San Antonio isn’t the most electronic music-oriented city in the States. In a city defined by rodeos, country music dance halls, and a sports team named after a boot accessory, you would be hard pressed to find an electronic anything here – unless there was a guitar connected.
Needless to say when I arrived at the Aztec and saw nobody around, I was a little bit concerned. I have been listening to Bonobo for years, and when his stop in San Antonio hit my live music radar, I literally jumped.
I knew something very special was going to happen that Sunday night, but did the rest of the city know? It was only 6:30. The openers were still sound-checking. There was still time.
Having just released a new album, Migration, Bonobo is wrapping up the North American leg of a world tour set to last well into 2018 – the final dates culminating in an appearance at Austin City Limits Music Festival this coming weekend (10/13).
By the time the doors officially opened at 7:00, a hefty cue had formed outside the Aztec and those in-the-know steadily came filing in. Local controllerists Ernest Gonzales and Diego Bernal set the pace for the night with an impressive live set of chopped samples and beats, deftly representing the sparse electronic music scene in the city.
Los Angeles’ Jeremy Sole took the growing crowd of dancers into ether with a deep, grooved-out DJ set. The vibes were there – and they were growing like vines, up and around the walls and dancers. You could feel it in the atmosphere. Something was getting ready to happen.
It started around 9:15. The sounds. I ran into the theater from the lobby to see. The crush of people that had accumulated before the stage were shouting for Bonobo, standing at the helm of the stage before an array of control panels, as his supporting players took up their respective instruments. The sounds built upon themselves into a cacophonous rage, and in an instant burst into a wave of primal energy with the first downbeat of the kick.
For the rest of the night, we were somewhere else. Layers upon layers of rhythm and sound stimulated the vast oceans that stir beneath conscious thought. The visuals accompanying the performance were stunning in their own right, magnifying the drama of the music with ever-shifting lights and abstract images of serenity and violence. Through it all, we grooved with a feeling that defies quantification, but with an energy that is very much identifiable. Bonobo is unmistakable.
It never ceases to surprise how something so artificial, derived from samplers and synthesizers, deconstructed and held together by computers and MIDI sequencers, can sound so natural; so organic and emotionally complex. The addition of live players breathed another level of life into a sound already teeming with vitality and spirit. Bonobo is anomalous in this way. He is an electronic pioneer fusing the natural with the unnatural to create something completely new – yet inexplicably familiar all the same.