It was in 2009 that time stood still for the electronic duo, Telefon Tel Aviv. Co-founder, Charlie Cooper, tragically passed away, putting a sudden end to their string of acclaimed releases throughout the 2000s. For the next 5 years, the remaining member, Josh Eustis, likewise presumed the project was finished. After briefly joining Nine Inch Nails and Puscifer among other groups, as well as producing numerous other artists, Eustis was able to reflect on things with matured perspective and found reason to reanimate the Telefon Tel Aviv name. The now solo project’s first album in over 10 years was released in the autumn of 2019. Dreams are not Enough in many ways moved in a more subtle and subdued direction for them. While still employing the gentle ambience and glitchy IDM beats of their previous work, it was also clearly drawing allusions to Eustis’ recent work as a member of the experimental techno duo, Second Woman. Connecting the past to this present release, the single passage that the album’s track titles form into seem to possibly allude to the above-mentioned tragedy. However, Eustis points out that they are in fact about the current state of things, politics, anger, and regret. A moment in the present timeline of a project thought frozen in past time.
A Toronto concert on February 22, 2020, at the Drake Underground, brought that past to our own present. The show commenced with Telefon Tel Aviv tour and Ghostly International labelmate, Steve Hauschildt and his expansive sonic exploration, in support of 2019’s LP, Nonlin. Standing in front of an indistinct swirling colourfield projection produced by previous collaborator, Martin Tzonev, and behind a mess of modular synth wiring, a pair of synth keyboards, and a laptop, his set began with a never-resolving postminimal chord progression. If Hauschildt’s former project, Emeralds, was to be any indication, it was more in this sprawling layered ambient piece, and less in the more complex Autechre-esque beats that appeared in the second half of his set. A gentle ambient techno piece transitioned the set into twisting almost randomized beats, the rhythmic energy was high enough to dance to, but winding enough to perplex the audience into a trance. Eventually Hauschildt’s layered sounds and visuals receded, leading fittingly to an anticipation of what to expect from the headliner.
The above-mentioned history would be enough to feed a project like Telefon Tel Aviv. Add to that even just the title, Dreams are not Enough, then the weighty music from that release, and there’s more than enough emotional weight to power any live setting. A final complementary layer comes via an extremely clean and immersive visual component, created by Krsn Brasko of the German design group, Pfadfinderei. The flashing white and black connected to the single controller-laptop combo that Telefon Tel Aviv is employing through this tour, with Eustis’ own vocals through a suspended microphone and a thick layer of reverb being the only additional accompaniment. Album opener, “I dream of it often” set the tone, matching time oscillations and percussion hits. The light show magnetically drew in the audience as a singular whole, staring at a flame in the dark. Through the above means, the new album translates magically to the stage, especially to those aware of Telefon Tel Aviv’s past. The set traveled through lush ambient builds, stretching and squeezing percussive swells, dreamy synthpop anthems, and steady abstract techno beats. A memorable sonic wall came midway through the set with a non-album piece built of melodic strikes that sped up into a singular tone, crisp bass that cut through the space, and exasperating additional layers of distorted fuzz. The hard dance of album track, “not breathing,” brought the audience back to their senses as a reminder of earlier work that referenced 90s Hefty and WARP recording artists. Before the set ended, Eustis gently thanked everyone, performed a couple more songs, and then graciously waved farewell.
Together, Steve Hauschildt and Telefon Tel Aviv presented a show full of motion. Music not simply frozen in memory, this concert presented a bright flickering future reality.