The deliberately underground approach of Blackest Ever Black to releasing and promoting the darker fringes of alternative culture have brought the likes of Raime, Tropic of Cancer and Regis to the fore, whilst their website and mixtapes plunder the funereal and the sinister with the kind of single-mindedness that hasn’t really been seen since the heyday of 80s Goth. At the Basing House, Blackest Ever Black assembled a lineup which showcased the best of bleak electronic music.
On this occasion, Blackest Ever Black had assembled some of the most exciting and forward-thinking electronic acts currently haunting the shadows of the UK scene. Raime are Joe Andrews and Tom Halstead and their unique approach to dubstep has been garnering huge praise in The Wire and on the Resident Advisor website. At the Basing House, they had the rather unenviable task of following the rather excellent and bold Blackest Ever Black DJs, but immediately seduced thanks to some wall-shaking dub beats allied to creepy sound effects apparently lifted from a wealth of horror movie soundtracks and then processed into dense clusters of synthetic melodic lines. The dubstep label is someone misleading, given their minimal take on bass music, with their distillation of uneasy ambience and grating harmonics owing as much to the organic industrial music of Coil as it does to, say, Burial. Call it dubstep for ruined cathedrals, haunted cemeteries and abandoned factories.
However, they were somewhat let down by the acoustics and layout of the Basing House. It would appear that the venue doubles as a club, so many punters seemed rather uninterested in what was happening onstage, preferring to talk loudly whilst Raime were playing. Such is the design of the Basing House, with its stage located in front of a narrow dancefloor just off the main bar area, that even the deepest of Raime’s bass lines couldn’t drown out the hubbub. Meanwhile, between sets you had to queue to be able to get into the tiny smoking area, with a bouncer (!) on hand to observe a one-out, one-in policy. All rather disorganised.
Karl O’Connor, aka Regis, was on next, and was equally dark, although in a more abrasive, almost punk style. Nicely contrarian, O’Connor blazed up a cigarette on stage, and his chattering beats, overloaded synth patterns and angry bass felt like a chaotic collision of modern techno and the noisy, primitive electronica of Suicide or the UK’s Power Electronics scene. Which was fitting, given that William Bennett was on next. Industrial techno at its finest and most melodic, Regis’ music would almost fit in nicely at Fabric, although it would be amusing to see what the Farringdon venue’s regular punters would make of O’Connor’s brutalist approach.
If Raime and Regis were good, what came next took things to a whole other level. Is there anything more left to be said about William Bennett’s Cut Hands project? It’s possibly, probably, better than Whitehouse. Cut Hands vol.1 is the most radical album of the year. The percussion. The harsh electronics. The way Bennett juxtaposes them. The use of African imagery in thought-provoking -even provocative- ways. It was all on show at The Basing House.
Bennett completely drowned out the noise from the bar from the very first track, as his furious polyrhythms and angry electronic patterns clattered around the room, harsh and beautiful at once. The dancefloor became a heaving mass of shuddering dances and bouncing heads, whilst Bennett himself jittered and convulsed, mouth agape, seeming as enraptured by his sounds as the audience. The tracks from Cut Hands vol.1 were extended and enhanced, the beats becoming an avalanche of harsh percussive noise whilst the melodies contorted and sailed across the mix.
I have often wondered, when it comes to electronic music played live, how artists choose -or not- to enhance the “live” aspect of the performance. Most, apparently, don’t, preferring to sit or stand and work on their sounds in the same way they would in the studio. Now, I’ve seen enough noise, drone, experimental and electro acts to not be bothered by this, and certainly am not expecting Springsteen-esque pyrotechnics when attending an event like the Blackest Ever Black showcase. Indeed, you often have more time to concentrate on the music in such circumstances, which was a definite plus in the case of noiseniks Werewolf Jerusalem and Voltigeurs, for example. But, nonetheless, it must be a challenge for a lot of electronic acts, most of whom, such as Raime and Regis on this occasion, compensate with much head-bobbing as they fiddle with mixing desks and sequencers. Not William Bennett, although he also had his trusty headphones and mixers close to hand. His intermittent, jerky, aggressive dancing was very much part of the spectacle and appeal, adding to the dichotomous tribal and white boy punk aspects of his music. Allied to the unsettling film footage of African rituals and colonial exploitation that was projected on the walls, this mesmeric non-dancing elevated Cut Hands as a live entity above both the usual electronic show and the high camp of Whitehouse and other Power Electronics acts. A triumph, no less, and I was quick to tell him so.
Blackest Ever Black weren’t finished there, and next up was special secret guest Surgeon, quite a “star” on the alternative techno/electro scene. After the brittle sounds of Regis and Cut Hands, Surgeon’s driving yet smooth pulsations brought the night to a pleasingly groovy close, and had the audience dancing with relish. I detected hints of popular electro acts like Martyn, Vex’d and even the Chemical Brothers in Anthony Child’s hypnotic beats and elegant melodies, which is not to suggest he was lightweight in comparison to his forbears. Indeed, he and Regis united at the end to resurrect their British Murder Boys duo, which as its name suggests, was a darkly humourous play on both techno and Power Electronics. Even in this context, Surgeon’s slinky aesthetic dominated over Regis’ abrasion, for an utterly thrilling climax to a wonderful showcase of all that is exciting and forward-thinking in modern electronic music.
I return to my high praise for Blackest Ever Black. Despite the venue’s limitations, they put on a high-quality, and varied, show, and lasting as it did from 10pm to 4am, you got your money’s worth. Vomited back into East London’s darkened streets, surrounded by railway bridges, darkened bars and quiet office blocks, I drank in the cold air, and felt the thunder of Cut Hands’ vicious beats rumble away in my head, aware that I had witnessed the kind of show that no major label would ever had the guts or ambition to put on. For which, maybe, we should be grateful, because the music at the Basing House was as coldly arresting as that East London night air, and something to be savoured in the dark.
Photos by Jimmy Mould
You can also read this article here: http://www.theliminal.co.uk/2011/10/nightmare-beats-cut-hands-regis-raime-and-surgeon-at-the-basing-house/