Red Bull Music Academy Presents: Carl Craig Synthesizer Ensemble Review
Carl Craig is arguably one of electronic music’s biggest names. He is part of a select few who have been doing it for 25+ years and doing it with much success. Craig was in Melbourne earlier this year for NYE and has returned to our shores again, this time touring for Red Bull Music Academy's Road to Weekender, bringing his ‘Synthesizer Ensemble’ to Melbourne’s Recital Centre. The concept is to reinterpret selected works from his extensive catalogue into a more symphonic language.
Craig has always been an innovator and is no stranger to experimenting with different sounds and formats. In 2008 he had already ventured into more classical sounding techno, with his project ‘ReComposed’, alongside German multi-instrumentalist, Moritz Von Oswald. Going back to 2003, Craig also ventured deep into jazz-funk structures with the Detroit Experiment, which featured an array of Detroit’s finest musicians and is a testament to the cities rich musical history. There’s no doubt he’s had the type of career you could keep digging deep into and always find something different.
With no support acts for the night to ease into, everyone was eager for the show. The moody opener, ‘Darkness’, started off slow and subtly built in intensity. This gave a great indication as to what the following hour or so had in store for us. The booming orchestral synth reverberations were accompanied by vocal samples of various political speeches, one being MLK’s ‘I Have a Dream’, it seems like no far stretch to imagine Craig writing film scores. His proficiency in arrangement could easily be transferred to film if he wanted to and it seemed that he was writing his music with the intention of reflecting the epic films of his imagination.
After the first two tracks, Craig picked up the mic. Craig’s presence was cool, laid back and confident. He spoke on ideas behind the first few tracks, making songs in his parent’s basement and discussed some of the imagery that was accompanying the music. Images of destruction, reconstruction and of his home, Detroit. Footage of Detroit drenched in sunlight or covered in snow, shot from the street and shot from the high-rises. Craig stating some of these images can be seen from his window at home. Craig’s relationship with Detroit definitely seemed like a running theme of the set. Detroit played a big part in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s and pairing these images with the earlier samples of MLK it seemed obvious that Craig was commenting on his own sense of racial identity and his experience as an African American man in the US.
Craig then led into the next piece, ‘Desire’, a track released in ’94 under one of his many monikers, 69. This track was a highlight of the night. It kicked into classic drum breaks that sent a beat through the crowd and got heads nodding in their seats. The set went from resonant highs to subtle lows that were filled by the eye-catching grand piano in the middle of the stage where pianist and musical director Kelvin Sholar shone.
It was a thought-provoking experience to hear songs that may have originally been crafted for a club setting, re-contexualized into the formal setting of the Recital Centre. Where the crowd were sitting, rather than dancing to listen to the arrangements. This idea of re-contexualizing classic electronic music reminded me of what Pete Tong is doing with his Ibiza Classics show- reworking classic anthems with a 65 piece orchestra- and is definitely a trend I would like to see continue if done as well as this. As Craig has been in the industry since around 1989 and as one of the more seasoned artists in the scene today it’s fantastic to see where innovators like himself seem to be heading in order to push the boundaries of electronic music, or even just to keep themselves interested in what they’re doing.