Originally members of O.G. Warp Records IDM outfit The Black Dog, Andy Turner & Ed Handley started making music under the moniker Plaid in the early 90s and released a stellar debut full length Not for Threes in 1997 that featured a collaboration with Bjork that brought them some well deserved attention. Since then, they’ve released a number of consistently solid albums, eps, and soundtracks that split the difference between the different qualities of their Warp labelmates.
They perfectly balance the mathematical angularity of Autechre, the spacey emotive ambiance of Boards of Canada, and the sheer musical virtuosity of Aphex Twin and Mu-ziq. Although it is a particular brand of music that some people no doubt think has a made-by-robots-for-robots in a future robot-world-run-by-robots quality, Plaid brilliantly use distinctly gamelan sounds and haunting female vocals resulting in an emotive and organic sound. The sound of a robot Pinocchio having an existential epiphany in an Indonesian rainforest.
Locked in my memory bank of all-time favorite shows, there is a special section labeled “shows by Plaid,” one of the few bands whose shows were so good every time I saw them, I had to partition my mind’s hard-drive and create space for multiple shows.
In the winter of 2002, I was back in Philadelphia and got a chance to see them with Mira Calix & Nobukazu Takemura in an intimate bar/club called The North Star. At the time, their show was the two of them standing behind their laptops, with a tiny robotic arm covered in little video cameras positioned between their laptops. Periodically shifting position to the music, this little compound-eyed robot tentacle kept capturing their performance from a dozen different angles and all the angles would get projected on a screen behind them in a bunch of squares like the Brady Bunch. At the time, and even now, I haven’t seen anything quite like it.
In 2007, Plaid performed songs from a project called Greedy Baby as part of LA’s Natural History Museum‘s First Fridays. Once again, they stood side by side as a series of animated visuals created by Bob Jaroc twirled in the background. Hearing their gorgeous, melodic throb echo and bounce off the walls and fill the hall of dioramas was like a dream I’d never dreamed.
(Disclaimer: A great number of my favorite shows have literally been dudes standing behind laptops. Much as I love a charismatic front man scissor-kicking, I’m a sucker for pure sonics. Just saying. Ok…)
Plaid have a new record out on Warp called Scintilli and it is 1,000,000% ear candy. An album of infinitely layered shimmering complexity, it would require a number of lifetimes to unravel it’s kaleidoscopic mysteries. This is body, mind, and soul music.