Ulrich Schnauss at Mezzanine 10/9/10

Ulrich means frog in German (Photo courtesy of astrangelyisolatedplace.wordpress.com)

Ulrich Schnauss, the German master of ambient electronic, finally made it to the Mezzanine last night after his tour with shoegazers Chapterhouse had been postponed earlier this year. Like most cheap shows worth seeing in San Francisco, it was put on by Popscene, which meant the show included notable interludes by DJ Aaron Axelsen as well. Mezzanine is in a pretty prime location, just off Market Street in the heart of SF, and a classy standing area with a large stage makes it a great venue.

Before Mezzanine started to fill up, A Shoreline Dream opened, surprising most of the audience with their style. It was clear most had come for Ulrich and Chapterhouse, because even after their finale, the crowd barely mustered a round of applause.

Aaron Axelson quickly got the crowd bumping a bit with some brilliant remixes of Animal Collective and Florence and The Machine while the anticipation for Ulrich mounted. It must have been a tough task, transitioning between loud A Shoreline Dream to the soothing Ulrich, but as always Axelsen handled it like a pro.

Anticlimactically and silently, Ulrich Schnauss eventually made his appearance. He certainly hit some of his more recognizable songs, but it was basically just a long DJ set incorporating his favorite sounds: high pitched chimes, basic drum beats, dramatic cymbal rolls, subtle bass lines and echoing euphonic chords. He played piano a couple of times, but most of his work was done with a mouse on his Mac.

His ambient music rarely contains a hard beat, but it isn’t dancing music at all anyways. This meant the crowd just bobbed around a bit while they stared at Schnauss, hunched over his computer on stage. He barely interacted with the audience, only smiling once when there was some applause during a lull. He made his exit after a slightly forced climax which just consisted of some highly distorted bass noises. With that, he simply got up and walked off stage without even a wave. After another DJ set interlude, 90s shoegaze legends Chapterhouse closed out the night with their catchy riffs.

Ulrich makes(?) music

It was certainly an interesting concert, and seeing Schnauss meant a lot to people based on the turnout. Still, it was unclear why so many wanted to see him live. He wasn’t performing any great feats, nor was he providing banging tunes for dancing. Did the members of the audience witness a maestro in action, or a prerecorded set only made live by a play button?

In general, artists like Schnauss need more transparency with their live performances (even an extremely literal attempt at transparency would help). It needs to be more obvious that he isn’t doing the electronic equivalent of lip-syncing, and that he is instead either improvising on the spot with prerecorded tracks, or making the sounds live. Even Imogen Heap, reliant as she is on computers, manages to make her shows a truly impressive musical experience through obvious actions. Schnauss’ concert instead was reminiscent of abstract art; audience members were perplexed as to what they were supposed to be looking for, but were too embarrassed to admit it to one another.

Ulrich Schnauss is still the master of his musical niche, but his live performances should have something else going on. The MoMA should really book him for some abstract art exhibitions. He’d fit right in.


Ulrich Schnauss – Blumenwiese Neben Autobahn (download)


Ulrich Schnauss – Blumenthal (download)


Chapterhouse – Pearl (download)


6 responses to “Ulrich Schnauss at Mezzanine 10/9/10

  1. Ulrich does by no means mean “frog” in German. Old germanic male names usually refer to desirable male virtues like strength, fighting skills, bravery or power – or to noble animals like wolves, bears or eagles. A frog is is neither very male nor very noble.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ulrich

    • hahaha
      I obviously agree. I thought claiming that Ulrich meant “frog” was so ridiculous that people would know I wasn’t being serious. Humor is a lot harder on the internet…
      Still, thanks for the cultural lesson.

