Review: Vitalic, V Live
Vitalic is French dance/electronica producer and composer Pascal Arbez. “V Live” documents a gig recorded at Ancienne Belgique in Brussels in October of 2006. Vitalic opens the show with brief rendition of “Polkamatic”, a tune that sounds something like what happens when a Bach fugue gets assaulted by an oom-pah machine in the neon-lit corners of a hard drive. The crown instantly recognizes the song and responds with a roar. It’s a strong opening.
Then comes the rest of the gig which is essentially an extended jam constructed from simple keyboard riffs and rhythmic variations built on a relentless disco beat. Vitalic’s basic method of operation is to run a pounding, repeating rhythm track combined with layers of keyboard riffs which are slowly modulated over time. New riffs come up, old ones drop out, rhythmic interplay fades in, stays awhile, fades out. Sometimes the riffs are vocal, usually not. And the disco beat pounds on and on. Sometimes the sound fades away to nothing to allow the crowd a moment to cheer but it usually fades back in right where it left off.
“V Live” illustrates one of the characteristic limitations of a good deal of electronic dance music. Because it’s built from looped and layered segments it tends to progress by modulating sounds rather than by alternating and juxtaposing musical structures. There’s no break. Or better yet, it’s all break which robs the break of its excitement because it has nothing to break from. It’s a sign of Vitalic’s talent and ability that he is able to keep this as interesting as he does on “V Live” because it doesn’t take long for an insistent beat combined with slowly modulating riffs to become tedious. Vitalic manages to introduce peaks of excitment in the flow which rescues the music from monotony. Still, this is music that is going to sound better with lights and drugs added to the mix.
I enjoyed Vitalic’s one studio album, “OK Cowboy” and my first impression of “V Live” was deep disappointment. In retrospect I think a good deal of that disappointment came from my being heavy into Daft Punk’s “Alive 2007” when “V Live” came into the house and went up on the CD player. Although Vitalic is often cited as being deeply influenced by Daft Punk their approach to a live gig is completely different. Daft Punk understand the values of changing up the beat and building tracks that are based on traditional song structures rather than modulating loops. “Alive 2007” is also much better recorded than “V Live” so that it plays with ferocity and intensity on a good sound system. The result, at least for me, is that “Alive 2007” is a much more exciting gig and a much better CD than “V Live”. That said, real enjoyment of “V Live” began to creep in as I listened to the album many times. Although Vitalic’s approach to dance electronica is similar to many others who make the same kind of music, he is very good at it and there are moments where his modulated loops hit the sweet spot and you achieve lift off.
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