Patrick Widdess reports on Max Tundra, Ben Butler And Mouse Pad, Um – The Soul Tree, Cambridge 3 February 2009

Max Tundra
Max Tundra

Electronic music promoters Bad Timing took over the Soul Tree on one of the coldest nights of the year with a line up of highly eccentric one man acts.

Things started low-key with Bad Timing regular Um performing most of his set cross legged on the floor looking meditative with hat, large headphones and dark glasses. It's been a while since I've seen this veteran of the local music scene but he was in fine form performing old favourites and new material, his tight deadpan lyrics blending with indy pop backing tracks of buzzes, bleeps and beats to create his trademark sound.

Ben Butler and Mouse Pad got the crowd beating off the winter chill. Ben, a puny Scotsman in specks and a woolly hat played a riotous set pounding the keys of three synthesizers. The sound was similar to what I imagine I'd produce if I was stuck in a room full of synthesizers for a day or two. It was clumsy and enthusiastic and held together by infectious backing tracks.

Max Tundra is a multi-instrumentalist who has been carving a niche for himself over the last decade as a musician, producer, remixer and DJ on Resonance FM. I last saw him about nine years ago at a recording for Radio 3's experimental show Mixing It. He had a table full of toy keyboards and other instruments such as a xylophone, recorder and melodica. He gave quite a shy perfomance, stitching together an instrumental set with his table full of knickknacks and a rather nice white guitar.

At The Soul Tree he didn't seen to have changed his set up much but as he kicked off his set it was clear he had long overcome any shyness. Without warning he launched headlong into an eighties style electro pop number shamelessly cheesy, singing with a voice that Stock, Aitkin and Waterman would have signed instantly. He voice souring his arms waving passionately or playing slick keyboard accompaniments, it was the start of a flamboyant set that spliced together snatches of rock, funk, soul, RnB, samba, electronica and others that could not be distinguished in an uplifting sound torrent that was a unique genre of its own.

Max was a real maestro accompanying the backing tracks on keyboard and his jumble sale stall of other instruments often changing several times during one song.  Having been reluctant to sing on his early records he has taken to it like a duck to water and when he had nothing better to do he became fidgety, pulling wild dance moves and running about the stage like a hyperactive toddler. He covered tracks from The KLF and The Sound of Music before wrapping up with an 11 minute piece which was like a mash-up of everything he'd played before, which was itself a glorious mash-up of all music ever made.


Writer: Patrick Widdess