Review: The Chemical Brothers – Don’t Think
Last night, FutureMusic got a sneak peek at the Chemical Brothers new concert movie, Don’t Think. The concert takes place at Japan’s Fuji Rock Festival 2011 with thousands of an enthused festival goers and Chem fans in attendance. The film was whittled down from over 50 hours of footage captured by 20 cameras.
The film places its view point in a few select crowd members, and we get to enjoy the blaring experience primarily through their eyes. This is at the expense of getting an up-close-and-personal view of Ed Simmons and Tom Rowlands in action. We only get strobe-like close up shots of the Brothers working it out on their bits of kit and for equipment junkies like us, this turned out to be one…big…tease. With so few action shots of the brothers performing, we were left wondering why did the director, Adam Smith, make the conscious decision not to show the audience Simmons and Rowlands actually playing any of the instruments on the stage.
Rowlands stood behind the big 32 channel mixer on stage tweaking a knob here or there and Simmons spent the majority of his time either out of the rig egging the crowd on or inside next two Rowlands with his hands in the air. With a dense, intricate set that was basically a Saw wave of rabid buildups and short releases, the question in the back of our minds was “is it live or is it Memorex?”
Having seen the Chemical Brothers play live this past year, the answer was clear to us and the Fuji Rock Festival crowd, who cares? The show is basically a drag race run over and over and over with mental buildups that seem to push even the most sophisticated sound system to its breaking point. The huge benefit of taking in the concert at the theater is that you get to enjoy a sonic clarity that cannot be witnessed at a live concert. Stretchy basslines, sonic washes and bone rattling kick drums hit you you clean and hard, and allow you to actually dissect the mayhem, as opposed to the live show that just turns into a tsunami of sound.
The Chemical Brothers like to juxtapose their ecstasy-tailored arpeggiations with glimpses of “the dark side of the force.” And the recent incarnation of their live show is no different. This time around the excessive implementation of demented clowns caused several of the concert goers to visibly cringe, yanking them out of their blissful states and dragging them around by the hair. It’s entertaining at first, but repeated visits down to Clown Hell begin to wear thin.
A innovative element was to take visual cues from the concert’s video components, and introduce them into the crowd far from the stage. This was a solid creative choice by director Smith, a long-time collaborator of The Chemical Brother. Projected elements, robot wind up toys, and other extensions find their ways next to the concession stand and out of the way grassy areas. These all delight and we would have liked to seen more of those forays. The cheeky stage videos where created by Jonny TV and add an element of fun to the relentless sonic chaos.
The marketing and publicity juggernaut all tout the film’s 7.1 surround sound in their materials. We thought that it was tastefully done, but a little too restrained for the likes of the Chemical Brothers. Only when the show took a darker, evil tone (bring in the clowns) were we able to hear aural elements poke their head in from the sides and rear of the theater. Mixing in surround is a delicate balancing act, but one the Chemicals should have tipped scales quite a bit more in our opinion. Having new tracks mix in from the rear or forcing their way in from one side to the other could have pushed the envelop into new surround territory. Sure you may lick a few stamps, but if a Chemical Brothers concert movie isn’t the quintessential vehicle to reach a new high water mark for the industry, what is?
Putting all the gearaholic and audiophile superciliousness aside, Don’t Think is a film for the masses, and on that level, it succeeds. The fans in the audience were in it from the opening notes and continued to surf the crescendoing waves again and again. Groups of the enthralled even dismounted their seats and created make shift “dance floors” in the four corners of the theater, likely a first for the venue. And when the Fuji crowd started screaming, so did several fans in the audience. I could not help to ponder what the other multiplex moviegoers in the theater next to use must have thought. No matter what type of soundproofing was installed, clearly the pounding music must have seeped into their space creating an additional subsonic soundtrack: “What the hell are they watching over there?”
A heart-felt gift. Don’t Think is strictly a present Tom and Ed hand-made for their adoring, worldwide fan base that attempts to capture the Chemical Brothers live concert experience. We’ll just say, thank you.