Tangerine Dream

•• Tangerine Dream @ Shepherds Bush Empire, London, 11 June 2005
•• Published: SoundsXP, June 2005
•• Original article: http://www.soundsxp.com/2076.shtml

It's a hard life being an icon. Respected and revered to such an extent that if you put a foot wrong you can plummet from grace in an instant. Tangerine Dream were alongside fellow countrymen Kraftwerk at the forefront of electronic experimentation in the 1970s, releasing truly ground-breaking albums such as Rubycon, Phaedra and Stratosfear.

Edgar Froese, Christopher Franke, and Peter Baumann amazed crowds with their expansive electronic sounds, completely improvised in a pre-digital age. But the line-up, and the music, changed as they were swallowed by the eighties, producing around twenty film soundtracks alongside their own, increasingly commercial, albums.

While this put paid to a vast chunk of their fanbase, they retain a fervent, cult-like following today. Tonight's first ever live performance of Phaedra guarantees an excitedly expectant crowd made up largely of middle-aged men and younger folk with an ear for alternative electronica. Froese, lining up alongside son, Jerome, and third keyboardist Thorsten Quaeschning, merely strikes the first key and the gaping audience scream, shout and applaud - these are true fanatics, no doubt about it. The curtain lifts to reveal a scientist's lab with three seats and three huge PC screens. Froese, looks like the Wizard of Oz surrounded by dry ice smoke and bathed in blue light as the huge, lush chords of Rubycon sweep away.

Each of the seminal seventies albums is revisited as ambient abstraction and snatched melodies are driven along by fat, bass-heavy synth loops. It's haunting, beautiful and surprisingly timeless, each composition belying its thirty-plus years. All that went after can be heard here - ambient, trance, chillout - and you can hear why Tangerine Dream are held as one of dance music's Godfathers. However, it's understandable why fellow pioneers Kraftwerk continue to trade off past glories to retain their invincible aura as Froese and friends play material from their eighties phase. This is where the soaring synth pomposity of Vangelis meets the cheesy, Miami Vice muzak of Jan Hammer, where sax-laden soundtracks combine with self-indulgent guitar solos, all backed up by a bongo-bashing percussionist. It's like 1985 all over again, with the first sighting of an electric drum kit since Matt Bianco played Top of the Pops.

It comes as a relief when the gig moves into its third phase of more contemporary material, with kick drums, breakbeats and sub-bass - even some acid - all employed to great effect. OK, so there's still the odd panpipe but, if you can suspend your idea of fashion for a moment, this is damn good dance music. The encore comes courtesy of a drum-filled guitar version of Jimi Hendrix's Purple Haze and the three-hour set then finally, thankfully, comes to a close, though you get the feeling the fans are still disappointed that it's all over so soon. Overlong, unfashionable and grating it may have been in parts but, remove its flabby midriff and this was a stunning concert from one of electronic music's true originators.

- Ian Roullier, 06/2005
Copyright © Ian Roullier 2004-2014