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James Holden review: On friday we saw the fully evolved James Holden

PUBLISHED: 12:08 19 November 2018

James Holden performing at Norwich Arts Centre. Photo: Paul Jones

James Holden performing at Norwich Arts Centre. Photo: Paul Jones

Paul Jones

James Holden has been a personal musical hero for fifteen years, so it was fantastic to see him play at Norwich Arts Centre last Friday [November 16].

James Holden performing at Norwich Arts Centre. Photo: Paul JonesJames Holden performing at Norwich Arts Centre. Photo: Paul Jones

I’ve known him as a techno/IDM DJ playing sets at some of the largest clubs and festivals across the world, an electronic boundary pusher with a succession of era defining mix CDs, such as his legendary ‘Balance’ offering and seminal ‘At The Controls’ release, in the mid 00’s, and of course discovering local hero Nathan Fake by releasing ‘Drowning in a Sea of Love’ on his Border Community label in 2006, before remixing ‘The Sky Was Pink’ from it, one of my all time favourites.

But this latest venture with his music collective The Animal Spirits is new to me, and to see him continue his journey of sonic experimentalism was a wonderful experience.

The full set up features a drummer, a visual artist, a saxophonist and clarinetist, a general percusionist, a photographer/videographer and of course James Holden himself, cross legged at the back of the stage behind an array of electronic gadgets and microphone, like some kind of auditory wizard. Tonight in Norwich he went the full James Holden.

James Holden performing at Norwich Arts Centre. Photo: Paul JonesJames Holden performing at Norwich Arts Centre. Photo: Paul Jones

I’d usually run through a summary of the tracks or songs at this stage of a review, but the general vibe was more of a free style, improvised adventure as the musicians responded to each other, floating and gliding through sound, with James loosely conducting, similar to an avant-garde jazz front man.

The sound was experimental, with textured, manipulated and twisted electronic sounds bouncing from the dark arches above our heads. If the original 60’s hippies had laptops I’m pretty sure they’d have explored the same sonic soundscapes, and completely dug it.

Since he emerged in the world of electronic music in the late 90’s James Holden has never followed trends, and often seemed to purposefully resist them, forging his own path.

It may be unfair to label him a contrarian, because you can’t really label him as anything. He is simply a musician who launched as a DJ and producer into space as a young man, explored the IDM universe as far as he possibly could before evolving and exploring new realities tonight with The Animal Spirits, pushing the boundary ever further.

On Friday we saw the fully evolved James Holden. The artist he has strived to become.

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