By Des O’Driscoll
National Concert Hall, Dublin
Like a man in a tuxedo on a nightclub dance floor, Nils Frahm stands bang on the border between contemporary classical music and electronica.
The 35-year-old Hamburg native made his reputation with deft piano compositions — heartfelt Mitteleuropa upgradings of Philip Glass-type minimalism. But in recent years, and especially since a 2016 collaboration with techno duo Booka Shade, he’s embraced grooves and modern production.
However contradictory — the hush of the concert hall juxtaposed with the yammer of the club — the formula has chimed a chord, with his first headline Irish date in almost five years a near instant sell-out. Awaiting the audience was a clutter of paraphernalia arranged around the stage like a theatre set — vintage speakers, a recording studio worth of mixing desks and several keyboards.
Despite the hulking backdrop, however, it was the small moments that bit the deepest. Framed by a pool of yellow light he stooped over a keyboard performing ‘Familiar’ — a bone-bare number that laid bare his gift for compellingly simple melodies.
In between, the stoicism was offset by self-deprecating patter. Frahm knocked great fun out of the awkwardness he had experienced taking the aforementioned organ on tour — explaining he’d no choice but bring it on the road as all his friends at home were wondering what he was doing with the groaning contraption gathering dust in his living room.
Those who had come to experience Frahm the techno maverick will have gone home happy too. The Whole Universe Wants To Be Touched proceeded from gorgeous chill-out to baroque banger, with the composer merrily hopping between instruments and twiddling multiple knobs. The music was cool and esoteric — yet the sight of the sorcerer responsible for it dashing about, manipulating a mad scientist array of dials , cloaked it in a potent veneer of humanity.