Our time at KEX Hostel here at Iceland Airwaves in Reykjavik is coming to an end. We’ve seen an array of acts, from dreamy and blissful to excitingly harsh and loud. Old favorites and new friends. It’s hard to try and encapsulate an entire week of music discovery, but it feels fitting to end our broadcast on a note that feels, in many ways, open-ended.
London’s Black Midi is a mystery. The math-noise quartet doesn’t have any recorded music to their name, but their live performances have caused a stir across Europe and now we’re infecting American airwaves with their excitingly manic, fresh sounds. The only way you can hear Black Midi outside of seeing them live or listening to our broadcast earlier today is the VHS grain of a session they recorded at Flesh & Bones Studio in Hackney. They play their instruments like they’re on the edge of a knife – always precise and always like they can slice through your eardrums at any second. They the fierce technical prowess of bands like Hella and Battles and the looming darkness of Slint and The Mars Volta. Those are some pretty hefty comparisons, but their set at KEX Hostel more than backs them up.
KEXP prides itself on music discovery. It's harder and harder to find pure discovery in the Internet age. So seeing a band for the first time with the limited idea of what you're going to see is almost novel. But Black Midi was anything but novel. Their riffs surged through the room like someone touching an electric fence and grabbing the hand of someone next to them. It's kinetic, traveling from body to body at a speed you can't even fathom. The mystery certainly adds to the excitement, new sounds banging in your cranium like a pinball machine. With how quickly the rhythms would pound out and change on a dime, you hardly had any time to process what was going on as it was happening.
And yet, I got somewhat nostalgic listening to Black Midi. I remembered the bands I grew up watching in basements back home in Bremerton, Wash. Math-rock devotees channeling their angst into polyrhythms and distortion. Back then those bands appealed to me because I felt like I understood where they were coming from – using attitude and exactitude to make sense of the messes in their lives. I know next to nothing about the guys in Black Midi, so I can't speak to anything about what might be going through their minds when they write spastic songs like "Bmbmbm" (the only song they played tonight that had a name). Nevertheless, you can feel that sense of searching. Atonal riffs abounded and drums clattered like trash cans thrown off the roof. Their playing was anxious and measured. At some moments they'd stand statuesque while they hit every note in a tediously difficult riff, the next they'd be wailing at their instruments like they'd gone feral and mad. The fact that they barely talked between songs only added to the whole experience. You had to keep questioning, "who the fuck are these guys?" The question would eat at the back of your mind the whole time and all the possible answers only added more questions. Who the fuck are these guys!? I don't know. But what we heard at Kex Hostel was a seed planted and we'll just have to wait and see what it grows into.
The Dublin act makes their second appearance on KEXP this year with another invigorating performance at KEX Hostel in Reykjavik, Iceland.
Our first non-Icelandic act of the festival at KEX hostel gives us a world tour or sounds and heavy doses of psychedlia.