Every spring, without fail, San Francisco gets an influx of musicians, DJs, and producers that make their way up the California coastline after performing down south at Coachella. Over the last two weekends the Coachella attendees were greeted on Saturday morning by the synths, samples and soothing beats from Tourist, the musical moniker of UK artist Will Phillips.
With many shows that fall under the electronic music category often drawing the impression of an individual or group standing behind their MacBooks manipulating the music and creating a mood through software, Tourist brings a throwback to the old school ways of performing. With two bandmates flanking him on stage, there was nary a laptop to be seen, just drum pads, synthesizers, keyboard and even a guitar.
Resembling a more traditional visual of a band, the trio began the night setting up polyrhythmic and atypical beats, leaving the synth tones, keys, and guitar to create a wall of sound that ushered in and cradled the R&B-style sampled vocals that bring an engaging lyrical hook. Closing your eyes would immerse you in the music but would take away from the stark contrasting visual of the performers dressed all in black with only pure white spots lighting them from behind as they crafted the tracks.
The show progressed with Tourist performing some of the tracks from his 2014 EP Patterns to cheers from the dancing audience already moving. As each track would end and the foundation of the beat for the next song would begin, more and more cell phone cameras were raised to not only capture the moment with pictures, but record these impromptu variations on the recordings.
This summer will bring the release of Tourist’s next album entitled U, and the crowd filling the dancefloor was treated to a few samples of this offering. Staying with the characteristics that keep him unique, Tourist used the dynamics of the synthesizer as the foundation of the tracks. He used the drums in the arrangement not as the focal point, but as the driving force behind the padded tones. With instruments entering and exiting the arrangement, the complexities of the composition showed the precision and thought as the songs were crafted live.
Standing center on stage, but often hunched over the keys or synth on either side of him, Tourist, with his hair falling down over his face as he bobbed to what he crafted, bringing to mind the visual that we are often treated to of the baroque composers toiling away over their pianos. That parallel carried through in more than just the visual as composing on stage is exactly what he’s doing. With the sampled vocals programmed and queued up, he already has the lyrics and melody primed requiring that he only build up the sonic environment to support them. This means that each performance becomes unique with sometimes subtle, and sometimes drastic, differences from the recording or each performance that came before it.
Sunday night proved a treat to see a mostly unknown act of three performers work together in a unique way, demonstrating their craft. While they may have entered the evening a bit of an unknown, they certainly didn’t leave the city that way. Their show was a perfect representation of the way that the festival goers at Coachella awoke over the last two Saturday mornings on a foggy San Francisco night.