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[Music Monday]: Squarepusher Preview

Music Monday dives into the incredible world of chopped up samples and 245BPM breaks before Squarepusher arrives in Shanghai on Tuesday.
May 18, 2015 | 10:56 Mon
Music Monday is a weekly SmartShanghai column, serving up songs from bands living and making music in China (or coming to China, or thinking about coming to China, or whatever). Copyright holders: if you would like your song removed, please contact us here, and we'll honor your request promptly.

One, two, three, four, what do we love? Mondays! Boot up those fax machines and put a pot of Sanka on because it’s time to get back to the business of whatever real people do on Mondays. Even with all our gripes about Shanghai (me included) you have to admit it’s a pretty great time to be in the city. New restaurants seemingly open every day along with various music / food festivals every weekend. Shanghai even has Comic Con now? Despite the lack of many actual comics, getting to play dress up and listen to respected artists give talks about their craft makes for a sweet Sunday. Look out for photos coming on SmartShanghai soon.

Reports back from MiDi are mostly positive with good vibes all around. The hardest rocking house was of course hosted by the PSY Trance kids, who came out in force with the black light body paint. One hiccup was the TDM 12” vinyl release that we reported on last week got canceled due to disputes with the organizers. Basically, the TDM group was under the impression that in honor of their record release it would be played in full by the participating DJs on the main stage. However, they were delegated to having the DJs play behind the stage during the time Subs set up their gear so TDM decided to reschedule their vinyl launch. I blame the Subs really. Hopefully this little disagreement between the Mansion crew, who co-sponsored the vinyl 12” record, doesn’t hinder future projects on wax by Shanghai electronic artists. We only have a few in the city who have released on vinyl, like AM444, Tzu Sing, and Downstate.

Now don’t get too comfy in that office chair just yet. Even though the weekend is light years away, on Tuesday night one of biggest names in electronic music Squarepusher is playing Arkham club and attendance is mandatory. Today we focus on Squarepusher’s 20 year career but it should be noted there are other solid shows out in Shanghai this week. You have the "last" Let’s Get Naked and Listen to Drones night, which will go on a hiatus for a few months while the group retools their format into more one–off, theme–based events. Thursday is a pretty big line up with HVAD coming to Shanghai after headlining Suzhou eMiDi, plus Beijing’s Charm and local spintress Pan. Then on Friday is house producer Joakim at Le Baron. That show is free but you can’t get in Le Baron on the weekend without being on the private guest list. So I guess you’ll need to get a thousand dollar suit now and start hanging around The Nest for a chance at meeting one of the Le Baron approved few that can usher you in under their ward.


Tom Jenkinson a.k.a. Squarepusher looks like Thom Yorke, is brilliant like Thom Yorke, is introverted like Thom Yorke, and is named Tom, but brother he ain’t no Thom Yorke. Squarepusher is better. After 20 years he still remains about 100 years ahead of the game musically. One prime example is his latest album Damogen Furies, which was done entirely on System 4, a music software platform he programmed himself. Abandoning the out of box software platforms is a huge large leap forward for synthesized electronic performances. Squarepusher created the software with the mind of playing live and the entire album was done in single takes with no edits. Previous tours saw countless kilos of equipment toted around but he is traveling light on this upcoming Korea, Japan, and China run (except the visual equipment of course).

Squarepusher – "Stor Eiglass (Damogen Furies)"

Let’s back up 20, years when Squarepusher hit the scene after abandoning his original moniker “Stereotype”, which was largely comprised of Aphex Twin inspired works. The first Squarepusher release in 1995 came out on the obscure Spymania label, which fostered artists like Jamie Lidell who along with Jenkins went on to sign with Warp Records. The early work included Jungle elements and tried to bring a dark pysch side to the newly emerging Drum n Bass scene. After signing to Warp he ditched university and became a full time musician, performing improvised sets around England. In those early recordings the incorporation of live bass became more prevalent in jazz inspired musical acts of insanity.

At the same time, Tom’s brother Andy was also producing some groundbreaking acid techno jams under his Ceephax Acid Crew alias. With Andy having a liking for vintage drum machines and synths, the two brothers proved to have very unique styles and eventually Planet Mu records was where Ceephax Acid Crew laid his head. Not to be pigeonholed, around 2007 Jenkins abandoned electronic music for a brief period when he played solo bass sessions. This seemed to be a cathartic decision as at that point he had been making and performing future techno music for the past 15 years. Still, those solo bass shows ended up selling out crowds across Europe. In 2013, Squarepusher really got legitimized as an artist by having the London Sinfonietta perform two of his pieces at a large scale concert.

Squarepusher - "Solo Electric Bass 1"

Another important aspect to the Squarepusher ethos is composing music with a visual element in mind. This really came together with his 2012 release of Ufabulum. For the album tour he built a special visual show that incorporated a dotted LED display that he also wore on his head, making the experience purely digital. Also, this was one of the first albums that was 100% generated from pure programming, with no live drums or guitars, etc.

After that, he teamed up with Japanese robotics company Zima (no relation to the delicious beverage) to create an entire robot band to play his compositions with live instruments. He built his own robot band???? This allowed for one of the most amazing performances I’ve ever seen. It’s like if fucking C-3PO and R2D2 quit the whole droid rat race and just started jamming. The final video I’m including is a more recent performance done back in March for Vice. Tuesday’s show is supposed to include an element of Squarepusher's specialty visuals and if I had to guess, the Vice show is closest to what we can expect. Sorry, no LED mega structures or robot bands, but still damn amazing.

Squarepusher – "Dark Steering (Ufabulum)"

Squarepusher – "Music for Robots"

Squarepusher - “RAYC FIRE 2 LIVE SESSION"

Downstate is supposed to open up for Tuesday’s Arkham show, but rumors have it that after his Shelter gig a couple weeks back he retired from the Shanghai scene. I agree with my main man DJ Pantoo who I came across bombing walls last night on my walk home and told me “Downstate is the only cat in Shanghai that is even close to the Squarepusher level and can handle opening”. You heard it here first Downstate -- come out of that two–week retirement and make us proud.


This column is written by DJ Sacco, who runs Uptown Records, Shanghai's dedicated vinyl shop. Ironically, they don't sell Mp3s or dabble in anything digital, instead they have 7" and 12", EPs and LPs from rock to electronic, rare pressings, DJ equipment and band merchandise. Find them in an old bomb shelter at 115 Pingwu Lu.