KOKO Gig Watch

Rise of the Machines

The Orange, Kuala Lumpur,
Date: Thursday, March 19
By Robin Banks

Images courtesy of Ricky Sow

On record, New York avant garde quartet Battles’ intoxicating brand of (mainly) instrumental music can be best described as an acquired taste, always walking the fine line between adventurous, experimental rock and self-indulgence muso wank

But watch them perform live and their strange appeal quickly begins to manifest itself. Indeed, their recent live set at the Orange Dance Club was truly spectacle to behold, going way beyond one normally can expect from your conventional rock gig.

In fact, what one hears on their critically acclaimed debut album ‘Mirrored’ does not even begin to come close to capturing the calculated chaos and visceral musical interplay that goes on onstage during a Battles show.

Just by looking at the weird assortment of musical effects and machines on stage, the samplers, the keyboards and the blue drum kit with the abnormally high crash cymbal stand placed right up front centre of the stage, one got the immediate impression that Battles’ live show is going be far removed from your average indie rock gig. True enough, their thrilling performance turned out to anything but average or indeed, conventional.

With their preppy, Ivy League clothes, guitars strapped up high like jazz players and propensity to twiddle with weird machines and play two instruments at once during a song, Battles resembled four mad scientists running amok in a laboratory, And how the gig -starved KL indie kids lapped it up.

Once again, organisers Soundscape Records have to be commended for their sterling work in bringing yet another quality act to Malaysian shores. Without them, the live circuit here would be sorely lacking for sure. The late crowd that turned up for the gig showed that properly organised and executed word-of-mouth gigs could indeed be successful ventures in this country.

Despite no massive branding or sponsorship deals and fairly low-key publicity, Soundscape still managed to get a crowd of 400 enthusiastic fans through the door to watch a relatively obscure (in this country at least) band, which is no mean feat indeed.

Kicking off proceedings on the night were local indie noise merchants Killeur Calculator who, with their matching black clobber and muscular guitar interplay, looked and sounded like the real deal. Expertly mixing shoegaze elements with shouty punk rock and hardcore, the KL based four piece certainly didn’t look out of place sharing the bill with experienced old heads like Battles. Judging by their performance on the night, it’s definitely a case of watch this space.

After Killeur Calculator’s captivating set, the scene was set for Battles to come on and dazzle everyone, and luckily for us, they didn’t disappoint. Even for those who were unfamiliar with Battles’ music, watching the guys work their magic on stage with quiet intensity turned out to be a wholly entertaining proposition.

Commanding centre stage with his precision drumming was ex-Helmet drummer John Stanier, who blew everyone away with his abundant stamina as well as his natural ease with the most complex of rhythms. Quite simply, the guy was a human metronome who drummed feverishly almost though the entire set without missing a beat once.

On the right of the stage was the fuzzy haired Tyondai Braxton who operated his laptop, guitar, vocoder and god knows what else, all while dancing around like a nerdy music professor on extra strong MDMA. To the left, the lank haired Ian Williams providing equally thrilling visual fare with his party piece of playing guitar and keyboards at the same time. Talk about muscle memory!

Holding the fort down with sage-like calmess was Dave Konopka, who swopped between bass and guitar through the gig, periodically ducking down behind the drums to fiddle with some effect pedals or turning back to audience to work his bank of samplers before returning to the song being played with some wonderful new, ear-splitting noise emitting from his instrument. All executed while looking like a shy bank clerk who wouldn’t say boo to a goose as well.

So what about the music I hear you say? Well, suffice to say, that Battles’ songs was all about coaxing intricate rhythms and melodies out of their machines and instruments in a manner that appear to be spontaneous but was in actual fact, choreographed and executed to precision. What appeared to sound like an abstract piece of music slowly evolved to resemble a coherent song after while. Throughout their set, repetition and grooves were expertly employed to create a hypnotic, almost psychedelic effect, not unlike a trance or dub deejay set. The band’s most famous tune Atlas, which was greeted like a long lost friend, expertly showcased the band’s synthesis of ambient noise and rhythmic grooves to great effect.

Combining adventurous sonic experimentation with an unrestrained urge to perform and get totally immersed the music, Battles proved that complex instrumental music need not be dull, lifeless affairs when viewed live. Rather than gazing at their shoes throughout their set, these guys grooved, rocked, and worked their machines like men possessed. Any promoter types out there reading this: KL definitely need more live shows like this. More of the same please.


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