In many ways, Matthew Herbert is a musical oddity. He is obsessed with sampling real life sounds, such as the sound of his second child being born, or the sound of the World Trade Center collapsing. He plays under several other guises, including Herbert, Radioboy, Transformer and Mr Vertigo. Herbert has collaborated with everyone from Serge Gainsbourg to Heston Blumenthal. His arsenal of odd samples combined with his hunger for taking on multiple side projects makes him one of the most exciting acts out there.
Last week, he played a show at Village Underground as part of London’s Convergence, a festival spanning the month of March which has played host to a number innovative acts, including George Clinton, Portico, Dark Star, Gary Numan, Kiasmos and Tricky. Herbert often keeps audience interaction minimal, but this night was different. He briefed them musically with what they would expect to hear and not hear by playing recorded snippets of each track. He messed around with a few sounds at the start of the night, including recording the audience saying the word ‘fantastic’ which he intended to play in a future show. He also showed off the more sinister sample of a coffin lid closing, one of the 723 objects sampled in his 2006 album, Scale.
What we mainly heard on Tuesday night was material from Herbert’s upcoming album, The Shakes. Ade Omotayo and Rahel Debebe-Desslegne, who both feature heavily on the album, were singing vocals. At times, Omotayo sounded like Sampha over the new material, especially on the conversational ‘Middle‘. Rahel stood out on ‘One Two Three’, one of Herbert’s more recent tracks with a foot-tapping rhythm and breezy vocals that makes good summer listening. Spotted in the crowd was Gilles Peterson, perhaps sniffing out some new tracks to play on his radio show.
Herbert’s set was wonderfully unpredictable. At any given moment, we could be hearing a 4/4 techno beat which would naturally veer off into glitchy soul or some other unrelated style. Playing with a full live band made Herbert’s tunes sound wackier. A lot of his recorded material is heavily grounded by samples and electronic drumbeats, so most of the tracks sounded far busier and dense live than on record. Despite this, it was a shame not to hear some of his bigger tracks such as ‘I Hadn’t Known (I Only Heard)‘ and more of his remix album, Secondhand Sounds. But, as someone with twenty years’ worth of material, it was inevitable Herbert would have to miss out some tracks if people wanted to get home on time.
Despite sounding a little try-hard at times, it was an interesting progression through a range of genres. Most of the new material sounded great but, when played live, it sometimes sounded slightly too experimental, even by Herbert’s standards. He finished the show strongly with ‘The Audience‘ from the 2001 album, Bodily Functions. Here, he reminded everyone of what he does best: taking the foundations of a track and transforming it into something much richer and inventive, full of jazzy motifs, irregular rhythms and unorthodox samples.