British electronic duo KOAN Sound have been releasing cutting-edge material since their inception in 2008. They’ve explored the realms of neuro DnB, glitch-hop, dubstep, and beyond — all while turning heads from producers and critics alike.
Their latest album, however, takes them on a new adventure. KOAN Sound’s 2023 LP, Led By Ancient Light, is undoubtedly their most orchestral effort yet. It’s teeming with beautiful strings and live recordings of organic instruments, all set to impeccably crafted dance beats.
This fall, the duo embarked on a North American tour for the album, which landed in Denver for its third stop. As KOAN Sound noted on stage at The Ogden Theatre, Denver is one of their favorite cities (as well as their largest market for listenership).
KOAN Sound used this key show as an opportunity to proffer a proof-of-concept for Led By Ancient Light‘s thesis. With the help of Denver cellist Loren Paige, the live performance proved that orchestral music and dance music truly fit together, just as KOAN Sound proposed on their album.
Opening the Stage for KOAN Sound
For their Denver show, KOAN Sound curated a lineup of music for tastemakers. The entire night featured heroes of the electronic underground, those who could be called your favorite producer’s favorite producers.
First up was ALEPH, an artist who has made a name for himself through releases on NOISIA’s Vision Recordings. ALEPH kicked off the night with plenty of new music, including a few unreleased bass-filled garage tracks that opened up the dance floor.
Then, producers Hudson Lee and Frequent got on stage for a back-to-back performance. These two are both clearly inspired by legends of the neuro world (like KOAN Sound themselves). Together, Lee and Frequent founded the artist collective, UPSCALE. This B2B set was an excellent avenue to show off the niche and intricate production that they push forward through their projects.
Legends of the Scene
One of the fan-favorite performances of the night came from Australian producer COPYCATT. Since this DJ lives across the globe, it’s a rare treat to see him in the States. He brought high-energy glitch-hop that had the audience literally throwing cash on stage.
COPYCATT certainly didn’t rest on his laurels as a celebrated producer; he proved himself to be an expert at working the crowd. His edit of Beyonce’s “Crazy in Love” encouraged everyone to loudly join in on what he called “karaoke time.” Overall, COPYCATT offered the perfect mix of silly antics and serious beats. He closed out his set by showing off his prowess as a remix master, boldly mixing from an edit of the Kim Possible theme song into a flip of Flume’s “Rushing Back.”
Finally, direct support for this tour stop was a treat for EDM fans new and old as edIT took the stage. He’s one member of pioneering electronic music trio The Glitch Mob. He presented his 2021 album, Come to Grips (including “Find You” and “Need You Now”), along with unreleased music.
This set was notably more melodic and downtempo than the others. His tracks slowly unraveled over black-and-white textural visuals and scenes of sprawling urban landscapes during a performance especially targeted toward the producers in the crowd.
Notably, edIT played live on a modular synthesizer and drum machine, both facing outward so the audience could watch his every move. It was a highly technical set that brought the crowd into the right mindset to digest what was coming next from KOAN Sound.
Led By Ancient Light
Will Weeks and Jim Bastow are the minds behind the KOAN Sound project. While they have released music together for over 15 years, they introduced themselves as storytellers in a new medium with Led By Ancient Light. Beyond the bold orchestral choices, the album also jumps from the audio world onto the page. Weeks and Bastow published a 13-part sci-fi novella in which each chapter coincides with a song on the album.
That novella follows two protagonists who are facing the imminent death of the central star in their solar system. The story is tragic, hopeful and deeply existential. While the recorded tracks closely follow the emotions of the story, the live show expanded the world even further through the visuals. On stage at The Ogden, the duo stood before expressionist renderings of wasted apocalyptic landscapes. Their novella came to life.
Live Orchestral Dance Music
Kicking off the show, the duo entered the stage to the sounds of the album’s cinematic intro, “Embers From Chaos.” Weeks and Bastow were split on two platforms surrounded by bars of light (a nod to their album title), with one station for the electronic mixing and another for live piano.
Just as the organic instruments on the studio album would suggest, their show emphasized live performance. A few songs into the night, the show took an orchestral turn as live cellist Loren Paige took her spot on stage in the center of the setup.
In writing the album, KOAN Sound went so far as to make entire tracks out of manipulated recordings of cello and piano (including “Voices of Dissent,” which is made exclusively of cello sounds). With Bastow on piano and Paige on cello, this performance showed how these unlikely components can come together to create powerhouse tracks. The strings and keys danced over drum and bass beats mixed by Weeks, creating one of the most unique EDM experiences possible.
A standout track in the live show was the jazz-influenced “Liquid Levity.” This song allowed Bastow and Paige to show off virtuosic performances on their instruments. Even with their symphonic flare, KOAN Sound didn’t forget to throw down in full force. They presented Denver with an orchestral experience and a dance party, all wrapped up in one package.
Photos by Mike Rampi
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