked by the cacophony. After about three songs, however, their brains adjusted and they started shouting hysterically for Haswell to push himself and his hard drive to the limit, eager to experience this extreme synthetic meltdown. It was an epic Magic Bus moment. When we continued on to Italy, the reactions became even more spectacular. Warp founder Steve Beckett DJed back-catalogue classics, which nicely complemented the industrial- strength ecstasy pills doing the rounds in Bologna. The louder and more chaotic the music became, the more the crowd loved it. All this bodes well for the imminent US tour. “We’re doing club nights in August in New York, San Francisco, Chicago, and LA, but we really want to do a Magic Bus-style tour right around the country,” says Simon Halliday, Warp’s head of international marketing (who almost broke his back on the first night of the tour in Hamburg, yet managed to dance with an attractive Dresden fräulein two days later). “It’s a fresh, younger scene in America. The kids don’t have 12 years of preconceptions of what Warp is, as they do in Europe. They are not chin strokers like here. Plaid and Autechre couldn’t believe how much Americans love to party, so I can’t wait. It’s going to be bombastic.” The Magic Bus Tracks CD, with exclusive tracks from Plaid, Richard Devine, Mira Calix, Russell Haswell, and Luke Vibert, is available from www.warprecords.com