Past and Future: Gary Numan and Sunn O))) at the Roundhouse

Allow me to ‘blogger' this up a bit and put my cynicism on hold for a second: London spoils an audiophile. Regardless of whether one likes feminist shibari industrial-inspired electropop (my best bootleg description of Brooke Candy’s performance last year), or sage-burning post-techno ambient experimental featuring surreal Yves Tumor spoken word samples (Croatian Amor’s showcase in the first quarter of 2019), or good old-fashioned masked-collective metal-grinding chain-whipping noise (Geography of Hell at The Glove That Fits in Hackney just a couple of weeks ago), this city’s lost rivers and gentrified council flat walkways light the way. Point being, I guess, that “everything goes with eclectic” - or however that old adage goes. In this sense, it’s actually not strange, although it felt slightly vertiginous, that I happened to see Gary Numan and Sunn O))), two acts musically, aesthetically, and generally different to the point of absurdity (but sentimentally equally important) in the same venue, the Roundhouse, in the same week, the last week of October.

Thinking back on these shows, I was surprised to find a thread beyond time and location that seemed to associate them, however vaguely; Sunn O))) seemed to represent a connection to the future, and Gary Numan - to the past. It was more a feeling than a thought, so I tried fishing for cognitive undercurrents. Certainly, this ‘thought-feeling’ was, in large part, provoked by the vastly different styles of music associated with these acts, but there is also a visual element to it, and that, elusive as it is, ended up becoming the subject of this text. All live music performances have a visual aspect (and, by extension, the potential for visual communication). At big high-budget events like these, all design is intentional, from the exact angles of lights, to the intervals at which smoke machines come on, to the positioning of performers on stage. Both shows use these visual properties in a deliberate way which appears to correspond to my intuition about both past and future.

The Roundhouse, generally speaking, is an intelligently designed venue; the art historian’s sentimental affinity for centrally planned architecture and the audiophile’s natural bias towards the acoustically sound make a good team. More specifically, it was a good venue for Gary Numan because of old-fashioned stadium-type concert concerns, mostly visibility. It was also, arguably, a great venue for Sunn O))), whose usual columns upon rows upon walls of amplifiers, were modified into a semicircular henge-like structure within the circular space. This worked well for sound reasons but also reinforced the ritual-esque aspect of their stage presence: the constructed, ephemeral sacredness of the stage as a literal and figurative space of sound, a stone circle of amps within which hooded figures emerge from the amorphous smoke and then retreat back into it.