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Review: Amon Tobin at Hammersmith Apollo

The bright lights above the Hammersmith Apollo blared: AMON TOBIN.

Beneath it was a queue that coiled around Queen Caroline Street. People spilled out from the main entrance, past a banner of Jimmy Carr’s waxy mug, alongside a long brick building to a spot beyond some quaint bed and breakfast.

After some time, I reached the juncture where the queue folded onto itself, zigzagging like at airports. Presented was a new crop of people to study so that time may pass.

The gents before me didn’t entertain much after they smoked their second spliff. A French lady and Brazilian man stationed behind were on a first date – their awkward tittering, and some peacocking on his part, had substituted as background music during the 40-minute wait. There were ticket scalpers, an older gentleman bearing a parasol, several more groups – most everyone – passing stealth joints, and an overturned bottle of champagne. The wait was long for my fellow ticket-collectors, guest-listeds and sales (not sure, it was a confusing sign), but entertaining nonetheless.

There was a mad rush by the time I reached the ticket booths. People squirmed their way to the front to exchange name for entry. Despite the tight quarters, it all went quickly save for the older gentleman who was bemoaning the wait. His hand angrily clutched the pretty brolly whilst the other gave a wag of the finger. Fair enough. Tickets cost a pretty penny. We were in the queue for so long that Actress, Tobin’s special guest, came and went.

Meanwhile, Tobin had just begun.

The one-off show was Britain’s last taste for ISAM. This was version 2.0, and I had a perfect view of the imposing multi-dimensional installation comprised of purposely-stacked cubes. I had only heard superlatives when friends described Tobin’s gigs. As ISAM plays the cubes unleash a 3D spectacle, and it is meant to be completely and utterly bewitching.


I, and a thousand others that night, grew submissive at the dim of the lights.

The shape-shifting structure seemed to crawl across the stage, as if awakened by its tamer, Tobin. The cubes projected a realm I desperately wanted to reach and dive into. The Brazilian artist, dressed in a spacesuit, reigned from within the heart of the structure – a large cube serving as the cockpit from which he commanded. Every so often, we were given glimpses of him moving with such fervour as he fed us ISAM.

At times I felt like I was in a video game then later, an anime film. There were gritty moments as the cubes displayed an engine’s innards grinding against each other. Later, the installation’s entire length conveyed itself as a log with embers radiating warmth – then, a combustion into icy blue. There were satisfying scenes of tumbling blocks falling into place like Tetris, and gorgeous instances of a starry abyss. I was also taken by the grace of his fingers, filmed from within the main cube. Tobin’s hands danced across the platform before dissolving into pixels.

I was absolutely giddy. And so was everyone else.

Directly in front of me were three kids, thunderous in their movements and absolutely loving life. Sat in their front row balcony seat, they scrambled for rizla and smoked a doobie once or twice. The one wearing specs alternated between holding his head in his hands, in utter amazement, to throwing his arms up exclaiming to high heavens.

To his right was a prim and proper couple in their late 50s. A barrette neatly held her gray hair in place whilst a scarf draped carefully on her shoulders. She paid the boys no heed – she and her partner were too busy swaying along or gripping the banister as if in prayer. The two groups could not have been more different from one another, and I, from them. I also recalled the gentleman with his parasol. Tobin’s ISAM was impartial to age, interests and sobriety, as reflected in the moved attendance.

Halfway through the show, a couple surfaced to claim two of the four empty seats next to me. It would have been a damn shame if they had been outside the entire time. For my part, I had long forgiven the forgettable queue by the time Tobin retired from his set – the last of ISAM live London would be privy to.


The cubes released a faint flicker of blue, and then it was laid to rest.

Although the 3D nature of the show placed visuals at the forefront, the music and moving images punctuated each other beautifully. It boggled my stone-cold sober mind.

Imagine how much more staggering it would have been had I asked those kids to pass to the left.

- Erika Soliven

Images: Kate Molins

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