It’s funny how you can experience a band or artist completely differently when listening to them at home or in your car as opposed to when you see them live—and that’s even when you already dig them just as is. I don’t think I’ve ever noticed this more than when I caught Tycho at the Greek Theatre this past Thursday.
Normally, the ambient electronic artist’s cerebral and super-contained synth instrumentals are one of my go-to’s to keep me centered during some rote activity: It’s the perfect environment enhancement, one that lends itself to both greater focus and empathy. I’ll always remember 2011’s Dive as an indispensable part of my cross-country bricolage of a playlist when I made the drive from the East Coast to LA two years ago, and I distinctly remember it in the background as I watched new country rise up before me.
But, to get back to my original point, at the Greek last week, the same tracks and sounds that normally place me in a meditative state was instead, here, like being launched through a DMT vortex of contemplation, beginning with their signature chillwave Dive track “A Walk” —taking you to a place in your head from which you don’t know if you’ll ever return.
Yes, that, but with dancing—that is, as much as a venue like the Greek, with its mostly stadium seating will allow, before security pulls folks from their hypnosis, telling them to return to their seats.
This profound effect was born not only out of the combination of state-of-the-art surround sound and abstract, halcyon imagery scrolling in the backdrop. Sometimes it was beach-or-crystalline surf montages or images of children frolicking in the snow-covered backyard of a suburban home. Sometimes it shifted to a vertigo-inducing urban cityscape and the crush of human faces occupying it. Whatever it was, it was usually the type of moving pictures to tug at your nostalgia and unearth your most serene memories, before gravitating back into the realm of free-forming shapes and shifting beams of light.
It’s easy to compare one electronica artist to another—in this case one group often brought up is Boards of Canada— but to me Tycho, Scott Hansen, is truly an artist in his own field.
Hansen, after all, started his career as a graphic artist which imprints a specialized thumb print onto his work. All those perfectly composed futuristic album covers, more times than not of alien-looking California sunsets, are his designs. And, observing everyone around me, I could tell there was a slightly nerdy quotient to this LA audience that feasts on this sort of thing, further confirmed by some of the Andrew Yang conversations taking place on Lime scooters that I heard on my long walk back down the mountain to Los Feliz, after the show ended.
Speaking to some of these fans, we discussed how Tycho has not only evolved in their instrumental integration through the years, but also how their live performances have changed. In the past, the spotlight was usually directly on Hansen, center stage, as it would be on most headliners. But last week the stage plot was composed more like a U’ shape, its bore facing outwards at the audience. In this arrangement, the cycling visual ephemera, the musicians and vibey instrumentals were all perfectly in sync, just like one of Hansens’ 2D compositions.
If I could offer one small critique, as much as I love so much of their old stuff, it took about 20 minutes, with notably a lot of tracks of 2016’s popular Awake and Epoch, before Tycho ventured into its latest album, 2019’s Weather, and introduced new collaborator Saint Sinner to the stage for “Japan.” It’s their first album to include signature vocal elements as more than just ambient background noise, and I kind of wish they had gotten to it sooner.
Opening the night was the Brooklyn-based but more upbeat electronica act of Chrome Sparks. I’d love to see Tycho collaborate more with this artist in the future and see the merge of moods. The NY artist said he loves it so much in LA that he’s moving here in a few weeks and he wanted to know if anybody in the audience needed a roommate.
Words and photos by Ezra Salkin