The definition of "pop music" is constantly evolving; as a genre, it's easily impressionable and malleable, while also being a great fortune teller of what and how the rest of popular culture will present itself in the moment. That's also what makes pop music so wonderful: It's a reachable realm of art that is both influenced by and an influencer of culture. Last night, Purity Ring and HEALTH together at the Ogden showcased the kind of pop music that can be made when elements of less accessible genres like noise and industrial come together with beats and shimmering vocals.
Opener HEALTH — which has yet to attract mainstream attention, despite touring with Nine Inch Nails and writing music for the Max Payne video-game series — has been making its glossy L.A. version of industrial for more than ten years. Last year's Death Magic was the band's official stab at a poppier style, and it worked out surprisingly well for the band. Live, tracks like "New Coke" and "Stonefist" represented well, mixed in with the now-trio's harsher-sounding earlier work.
The band traded the intimacy and floor space of DIY shows for the superior sound systems of the "legit" concert venue world several years ago, but it's still exciting to see this band on a big stage. One of a handful of Los Angeles acts that ushered in a special period of DIY renaissance a decade ago through the avenue of all-ages venue the Smell (where the band also recorded its first album), HEALTH has maintained its DIY cred while approaching the idea of being a bigger band. Being on the road with Purity Ring seemed like an excellent vehicle to connect the trio with a new, welcoming audience.
Close to 9:15 p.m., Megan James and Corin Roddick snuck onto the elaborately designed stage set. Evenly spaced streams of bulbs hung from the ceiling like jellyfish tentacles, lighting up in an array of patterns and colors throughout the night. The strings of lights also provided lots of drama for James's dancing and wandering, hanging low enough that she often peeked through them playfully like a forest of beaded curtains.
Though James's words and moves were positioned as the main attraction, Roddick stood stoically behind a podium of sorts containing his controllers. Decorated with what looked like large sticks of rock candy, each crystal sculpture lit up and played a tone when hit. Throughout the night, Roddick and James took turns making music on the visual instrumentation. Tracks like "Repetition" and "Obedear" came through in jagged thumps and soft melodies.
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Waves of color pulsed through the suspended illumination, James alternating between pushing her chest and hands into the deluge of lights and hunching over in a dance pose, always moving to Roddick's beats. Fans positioned near black boxes on each side of the stage added considerable melodrama to James's blond hair, which she used as both a shield and a prop in the manmade wind. "Bodyache" elicited a boisterous reaction from the crowd, which sang along with every word. "Stranger Than Earth" brought the singer to the center of the stage, journeying up a grand temporary staircase to hit a massive, moon-like piece of light-and sound-producing art.
"Flood on the Floor" exposed Purity Ring's twisting of EDM notions, with heavy, metallic beats rattling from the speakers. The show wound down a bit prematurely as technical difficulties interrupted James's utilization of a light and sound sculpture that she operated wearing gloves with palms covered in pieces of mirror. The two musicians retained their cool as the set dwindled to a close after the hit "Fineshrine," James explaining that Purity Ring's sets were curated prior to the show and there would be no encore. "Begin Again" would signal the official end, the singer and her maestro quickly slipping away after just around an hour of music.
In a time when acts like Chainsmokers and the Diplo/Bieber/Skrillex bro party and their garbage ilk have barreled aimlessly toward airplay, Purity Ring and HEALTH are welcome ambassadors of a smarter, more complex and thought-provoking kind of pop. In this new pop heaven, HEALTH's harsh noise and Purity Ring's crushing bass and delicate vocals never sounded so good.