Death In Vegas @ O2 Academy Oxford – 15/05/12

With the release of five studio albums and countless live performances across the globe Death in Vegas’ extensive back catalogue of pioneering electronic compositions have had a huge influence on the UK dance scene ever since the bands conception in the early 1990’s. First associated with the big beat movement the organic sound of DIV seems to be constantly evolving and developing, drawing on an eclectic mixture of musical inspiration that merges dub, rock, techno and dreamy psychedelic ideas incorporated on a foundation of repetitious minimalist phrasing.

Richard Fearless is the creative mastermind behind the project and remains the sole original member, choosing to recruit a vast number of professional players and guest singers on his records that have reflected the musical direction of the band at the time. The current line-up consists of Brooklyn’s Black Acid guitarist Travis Caine, keyboardist James Greenwood, Dom Keen on bass and session drummer Dave Neale, many of whom have worked on the most recent album and remain at present the live band for touring and shows. On Tuesday evening and with this in mind I made my way to Oxford’s 02 Academy about 8:45pm and was quickly submerged in the murky, shadowy setting of the upstairs area amidst the gloomy blue-tinged stage lighting and a packed out crowd of excited fans.

After a long and suspended synth drone intro, Death In Vegas kicked off proceedings with the instantly recognisable lethargic and mournful strumming pattern of the opening track to their second album entitled ‘Dirge’. Combining heavy drum patterns, a striking synth melody and trance-inducing repetition the song slowly built with an emotional intensity as fearless manipulated oscillators and electronic stomp boxes into a crescendo of chaotic sound that was given a warm reception by the enchanted audience.

From this confident beginning they then continued to run through an impressive set-list containing a broad spectrum of their recorded material that showcased the band’s technical mastery and musical versatility, playing a selection of songs from the 1999 Contino Sessions onwards but with a heavier concentration on the promotion of their latest album Trans-Love Energies. Notable tracks included the interesting cross melodies and rhythms created by the subtly changing electronic ostinatos on up-beat dance track ‘Scissors’, the hypnotic vocal sampling of ‘Your Loft My Acid’ and the heavy industrial bass lines incorporated in ‘Death threat’.

Other highlights were the beautifully atmospheric down-tempo record ‘Silver time Machine’, the relaxed, practically whispered vocals on ‘Coum’ and the visually impressive synchronised light show that complimented the melancholy setting perfectly.

From watching Death in Vegas live it’s clear to see the audacity of Fearless’s unique musical vision, creating huge ambient sonic spaces combining gloomy choruses, eerie synth melodies, bottom heavy bass lines and deep drones saturated in delay and reverb that truly explores the limitless possibility of electronic sound and its manipulation. Using minimal elements, DIV are the masters of taking simple loops and expanding them into complex and interesting layers with an acute perception of phrasing variation that gives an enduring and irresistible quality to their music.

Above the loud cheering coming from the contented audience Fearless addressed the crowd for the first and final time, “Thank you very much we’re Death in Vegas”, clapping his hands modestly in appreciation of the reception his ensemble so rightly deserved as the last echoey drones of the monophonic Korg MS-20 died away.

Photography by BernieG