|Website:||Official Battles Site|
Battles really know how to pick who they get involved with. Any band that can get four of the most inimitable and revolutionary artists of their time to appear as guests on their album shows not only that they have great taste, but also that their status and their musical output just oozes screams of “collaborate with me” from every pore. Yamantaka Eye (Boredoms), Kazou Makino (Blonde Redhead), Matias Aguayo and Gary Numan all feature on their first release without Tyondai Braxton that came out earlier this year, “Gloss Drops”. Guitarist and bassist Dave Konopka stated that it was a “shot in the dark” asking Numan to provide vocals for a track which later became “My Machines”. I imagine being told by Gary Numan that your music is “really fucking weird” is enough to spur anyone on. With all this in mind, I was expecting a loud, intense evening.
We all arrived in good time to hear Hudson Mohawke playing a wonderful DJ set including Bjork remixes and plenty of his own work (for lovers of left field hip-hop beats, “Satin Panthers” is a must-have). I’ll be completely honest, I didn’t know a lot of the tracks. But this made little difference as he seamlessly glided from one to the next as you felt the bass rumble through your feet and all the way up to your skull, boring deeper than a full frontal lobotomy.
Once Hudson’s final heavy beat faded into our chests, we were greeted by three extremely shy and unassuming Japanese women. I’d heard their debut EP “Sorede Souzousuru Neji” a few months back, and whilst I was impressed, it was not an instant hit with me. Just as they stepped onto the stage and began their set, it took time to grow and develop. After a slow start – one still with many positives – “Ikkyokume”, their best known track according to Spotify, exploded into life, with a hard hitting ‘four on the floor’ bass drum beat and footwork/ghetto house-styled hi-hat work alongside a thick, repetitive bass line, accompanied beautifully the looped guitar chords and intricate harmonies floating over the top like a thick smog. Before the end of their set, Nisennenmondai’s applause had turned from impressed applause to amazed cheers and rapturous applause. Nisennenmondai are a force to be reckoned with; an act to beat all other opening acts and one well worthy of their own tour. When it does finally happen, I’ll be the first person queueing for tickets.
At around 21:30, Battles appeared on stage opening with the first track on “Gloss Drop”, ‘Africastle’. Ian Williams, surrounded by a laptop, two synthesisers either side at 45⁰ angles, a sample pad and a guitar slung round his neck – a true multi-instrumentalist – controlled the early stages, tapping his guitar parts whilst playing one synthesiser with the other hand as Dave Konopka set up the track's bass riff on a sampler so he could move over to guitar. By the time drummer John Stainer has sat down at his drum kit as the entire track explodes, Williams has ditched his guitar and is playing both angled synthesisers with one hand at either side, sending the audience into a fit of cheering and “Dad dancing”. Throughout tracks ‘Sweetie & Shag’ and ‘Dominican Fade’, they proved they have retained their math rock precision whilst combining it with a new, harder – and more danceable – edge.
After some short words from Ian Williams (words like “the”, “and”, “if” etc) the opening drum beat of ‘Atlas’ picked up the audience and them a good kick, out of reality and back into the gig. They had a point to prove with both ‘Atlas’ and ‘Tonto’. Could these tracks be done without a clear driving force in their composition, Tyondai Braxton? The answer? Yes. Sort of. There was always going to be something missing without Braxton’s heavily sampled vocal work, but Battles did well to exorcise that demon surrounding both tracks with a quirky, quaint and quintessentially English children’s choir providing the vocals via the sample pad.
‘Ice Cream’ was another excellent track, executed with aplomb yet endless energy, particularly from Stainer; by this time, he looked like he’d been swimming, making Lee Evans look he’s barely broken a sweat. ‘My Machines’ got the biggest reaction of the evening as Dave Konopka set up the opening bass riff. Infectious does not begin to describe this track and that performance. With Gary Numan super-imposed onto two screens like some giant Emmanuel Goldstein behind the band, the cherry was well and truly placed on top of an already extremely decadent cake.
The encore was preceded by Ian Williams’ incredibly dry musings on life and stories from his childhood, while Konopka extolled the virtues of the vibe of London; admittedly I’m sure he loved Dublin and Milan just as much, but you couldn’t help but feel a little touched. Stainer stayed backstage, presumably to have a shower. Not very rock and roll.
‘Sun Dome’ closed a wonderful set with a slow build, before Stainer’s final re-emergence from the shadows, still in the same clothes he left in. Very rock and roll.
Battles, in conclusion, are one of the hottest properties out there at the moment in rock music, let alone in the math rock genre they are so lauded for. They were cheered like no other band I have ever seen. Everyone clearly thought the same as me and my mates: that they’d just witnessed one of the most energetic and technically impressive performances they’d ever seen. And of course, it was loud. Very loud.
Posted: Mon 28 November 2011