For the first 40 minutes of this, his second night in a row in front of a beyond sold out crowd at London's Heaven, Nicolas Jaar doesn't play a single beat.
This isn't necessarily a criticism; the lad is a master of ambience as much as percussion, and it's a side of his work I wish, if anything, he'd indulge more. But I get the feeling that tonight (7 December), at least at the start, I'm alone in that desire.
As soon as anything resembling a rhythm pokes its head above the parapet of sonic fog, the good folks present lose their shit - somewhat inappropriately too, as the beats are often fleeting, fluttering things that fade out as quickly as they fade in, which often leaves over excited revelers looking a bit stoopid. Fair enough though, hey; this is a crowd that just want to let Jaar know how much they love him, which is quite a difficult thing to do when he insists on playing them such restrained music.
In these moments stood bathed in very beautiful sound and very pretty lights, I find myself not wishing death upon everyone around me, but certainly wishing that they hadn't been born – or, at least, had chosen a different evening's entertainment. Jaar makes some excellent music that you and your mates and even a few hundred strangers can totally lose your collective shit to, and when he plays that kinda thing, such a reaction is entirely appropriate. Everyone is suddenly a bezzie. But what struck me most about listening to his frequent ambient passages was how much I wanted nobody else there at all.
Until tonight I don't think I'd ever listened to Nicolas Jaar's music in the presence of more than one or two other people. My relationship with it was really pretty personal in a way a live show was never going to be, and it was foolish to have hoped to replicate. In retrospect I didn't even really need to be in the same room as Jaar to feel this connection with the more delicate side of his work – let's face it, ambient electronic laptop sets are hardly the biggest performance spectacle, no matter how pretty the lighting. A packed out Heaven just isn't the place to enjoy subtlety, and Nicolas Jaar's work has a lot of fucking subtlety, let me tell you.
It dawns on me that the people stood nearby might be similarly annoyed by everyone else's presence; wishing we were elsewhere, or at least had brought a smaller bag that didn't make their journey back from the bar that more arduous, or were an inch or two shorter, or that everyone would just go the fuck home so they could close their eyes and sway back and forwards and think about bass. This bit of mental gymnastics - coupled with the way that the more eventful "Space Is Only Noise if You Can See" and "The Governor" connect so brilliantly with a mass crowd - calms my murderous feelings towards my fellow man and turns my thoughts instead to dancing with them. That's some clever setlist pacing right there.
Nicolas Jaar is brilliant, right, but he makes for a funny night out. I don't want his sets to be all bangers or all atmospheric drones because he's superb at both, and I want his live shows to reflect that. But I'm just not sure what the right environment to experience it is. If only they let you dance on the seats at the Barbican.