Ulrich Schnauss LIVE in Birmingham
It’s Sunday, 24th of March, 2013. The West Midlands finds itself under heavy snowfall, and so for many traveling is out of the question; the hopes of a cheeky day off work creep into more than a few conversations. I start my night by putting on perhaps more layers than necessary and heading outside to the car. I make the 40 something minute journey over to Birmingham, the whole way refusing to let the tickets from my solid yet sweaty grasp. The window provides nothing pretty to look at. I wonder about what he’ll play tonight, whether I’ll get to hear anything from Goodbye, or if the majority of material will be from his latest release A Long Way To Fall. I remember back to the first time I heard Ulrich- a friends father played me the track Stars, which had me none short of stone cold stunned. I hadn’t heard anything like it, and yet it injected me with a wave of nostalgia so heavy I almost drowned within the ocean of my own mind.
We reach our destination, the Hare and Hounds, a small, warm looking boozer with a few quirkies stood outside smoking. I head on inside for a poke around and see that the gig is signposted for upstairs. I join the rest of the small gathering in the downstairs bar for a swift Jack Daniels to wake me up. At the bar a bald headed man, no taller than 5’7, slurs about how great his nights going, and proceeds to get a member of staff to call him a taxi. His deluded happiness makes me smile, yet never lets me forget how fucked up we as humans really are. We drink to forget, and so I wander long and hard about what he’s running from.
When the queue at the bar is practically non-existent, I take it as my cue to move upstairs. It’s dark, smoky, kind of like a school disco. The crowd sit around the edge of the room, some not even facing the stage, as if the show would be nothing more than a background inconvenience. I don’t understand. All I want to do is be at the front of the room, giving the music every ounce of attention I have.
The support acts made sense. Birmingham based Paul Wood, under moniker Arc Vel, showered the 30-something crowd with an electronic rain storm, displaying the best of his debut album Orrery, which is available for FREE on his facebook page. Warming the crowd and stage up a little more with their at times exhausting, yet consistent wave of energy were Birmingham based duo Free School, who played out the majority of their releases thus far.
The sound checks almost over, and Ulrich’s due on any minute. Of course I have a child’s bladder. Of course the whiskey is getting the better of me. So there I go, rushing my way down the stairs, and wham! – Possibly the weirdest half second of my life. In my way, staring directly into my eyes, half confused, half startled, is the man himself. For fuck sake man, get a grip and say something! Nothing. Nothing is coming from my mouth. My brains screaming, but my mouths dead still. Me and Ulrich awkwardly shift around each other, silent.
Still to this day I kick myself for it. It’s not something that I imagine will ever happen again. Meeting your hero, only to be the hopeless flop you’ve always feared you’d be in those situations. Still I didn’t let it ruin the night. Back in the room, beneath the purple fog and dense crowd, I managed my way to the very front. Ulrich messed frantically with wires and knobs, whilst his assistant, Nat Urazmetova, concentrated on setting up what was to be the best display of visuals I had ever encountered. The pair’s partnership made sense; as though Ulrich’s sounds had melted to forge the most pretty of pictures. The visuals moved with the mood, with the waves of melancholic release that Ulrich managed to conjure.
The set was contender for the most emotionally exhausting, visually inspiring, tense and pressuring thing I had ever seen; instantly landing itself spot in my top 5 gigs of all time. Locating exactly what tracks were being played, from what album seemed an imppossible task; the sounds, each magnificent in their own right, merged into one another, lucidly ambitious. Everything from the venue, to the awkward crowds clutching desperately to the sides of the room, to the small, unmistakable merch stand perched in the centre where the socially challenged, unkempt men gathered eager to cop some remix vinyl…it all made it.
Being a huge fan of Ulrich, and having been inspired by him for so long now, it’s more than a dream come true to have been able to witness him perform live, but also to get the chance to ask him some questions…
Why do you think people from all around the world connect with your music?
I don’t think this is something that’s specific to my music – but one of the most fascinating aspects of music in general: like no other form of creative expression it effortlessly transcends cultural and social boundaries and therefore enables people from a wide range of different backgrounds to enjoy it.
Can you enjoy your own music the same way in which the fans do?
No, I think it’s a very different experience. I love making music of course and enjoy that process very much – however, once a song is done and finished it somehow loses it’s fascination for me and I’d rather work on something new than going back to old stuff.
Personally, your music acts as a method of relaxation for me. It is my ‘go-to’ music for both inspiration and calm – What album or albums would you say were your ‘go-to’s?
Discovering tangerine dream has not only taught me that I’d be able to realize my musical ideas using electronic instrumentation but their catalogue (especially as it’s very diverse) also remains a constant source of inspiration and I find it an intensely uplifting experience to listen to one of their classic albums – even though I’ve done so many, many times. Andréa’s Vollenweider’s work does a similar thing for me.
I recently saw you play the Hare and Hounds in Birmingham, where you displayed the true importance of the partnership between visuals and music. Do you believe visuals are equally as important to the music? And if so why?
I think it’s very difficult to compare the two – ‘equivalent’ or not is a tricky question to answer therefore. It is an art form I have great respect for – and one that provides a very valuable element for a music event – especially when it comes to electronica as visually those type of performances can be a bit underwhelming.
Photo&Article – Luke Bartlett