Review: Ratatat, Electric Brixton.

For the enduring, durable and Goddamn formidable duo that Evan Mast and Mike Stroud – together, better known as Ratatat – have become, it’s more or less par for the course that the Brooklynites should play Camden’s Electric Ballroom one night, and the Electric Brixton the next. Because positively electrifying live shows are now more or less synonymous with the Statesiders, and, what with London excursions comparatively few and far between nowadays, on paper, tonight looks pretty unmissable. But how would it play out onstage, in a more verisimilar reality?

First things first: although inexplicably acclaimed electro loons Years & Years may be playing the Academy down the road this evening, with Mast and Stroud having plied their exceptionally symbiotic trade for just shy of fifteen, there really is only one place worth being in SW2 tonight. Next things next: as per always, irrespective of the (in)clemency of the October weather, a gent in a string vest is hawking hip hop CD-Rs outside, down Town Hall Parade, his honed patter falling on soon-to-be-that-bit-deafer ears amid the pitter-pattering of feet and faint mizzle. But for once, his typically questionable pitch amidst softer-than-yer-average, and, on this occasion, hard-luck touts isn’t wildly far removed from what’s flickering into life within the Electric, for the bedrock from which so many of Ratatat’s sprightly instrumentals spring is often very redolent of much more urban beginnings than Mast and Stroud’s white, and somewhat nerdy exteriors would have you believe…

The pulsating Lex, for instance, rather apparently, if not unapologetically pilfers its potent rhythmic undercurrent from Dizzee’s Fix Up, Look Sharp; this so-called ‘classic’ having subsequently been sampled by G-Eazy on the title track to the Berkeley, Californian’s Big mixtape of 2010. Perhaps more (in)famously, in more recent times, Kid Cudi has taken to turning to the music of Mast and Stroud less for inspiration, and more for a foundation from which to build his unassailably skyscraping, but ultimately, completely vacuous smash hits; such as Love, which takes the spray-on smoothness of Sunblocks, and transforms it into something that’s as revoltingly viscid as SPF 50 stickum.

However, what with their every number proving exclusively instrumental, it’s little wonder that rappers, hip hoppers, and so on have seen the intricate auricular constructions of Messrs Mast and Stroud as fair game for personal, and, by extension, professional gain. And tonight, it’s the robust bass lines of the former member, combined with the squealing guitars of the latter, that interweave with one another to conjure immensely compelling musical narratives. These idiosyncratic sounds, rather than their ideologists, thus become the evening’s lead protagonists, as they carry the night.

There are then several other elements to contribute to the aura that has surrounded Ratatat for years and years already, such as the magnetic, Aurora Boreal laser beams which become entangled in the testicular lump of disco balls that dangles from the ceiling above, or the Brobdingnagian projector which, when it vaporises either one of Mast or Stroud, carves out the kind of silhouette that brides and grooms the world over fork out ludicrous sums therefor. Moreover, that neither Mast nor Stroud proffers anything but perfunctory thanks throughout does nothing, if not to centralise attentions that bit more concentratedly on an obliterative, vicious opening barrage, comprising Intro, Pricks of Brightness and Loud Pipes, all of which come from their rather presumptuously, if not bumptiously titled latest, Magnifique. Admittedly, the syncopated, expertly pasteurised lead single – Cream On Chrome – proves exactly that, while Abrasive subsequently conflates the arrestingly nuanced tropes of a nascent Strokes, the eminently likeable humility of Grandaddy, and the ebullience of the sadly defunct Swedish ensemble, Hemstad. The Electric, overwhelmed with piercing red pricks of brightness, may be chthonic in colour, although it’s alive with collective vim at this moment in time…

And this is one of the many attractions toward Ratatat: that for all of their stadium-demolishing riffs, they’re forever reliant on a MacBook; indeed, the duo are backed up by nothing else. And there is thus a sense that, no matter the acclaim they’ve accrued down the years (nowhere more so, interestingly, than in our dear, neighbouring France), their feet have remained firmly rooted to the stages on which they’ve stood. Stroud may summon the majestic sonic histrionics of Brian May, but his lank locks more evocatively recall those of a certain Angus Andrew. And there are, therefore, rather more illusions, rather than delusions of grandeur at play.

There’s ample knowingness, also: Nightclub Amnesia, par example, thumps away with all the incessancy of an unstoppable polyphonic ringtone, prompted by a particularly neurotic progenitor down the other end, while a hip hop lilt hits Nostrand, celestial synths reminiscent of Jean-Benoît Dunckel et Nicolas Godin’s insouciant escapades later giving way to more rip-roaring guitar work. Fantastically indefatigable and decidedly undefinable they may remain, although there are moments at which proceedings do sag, and slump into the overly, rather than merely the overtly familiar. The dramatically unremarkable Neckbrace really does sound like Ratatat by numbers tonight, with this the apex of the point at which the ready discernibility of the songs themselves descends into drastic sameness and, essentially, detrimental homogenisation. Its instrumental narrative confused and convoluted, all we’re left with are a series of ejaculatory facial expressions, and visuals depicting a pandemonium of parrots manically pecking away at nothing in particular. Similarly, there are moments – ephemeral though these may be – when the elaborate light show begins to seem little other than a necessary distraction from the nothingness of, say, an unprecedentedly disappointing Falcon Jab.

They do break away from the éprouvé at times, of course: Mirando does a wobbly Late of the Pier danse, while the harpsichorded, lusciously harmonised Party With Children is superbly offset by temporally apt images of erratically glittering sparklers. It is, nevertheless, at moments such as these that something – a spark, perhaps – is seemingly missing. And so, it takes for an aureate, yet improbably melancholy Wildcat, as well as the eternally bewildering Seventeen Years – its timeless refrains bellowed right back at them en masse – to reinstate their superiority over, say, Olly Alexander et al. For although they’ve not yet been doing this for quite that many, down the years, their ability to “just kick it from [their] head[s]” has only become more and more evident, to the point at which it’s visible in the onstage nonchalance shown tonight; whether this make itself manifest in Stroud’s shoving his guitar behind his head, his chucking a plastic cup into the seething throng, his Nic Offer-esque frolicking, or whatever else.

Of all of their releases to date, it’s Classics which comes out on top though, truth be told. For if that too seemed a ‘presumptuously, if not bumptiously titled’ collection then, now, it genuinely couldn’t seem any less of a misnomer, to which a rendition of Gettysburg that’s as harrowing as Civil War really, truly attests. There are those atop shoulders, their tops off; this penultimate showstopper filling the place, and consequently making Ratatat, at last, out to look like the ‘positively electrifying’ pairing they’ve been threatening to become for ever so very long now…