Merv Pepler keeps the psychedelic beats pumping at Voodoo after 25 years of dance floor destruction
Watching Eat Static’s hardcore dance gig at Voodoo in Belfast, it’s hard to believe that most of the crowd weren’t even born when their intergalactic sonic journey began 25 years ago.
A full 20 years has whizzed by at warp speed since Merv Pepler and Joie Hinton left psychedelic space-rockers Ozric Tentacles – still going strong themselves after 30 years riding the space ways – to explore with Eat Static the electronics that the Ozrics had only ever dabbled in.
These days Eat Static’s solo pilot is Merv Pepler, as Hinton left the dual controls in 2008 after 18 eardrum-splitting, globe-trotting years. Any dark thoughts that Pepler might be keeping the iconic band’s name going just to make some coin are dispelled right from the off by the intensity he brings to this heady one-man show.
There have already been four hours of thumping DJ-driven dance music by the time Pepler takes the stage at midnight to whistles and applause. The crowd is clearly in the mood tonight as a rainbow of lights scythes through the swirling effects fog and the beats begin.
Pepler’s features are hidden behind an elongated alien mask and pixie hood. Not since Peter Gabriel’s Genesis-ear old man mask has such a simple wardrobe feature worked to such eerily dramatic effect. Pepler twists the knobs and sends out the beats, leaning over the sound desk with wiry energy and a brooding intensity, much like the music he crafts.
Pulsating layers of rhythm build gradually, with the gravitational pull of a central pulse – a fat, no-nonsense back beat – at the center of the maelstrom. Waves of sound swell and soar to stratospheric peaks, sucking in the dancers who respond with arm pumping choreography.
In the troughs where the energy levels momentarily slacken, space effects are served up like little ear cookies before Pepler picks up the reins once more and whips up another storm.
Projections fly in spiraling psychedelic patterns on two wall-sized screens that frame Pepler’s striking alien persona. Mathematical patterns, trippy cartoon abstractions and the plunging, spinning alien figure that is as much a reference for fans of Eat Static as the spacey artwork of their CDs create a visually impressive backdrop to the music.
If some of Eat Static’s early career stabs at rave, trance and techno-inspired dance music sound a little dated at the distance of a couple of decades, then their live shows at least have always exuded a contemporary edginess.
Eat Static’s discography froze in time after 2008’s Back to Earth, a reflection of the near-redundancy of the album format in times of track downloads. Pepler, however, has moved with the times, releasing individual tracks and videos for die-hard fans. At Voodoo, career-spanning material from Abduction through to Back to Earth is peppered with more recent compositions.
Trademark spoken-word recordings filter through the sheets of sound, mingling with ethereal wordless song of vaguely Eastern hue. Pepler’s soundscapes are as much inspired by planet Earth’s tribal rhythms and the vernacular of its numerous cultures as they are by outer space and ufology.
The combination of urbane sophistication and primal roots, mixed with Pepler’s hallucinatory audio-visual ingredients, make for a potent brew. After two hours of powerful uninterrupted grooves, the energy drains away, presumably into some cosmic wormhole. Pepler takes his applause and leaves the stage as he has done countless times before.
Eat Static’s music has evolved continually over the past quarter of a century, which is why it’s still utterly relevant today. There is no reason – barring alien abduction, of course – why Pepler shouldn’t carry on for a couple more decades yet. As long as people want to dance, the fans will still be there, from the Far East to America, from Glastonbury to Belfast’s Voodoo and all points in between.
Visit the Voodoo website for information on forthcoming events.