Emancipator plays at Pearl Street Nightclub with Honeycomb and Beta Ghost

By Sarah Robertson

The electronic music visionary Emancipator played a small but poignant show Thursday night at the Pearl Street Nightclub with opening acts Beta Ghost and Honeycomb. Emancipator is composer-producer Doug Appling’s personal project. On this tour, Appling is collaborating with classical violinist Ilya Goldberg: as a team, they are able to create a distinctive blend of dance music and classical melodicism. A native of Portland, Ore., Appling began making music in high school and has since gone on to make three albums and even start his own record label, Loci Records.

Michael Holden/ Flickr

The show started at 9 p.m., but true to the typical Pearl Street fashion, many showed up a half hour or more late in order to miss the first act. Beta Ghost, a collaboration between Massachusetts producers Knowpiate and Sojourner, opened the show with a set of indistinguishable experimental electronic songs. Their music was the second thing on most people’s minds as latecomers funneled in and conversations carried on over the din. In a style similar to Emancipator’s, two musicians stood on stage, laptops stationed in front of them, and played songs with prerecorded instruments and vocal samples layered over what sounded like the same beat for the entire performance.

Honeycomb offered the audience a refreshing change of pace. As the only artist of the night that did not have a laptop as his instrument of choice, the young Gabriel Johnson beat-boxed his entire set and brought a generous dose of hip-hop to the night. For having no instruments other than an occasional harmonica, Honeycomb played an impressive set that got the audience moving more and more as the night progressed. His sharp beats and inexhaustible arsenal of sounds never faltered and he left the venue anxious for more.

Emancipator took the stage a short while after with nothing but a laptop, electronic sampler and Goldberg standing alongside him with a violin. In contrast to their small stage presence, the duo filled the small venue with brilliant tracks and smooth, rolling chords with the capability of captivating a much larger audience. His music kept listeners on the edges of their seats with long buildups and breakdowns patiently humming out of the speakers. Just before a track approached the point of monotony, Appling would introduce a new layer to the music or Goldberg would launch into a violin solo giving the song, and the audience, a new life.

Throughout his 90 minute performance, Appling never stopped playing. The transitions between songs were seamless, so much that to an untrained ear the performance may have sounded like one incredibly long song. Devout fans, on the other hand, recognized songs immediately; and when tracks such as “First Snow,” “Minor Cause” and “Natural Cause” came on it was as if an electric current ran through the building at their recognition.

Emancipator played a two song encore and closed with one of his most popular tracks, “Greenland” from his 2010 album “Safe in the Steep Cliffs.” Emancipator will be continuing his tour throughout the U.S. and Europe for the next two months, with his last show being in his hometown of Portland, Ore. In November Appling’s new project, the Emancipator Ensemble will be debuting in Colorado as a four person band.

Sarah Robertson can be reached at [email protected]