Home News Byrne and Eno electrify London’s Ether

Byrne and Eno electrify London’s Ether

Published on 20/04/2009

London — Iconic music producer Brian Eno and post-punk legend David Byrne electrified the Ether Festival in London this week, bringing their unique style to an event which has long pushed the boundaries.

And the festival, which runs until April 24, still has lots on offer: notably electro-pioneers such as Peaches and Spaceshipp, collaboration between Spiritualized’s Jason Pierce and jazz composer Matthew Shipp.

Now in its ninth year, Ether — at the Southbank Centre, one of Europe’s largest arts centres — is the brainchild of the Southbank’s head of contemporary culture, American Glenn Max.

"It was quite apparent that a huge swath of the music population, those who live and breathe music, were experiencing their music anywhere but the concert hall," said Max, in charge since 2000 after making his name in New York.

"So it was a bit of social engineering. Every year I have to reach out to all those who share the same kind of passion. We really want to give those people the sense that it is work that has historical relevance," he told AFP.

Spaceshipp, who perform on Monday, will showcase the results of their experimental sessions recorded after their performance together with punk legend Patti Smith at the Southbank,’s Meltdown Festival in 2005.

Pierce said Ether-goers should expect something new. "My other bands are improvised and free-form but …this is it at its most pure," he said. "We came into it with no sound in mind and that’s why it is so beautiful and shocking."

"It is so far removed from the world of jazz, it’s a drone. People think that means just holding down a lot of keys but it’s really hard to get a sound people immerse themselves in," the former Spacemen 3 man said.

Ether is likely to be the only chance of catching the pair’s performance as Shipp, one of America’s leading avant-garde pianists, will be busy pursuing his solo work.

"I think it’s good it’s going to be a one-off show, though, as it’s going to stay special," said Pierce, who is best known for writing Spiritualized’s 1997 classic album "Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space".

Former Talking Head Byrne, who won an Oscar for his soundtrack contribution to the 1987 film "The Last Emperor", performed twice at the festival, playing music from his collaborations with U2 and Coldplay producer Eno.

"This concert’s been getting five-star reviews wherever it goes and everyone is saying this is the best thing he’s done since Talking Heads. We’re thrilled to have it here," Max revealed.

"We’re also running a whole thread which we are calling Electric Africa. This is up-and-coming African sounds showing the relevance and reordering of African rhythms and culture taking place on dance floors across London."

Max’s arrival at the Southbank heralded a vast increase in the output of contemporary music at the Thames-side art complex.

Pierce hailed his friend’s contribution to London’s musical landscape. "He always puts on really good festivals with really weird collaborations. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t," he said.

Max is also responsible for the centre’s Meltdown Festival in which an artist oversees a month-long programme of events. Past curators include David Bowie, Morrissey, Smith and reggae legend Lee Scratch Perry.

"This is something I’ve pushed very hard for. It’s still a struggle at times but is something that I believe has to happen," Max said of the increased output.

"There’s very limited interest in electronic music in New York. Here it’s much more broadly embraced and ingrained in the culture, so I think Ether holds the most potential to grow of everything that we do."