- Live techno has never been easy to pull off. It upsets the clubland habit of dancers only occasionally paying attention to the DJ as they lose themselves in music. And it's this gap that, with some justly celebrated exceptions, live electronic acts have found difficult to bridge.
This was how I felt about Henrik Schwarz when he last toured Australia in late 2009. His show at Sydney's Civic Hotel struck me as a bit of a greatest hits parade that lost focus and energy at the halfway mark, as though he'd run out of things to say. He substituted bombast for performance when he could have told a tale more clearly his own. It was fun, but nowhere near matching the emotiveness and subtlety of his productions.
To my surprise, his performance for Future Classic at this year's Sydney Festival was a qualitative leap forward. In two-and-a-half hours he seemed able to tantalise as well as pummel, perhaps finding more room to manoeuvre in the expanded setting. Schwarz followed Nathan McLay's favourites-filled warm-up a little after 10:00 PM by opening with deep, thumping percussion before sliding into the Afro-tinged "I Exist Because of You," detouring into the looped house of Tenaglia's "Equinox," and revising Bill Withers into soulful techno.
Unlike 2009, Schwarz wasn't scared to deconstruct his sounds, with sizeable stretches of pulsating low-end, tripped-out hiss, acid squelch and abstract beats. Then it was more African chants (his recent remix of "Kuar"), an interlude of polka-esque frivolity and his rousing reworking of "Think Twice" by the Detroit Experiment, replete with a teasing extended breakdown.
This was just an entree, however, to a middle peak dominated by poppy vocals, including his own "Imagination Limitation" and hysteria-inducing remix of Michael Jackson's "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'," now intensified with a crunchy acidic bassline. For a moment, the school-night punters exceeded Schwarz's own bouncily fervent stage presence with their excitement.
After the gates were thrown open for free entry at 11:30 PM, he dropped a more soulful and musical selection that included James Brown's "It's a Man's World," his collaboration with Kuniyuki, "Once Again," and the sublime atmospherics of Stateless's "Bloodstream." Then it was time for a finale, which included his Innervisions collaboration "Where We At" and the modern Omar-Stevie classic "Feeling You."
If, in 2009, I had felt that Henrik Schwarz didn't have enough to say, this time he delivered a complex and satisfying story. And even though he was given authorial rights for the night, he also drew us all in as willing protagonists in the narrative.