More than other genre, electronica tends to suffer in the setting of a live performance. Part of the fun of Sunday's third Planet Electronica festival at the Hollywood Bowl was seeing which one of the three acts at hand -- England's Basement Jaxx, Norway's Royksopp and Brazil's Bossacucanova -- could surpass the others in transposing its futuristic soundscapes into a compelling concert experience.
On record, Bossacucanova is pure bliss. The trio has been instrumental in pioneering the trendy fusion of nimble artificial beats with the smoky harmonies of bossa nova. But the group, which performed as a septet with singer Chris Delanno, sounded surprisingly pedestrian at the Bowl. A clumsy take on the Antonio Carlos Jobim classic "Aguas de Marco" illustrated the perils of trying to reinvent such revered material.
Although it relied solely on its two members to generate a panoply of sounds, Royksopp presented a more fully realized set. Playing keyboards and electronic drums while singing through vocoder-like processors, Torbjorn Brundtland and Svein Berge delved with gusto into the thumping rhythms, liquid synth textures and melancholy vocal lines that are at the core of so much dance music.
But Royksopp is anything but conventional. Its recent second album ("The Understanding") is a complex down tempo masterpiece that evokes both the cinematic scope of Massive Attack and the wide-eyed innocence of vintage Scandinavian pop.
The duo's understanding of atmospherics was palpable during "Only This Moment," a song whose slowly unfolding melody, vulnerable and ethereal, delivered the evening's most poignant moment.
Headliner Basement Jaxx theoretically belongs to the electronica genre, but the South London duo has enhanced its sonics with so many touches of R&B, hip-hop, disco and straight-ahead Top 40 pop ("Do Your Thing," for instance, is a bona fide soul anthem) that its exhilarating set offered a bit of something for everyone.
This was a raw and chaotic performance, an over-the-top parade of wailing divas, outrageous wardrobe changes, rap interludes, hypnotic house beats and a brass trio spitting out pungent riffs with a strong Jamaican aftertaste.
And for an encore?
To the crowd's delight, the stage was invaded by a massive drum ensemble, dancing beauties in carnival outfits and merry pranksters dressed in gorilla outfits.
The Basement's take on electronica may be more superficial than Royksopp's austere beauty, but its funkalicious set was just as compelling.