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From Sun Ra to David Bowie, Underground Resistance to - er - Chris De Burgh, many musicians have gazed into space for inspiration, yet few have come as close to really exploring it as Strictly Kev does tonight. Well - with the exception of Brians Cox and May - but Strictly Kev's appearance at the Royal Greenwich Observatory doesn't mean he's following their lead and turning his back on music to become the sexy face of stargazing, or finally completing his astronomy PHD after 30 years. For which we should probably be thankful since, compared to the former keyboard player from D: Ream or the prospect of a Queen reunion, the defection of the trip-hop progenitor would have been more music's loss than science's gain, after all.
No, instead the man otherwise known as DJ Food has chosen London's only planetarium to launch his new album The Search Engine. News of which had a few hardcore fans of his sampledelic instrumental hip hop as breathlessly excited as Cox finding the Higgs-Boson particle down the back of his sofa, especially since original DJ Food productions are nearly as rare. Sure, there's been a flood of online and CD mixes that have showcased Kev's dexterous slicing and dicing of everything from John Cage to Jive Bunny (on his Raiding The 20th Century mix) or his contributions to Ninja Tune's Solid Steel series with DK. But anyone wanting to hear Kev apply those nimble fingers to his own productions after he parted ways with PC following 2001's Kaleidoscope LP was left waiting in vain until 2009's One Man's Weird Is Another Man's World EP; the first of three whose highlights have now been boiled down to form The Search Engine.
However, it's not a DJ set we've been promised tonight. Indeed, on this occasion, the esteemed turntablist's 'DJing' tonight could consist of little more than just pressing play on a CD player. The only time we see Kev is when he appears at the start of the show to warn the audience reclining in the planetarium's chairs about the dangers of motion sickness because "things can get a little crazy." He's talking about the visual projections he's cooked up in cahoots with the planetarium's astronomers and 2000AD comic book artist Harry Flint, and he's not exaggerating. The cumulative effect of the sounds and visuals beamed across the planetarium ceiling for the next 45 minutes making Air's recent soundtrack to Georges Meliere's 1902 silent flick A Trip To The Moon look as psychedelic as a trip to the post office.
Of course, you could argue that the cut'n'paste sampling technique that Kev used to construct The Search Engine is now as charmingly an archaic idea of 'the future' as Meliere's; as outdated as the NASA footage that makes up much of the show. Yet it's not the the Apollo space probes that serve as the perfect visual metaphor for the cosmic rock and hip-hop cut ups of The Search Engine, but the projection of a giant clockface spinning queasily into infinity that appears ten minutes in. Alongside nodding to the fact that the audience are sat with one buttock on either side of the Greenwich meridian, this vertiginous timepiece could also be a coded reference to Salvador Dali’s melting clocks, and the Surrealist free association that long seems to have informed DJ Food. The ominous ‘A Trick Of The Ear’ could score a lost Luis Bunuel film, ‘Magpie Music’ morphs Hammer horror atmospheres into drum’n’bass and twanging guitars, and even in today’s musical mish-mash there are still few more unlikely combinations than a trip-hop producer covering The The’s ‘GIANT’ – especially when Matt Johnson’s sonorous vocal about "choking to death in a sun that never sets" soundtracks an astronaut whirling into oblivion over the surface of Mars. Plus, the spoken word samples muttering about schizophrenia, synaesthesia and asking "are you afraid of the dark?" sound even more like a sinister psychoanalyst poking around in your subconscious when you’re watching a ten foot projection of a terrified child cowering under the sheets.
It’s truly disorientating, right from the opening blast-off of ‘All Covered In Darkness (Part One)’ through to the gentle weightless descent of the closing ‘The Sky At Night’ from Kaleidoscope – the one track not taken from The Search Engine. True, the fact that 11 year old track could quite as easily come from his latest opus shows DJ Food might not have made any giant musical leaps on record, but live - with a literal rocket up his arse - he can take you into a headspace no-one else has before.