  2. This is a terrible and inaccurate review. Not only did the crowd creep ever closer to A Shoreline Dream — eventually ending-up 2 feet from the front of the stage as opposed to the 30+ feet which they began — but they cheered quite a bit, especially considering that the band is largely unknown. Sounded like a roar to me. Besides, it was a sleepy rock show, and people weren’t even freaking out for Ulrich or Chapterhouse. A Shoreline Dream were a refreshing blend of atmosphere, instrumental proficiency, and imagination. You didn’t even mention that Ulrich played two songs which he cowrote with A Shoreline Dream at the end of their set, so for a review about his performance you probably should have included those two songs.

    While I agree that Ulrich himself does not do much for performance, his visual projections are fantastic, and he is quite a good pianist (although you can’t really see that from beneath him). His music is also generated live from some custom programs and parameters. If you watch him closely you’ll notice that he’s quite active in the generation of his music via the various knobs and buttons at his disposal. Ultimtely he would probably be flattered by the MoMA comment. Maybe to spice-up his set he should hire the drummer from Shoreline to kick some beats.

    Also: no mention of the performance by Chapterhouse? I think the majority of the crowd was there to see this band, as it was apparently their final show. I spoke to several members of the audience who said they flew-in from as far as the east coast to attend the show.

  3. 1. The crowd didn’t creep closer, the standing area just filled up more as people came for Ulrich. The band is indeed fairly unknown, and along with the fact that their style wasn’t anything like Ulrich’s or Chapterhouse’s, the crowd did not seem very impressed. I could have mentioned that Ulrich played two songs with them, except that other than the intro and outro of the second song, you couldn’t hear Ulrich’s contributions at all.

    2. I agree that his projections were cool, but watching videos filmed from a car window for an hour wasn’t quite enough to keep my attention visually.

    3. I don’t doubt that he is a good pianist, but he played piano only a handful of times, and most of it was just two-note chords. I totally believe he is great at piano, but he should be showing that off during his live shows. If we can’t see him playing piano (I could since I wasn’t right at the stage) he should do something to fix that. I’ve seen drummers play vertical drums so the audience can see every hit. Something similar could help his shows. It might seem showy or fake, but I think you may have missed what I was saying about Ulrich. I wasn’t trying to attack his musical ability, I’m trying to demonstrate how he needs to show it off more at concerts. I didn’t actually believe he just hit a play button on his computer, but it was also clear that a decent amount of his sounds were premade. I know he was doing stuff with “various knobs and buttons” but that’s all either of us knows about it. I would like to be able to see which knob controls which tracks and which buttons do which effects. I think we probably agree with this point- maybe my tone was a bit harsh so you thought I was criticizing his ability? Even if you could discern everything he was doing on Saturday, I imagine you’d enjoy it even more if he made more of a show of his talent through showmanship.

    4. MoMA would of course be lucky to get him, but I think we can both agree that it would be awesome to see him play at a museum. I also agree that a live drummer would help out with the visual aspect of his shows.

    5. You’re dead on about me not mentioning Chapterhouse, and you’re right to call me out on it. My friend who I was with wasn’t enjoying the show very much, so we left early. Then again, I was there for Ulrich, and the review was really focused on Ulrich’s performance, not the show as a whole. Sorry to not cover Chapterhouse’s show, though. I hope you enjoyed it.

    Thanks for the feedback, too. Maybe I’ll see you next time Ulrich comes through SF.

  4. Yeah, I enjoyed Chapterhouse & Ulrich, as well as A Shoreline Dream. Yes, the latter wasn’t exactly like Ulrich or Chapterhouse, but I certainly prefer to go to shows to hear different sounds and different musical perspectives. I’m glad they didn’t have a style exactly like the later acts. Chapterhouse chose A Shoreline Dream to open the show, and Ulrich has collaborated with them, so obviously there is merit there whether you see it or not. As far as Ulrich being inaudible… well, that was probably the sound-person’s fault.

    No sweat about Chapterhouse. I left early too. The first two acts left me completely satisfied.

  5. Pingback: Toro y Moi & Nosaj Thing at the El Rey 11/11/10 | treeswingers

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