photos by Zach Pollack, words and some photos by Parker Langvardt
UK-based electronic duo Walls stood side by side in front of a table covered in guitar pedals and synthesizer gear, creating a long, wavering drone that slowly built a pulse through added complexity. A heartbeat-like bass drum set the rhythm for a relaxing ambient flow with soft, warm synth tones similar to Deadmau5's For Lack of a Better Name, yet they maintained an experimental spirit through bowed double bass soundscapes, nearly unrecognizable guitar, and quiet, spacey vocals. They wove their set together with drones and guitar melodies that declined after each song, building back up to lead into the next. Twisting around the typical dance bass drum formula by putting the accent on every other beat, Walls created an odd groove that could be perceived as starting in a couple different places, though it may have actually shifted rhythmically from time to time.
Battles walked on stage to an extended sampled intro of "Africastle" with sparse piano. Ian Williams played the shrill, plucked-sounding synthesizer and the audience began to cheer. Dave Konopka's spacey old-western guitar chords rang out in suspense while drummer Joe Stanier shook a set of sleigh bells, kneeling on the ground in front of two monumental LCD screens. Shaking his guitar with his left hand to produce ambient chords, Williams continued the synth riff with his right hand. Stanier got behind his drums, pounding the floor tom to lead into an aggressive dance-rock beat as Williams stood facing the crowd, playing two keyboards angled up on either side of him. They sampled Kazu Makino of Blonde Redhead and Matis Aguayo for "Sweetie & Shag" and "Ice Cream," respectively. Their faces appeared on the LCD monitors, at times singing their parts, but Aguayo was interspersed with images of gradually melting piles chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry ice cream, which flashed consecutively in a row.
In a live setting, Battles' essence is hard progressive rock, with grinding riffs, abstract call and response amongst instruments, and the willingness to use bizarre keys. At times the tweaked out rhythms, strange instrumental harmony, and optimistic synthesizer melodies are like the soundtrack to the winner's circle of a Mario Kart championship. Their virtuosity and eccentricity places them in the electronic corner of the room with John McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra and his collaboration with Miles Davis on Bitches Brew. The best part is they accomplish this all as a trio. These guys don't need a live vocalist anymore.
More pictures of both acts from their Friday night (10/7) show are below..