Barely 2 months after the noise-blinding experience of Mogwai, Soundscape Records hits us with yet another fringe spectacular. Hailing from Hell’s Kitchen, New York, instrumental math rock quartet Battles is the latest addition to a stable of international acts, including Mono, Explosions In The Sky and Dirty Three, brought in by the independent concert promoter.
A logical and calculated choice, considering the fact that the band’s critically acclaimed debut album Mirrored ranked number 8 on Pitchfork Media’s best albums of 2007. With a musically pedigree line up of ex-Helmet drummer John Stanier, ex-Don Caballero guitarist Ian Williams, ex-Lynx guitarist Dave Konopka and vocal manipulator Tyondai Braxton (son of avant-garde jazz musician Anthony Braxton), Battles has been touring the world from Tokyo to Berlin to Singapore and now, Malaysia.
Many a gig-goer flocked down to Orange Dance Club that Thursday night. Some fans of the band, others just there out of curiosity. For JUICE, this was to be our warm up gig before the massive Sunburst Festival that weekend.
Arriving just moments before opening act Killeur Calculateur came on, the turnout was barely 300 people. Still, the small venue made it look decently packed. KK marched onstage in their killer black uniform with yellow bands around their arms and started their set without hesitation. The KL based screamo outfit was tight, but unfortunately the sound system was acting up. After an energetic 20 minutes, Twilight Action Girl took over. The crowd did not start to boogie but rather, waited impatiently in front of the stage for Battles to come on.
Sound engineers and roadies began to set up the stage. A ten-feet-high cymbal was erected on Stanier’s drumkit and the audience did a small cheer. Finally, Battles made their presence, one-by-one they came onstage and began tweaking with their instruments.
At first, we couldn’t tell if they had started their set or were doing an impromptu sound check. Apparently, it was both. ‘Race: out’ was their opener which doubled as a test for their gadgets and instruments to interact with the venue’s acoustics. Genius. Their set came alive with the second song ‘Tii’ and soon, the crowd wasÂ bobbing to Stainer’s beats.
A few songs later, it was clear that the perplexing experimental band was not everyone’s cup of tea. Yes, many if not all were in awe of their complexity, but people didn’t know when the songs begun or ended. This left gaps of awkward silence between songs. Furthermore, the bad sound system took the punch out of their rhythm and muddled their distortion, creating dribbling drones at certain points.
It wasn’t until they played their hit single ‘Atlas’ that the crowd galvanised with the robo-munchkin sing-along chorus. After that, it was more confusion. Battles took a quick breather after ‘Race: in’ and came out for a 2-song encore. Before continuing, Tyondai Braxton uttered a strange message. Over the cheering crowd, we couldn’t really make out what he said. And what we managed to decipher were merely, “…we’re slaves to these machines….”
After the show ended, the crowd stuck around to take photos with the band. It turns out they’re really friendly guys. JUICE took the opportunity to sneak in a question amidst the chaos and asked Braxton a simple question: “Is your crazy afro-hair a reflection of the music you play?” Braxton paused for a while, grinned and said, “Yeah, that works…” J
Battles rocked and robotised the house at Orange Dance Club on 19 March 2009. Big love bites to Soundscape Records for continuing to bring down quality fringe acts! Check out our gallery here.
Image Ricky Sow