The doors opened at 11pm on a Thursday night. Le Poisson Rouge, in all of its 1970’s nightclub glory, was filled with one of the more eclectic crowds I’ve seen in a while. A mix of music ‘buffs', NYU students, bros looking to get their groove on, old men and just about everything in between; the place was packed as the first band took the stage.
Right off the bat, and by that I mean immediately as the first notes of the first band erupted from the stage, you already had some people make a beeline for the door. Next Life does not make dance music. They don’t really make electronic music. What they do, in fact, is play some very loud, utterly brutal death metal. Did I mention this show was part of the Unsound festival, one of the premier electronic/experimental festivals in the world? It seems like that fact was lost on many, but still only a minority, of the attendees. Those looking for a ‘dubstep’ show were probably disappointed/scarred by this Norwegian duo (with drummer) as they spat out song after song of staccato, jarring, obscenely loud riffs.
About six or seven songs in, the bassist scuttled over to the microphone and proclaimed “That was our last ballad of the night.” Zing, what a funny guy. I could feel both a groan of despair and the elated vibrations of anticipation as the battle lines were drawn between the two types of listeners in attendance. The first type of attendee were the purists, the ones that came out expecting a noise show, or more specifically, hoping for a noise show. This group was well characterized when speaking to a friend right after the first set. “The flyer said they were a noisy death metal band,” he said, “that wasn’t noisy at all!”
The second group in attendance consisted of those who were lulled into a false sense of security by Actress and Hype Williams’ recordings. Often ethereal, hazy and mellow, I feel like they expected the show to follow in suit. Oh, how wrong they were.
Hype Williams, now Dean Blunt and Inga Copeland, came on the stage amidst some serious technical difficulties. To pass the time, they put on just a random (but perfect) ten second loop that must have repeated about a thousand times. Now, when I say technical difficulties, I do so only as an unknowing bystander. For all I could gather amidst the fog and the noise, the loop was in fact part of their set, and truthfully, it would not have been out of place. Their set was loud, unapologetically so, and almost nothing like their recordings. They made the conscious choice to cater to the first group of listeners and had no regrets afterwards.
Neither did I, for what it’s worth. Their set was one of the most visceral, mind bending forty-five minutes of my life. You could not escape the chest crushing bass or the head splitting treble shrieks, try as the second group of listeners might. At a certain point I closed my eyes and even the patterns strewn across the backs of my eyelids were writhing with the ‘beat.’ (Dead sober I swear)
After their set I was physically exhausted. A bunch of people left and did not look back. Some were in shock, some in awe, some giddy while others were damn close to tears. Never have I seen a performance so polarizing, so powerful. The noise-heads I spoke to afterwards were in agreement that it was a killer set. The fans expecting them to play some something that resembled their albums were, how best to describe it, disappointed and or nauseated. Did I mention they had a body builder posing on stage the whole time? That fact seems almost surreal now, displaced in my memory by the sensual onslaught that framed it.
Actress finally came on around 2 am, black hood pulled low and monitors three feet from his head, right at ear level. I wasn’t sure what to expect after the last performance, but being a fan of Actress’s albums, I was excited nonetheless.
If it had been any other show, or if any other act had opened for him, I would have loved his set. Unfortunately, Hype Williams made that completely impossible. Actress, while interesting and engaging, was nowhere near the sensory overload of Hype. While objectively not a bad thing, my neural pathways were so bloated, overloaded and swollen, that his set seemed... alright. It wasn’t particularly loud, or bassy, or in your face, and for the record, his music isn’t either and I LIKE that about it, but on a night like this, it fell flat, a casualty of excess and unfettered appetite.
I began writing this article in an attempt to remain fully unattached from either side of the great attendee schism, however having come this far, I’ve got to say, bring on the noise, baby.