Seemingly out of nowhere, BLACK MIDI have skyrocketed into the public eye. Seemingly, anyway. The band have confidently ridden a wave of whispers cascading around the London gig circuit, marking out their live shows as something that must be seen to be believed. Come spring 2019, they’ve caught the attention of the new music press in the UK, following their blistering performance for the KEXP radio station back in January. Six months ago, their entire setlist was untitled, except for one song – closer Bmbmbm. And now, here they are; their first time in Liverpool with a sold-out headline show, on the day their debut album, Schlagenheim, is released through Rough Trade Records. Some journey, with certainly no cries of “are we there yet”; they’re still on the ascent.
Hype is a tricky thing. Bands struggle to live up to it, like a sequel to your favourite movie. And yet, fresh out of Brit School and already an integral part of the London punk scene and deemed “best band in London” by Shame is quite a reputation. One seemingly impossible to live up to, surely?
Phase One is already half filled as duo RATTLE take the stage. Rattle consists of two drummers, with members Katharine Eira Brown and Theresa Wrigley facing each other behind the drum kits. The sight and sound is jarring, to say the least. Their complete disregard for harmonic instruments, song structures or lyrics makes for a droning, monotonous performance. Their set feels like one long drum solo, with the occasional yelp or vocalisation coming from one of the two frontwomen. Soundman Mark Spivey acts as quasi-DJ, putting dub-style effects on the pair’s vocals. Watching them is just about as fun as someone trying to start a drum circle at a party. Yet, their boldness does deserve recognition; to go so left-field without batting an eye. Surely there is potential for them to keep their bare and primal aesthetic and introduce a few more elements to keep it interesting?
Black Midi dare you to take them seriously as they walk onstage to Limp Bizkit’s Break Stuff wearing cowboy hats. As soon as they start playing you realise they’re not messing around. Their musicianship is shockingly good for such a young band. Drummer Morgan Simpson’s playing is blisteringly fast; the jittery stop-and-start style is hard to keep up with. The sound alone makes you feel like you could fall over at any second.
Surely everyone in the audience has seen the KEXP video, and are familiar with the recently titled openers 953 and Near DT, MI. They sound as though Slint have swallowed the Talking Heads whole, without taking the time to chew. It’s like Swans on speed, with the cowboy hats being a possible nod to Swans’ frontman Michael Gira. The influences are obvious but not overt, and Black Midi have carved out a style all of their own. The band name is fitting, as black midi is a Japanese genre of music in which a supercomputer plays literally trillions of notes; trying to play the file on anything less powerful will result in total motherboard failure. Equally, it’s overwhelming attempting to process the combination of sound, presence and energy that this band bring. They are a complete breath of fresh air; they’re exceptionally original. The whole set feels like you are on some strange new drug, getting drawn in by songs which go from a quiet whisper to a ferocious roar. Even being familiar with their songs doesn’t make the set more predictable or less alien.
The buzz surrounding them could easily have worked against them; tonight, expectations are sky-high, yet the expectations are met and exceeded. The set ends with Bmbmbm, Bassist Cameron Picton plays his droning line so hard he ends up snapping a vital string. It merely offers another avenue for the music as they continue with the song to its explosive finale.
Who is to say where Black Midi will be in the coming year. Critically lauded and delivering wholeheartedly on sold-out shows can only be a good thing for the band as they make their way to the US, Europe and Japan in the coming months. Those who are at Phase One tonight surely can see that the band is at a turning point in their career, and all we can do is hope to God they grace us with their presence next time around.