New York City was the place to be on Friday March 18. It was a ripe, crisp, 65 degree spring day, and Rebecca Black’s “Friday” had gone viral and taken Manhattan by storm. The weekend had arrived and it was finally the time to go HARD.
The HARD group planned to grace New York City with a two-night showcase composed of electronic musicians from around the world. I had anxiously waited for this event to arrive for what felt like eternity. The fish who inhabit the Hudson River must have had their own dance party to the pulsating beats and wobbling basslines seeping out of the warehouse on the corner of West 56th and 11th Avenue Friday and Saturday nights. Terminal 5 hosted Teengirl Fantasy, Skream and Benga, Fake Blood, Destructo, Crystal Castles and Simian Mobile Disco (who played a live set, yup that’s right ladies and gentlemen, the dynamic duo performed their first live set in the US in years) for two evenings of electro-heaven. Every set was more compelling than the last, but its of no surprise that Crystal Castles (Friday) and Simian (Saturday) took home the crown for the evening, both departed the stage to with their audiences still lost in sound and dancing to the last lingering sound waves that were slowly dissipating into the sweat drenched recycled air.
Ethan Kath (the producer/synth/machine player of Crystal Castles) took the stage, microphone in hand, and delivered a very raspy roar of a “Good Evening!” The audience gave a howling applause in response as Ethan continued, “I don’t know if you heard. But Alice has had a very unfortunate accident in the past few days, and has broken her ankle. The doctors told her that she should not be walking. They told her to cancel the rest of the tour.” Silence. Gasp. Bewildered glassy eyes darted in every direction silently begging for another response. The silence continued, Ethan just held the microphone to his lips with his head bowed down. The show was canceled. The disappointment was palpable. He raised his head to say a final goodbye: “Alice said to the doctors, FUCK YOU!!!!!”
It was right then and there, at the first hit of the drums, the first oscillating minor chord, and shrill of Alice’s piercing voice, that I thought to myself “Rock’n’Roll is not dead.” As the seed sprouted in my brain, it branched out into a more complete thought: “Rock’n’Roll is very much alive. It has just been modified, and electrified to coincide with our generation.” The scene on display before my eyes was the complete opposite of what I had expected. It felt as if I had read the book and was now watching an adapted movie version of the same text. No matter how strong and powerful your imagination, a visual construction of characters in their painted atmosphere will alter the mind. To me, Crystal Castles had managed to balance and blend pop electronica, with heavy glitching, and simple, sexy synth lines into a genre of music you could rock out and/or relax to.
Imagine a very intense strobe light flashing so violently that your eyes will not adjust and focus. While this is going on you have Courtney Love and Janis Joplin’s love child (Alice) nursing an entire fifth of Jim Beam. She was jumping around on stage in thigh high ankle boots, plunging her mind, body, and soul into the noisy abyss. Ethan had his hood up, head down, and was lost in the symphonic journey his hands were directing. Behind them was a live drummer who powered through the entire hour fifteen without rest. Together, they created quite the trifecta of 90’s grunge, punk rock, metal, all being supported through electric grooves. It was dark, evil, and haunting. It was exquisite.
The bodies were so tightly packed on the dance floor you could barely breathe. Alice even flung her body into the obedient crowd and surfed a handful of times, while keeping the microphone in hand (or mouth) and unique voice screaming. The set list was filled with every track you could possibly hope for: “Alice Practice”, “She Fell Out”, “Black Panther”, “Excuse Me”, “Crimewave”, “Baptism”, “Magic Spells”, “Airwar”, “Courtship Dating”, “Suffocation”, “1991”, “Vanished”, “I Am Made of Chalk”, and “Pap Smear” amongst others. The encore was a treat in itself. “Untrust Us” was turned into a 15 minute electronic jam sessions between all three of the performers. I felt as if I was in an underground warehouse party in London. It was captivating, and left the whole audience craving more upon the last note.
Heavy dark metal, screaming, and invasive lights are all things I can happily live without when I go to a show. But this was perfect. Everything about the sounds and audience complimented each other and energized the crowd into an electric trance. It was a night that will never be forgotten.
The second night of a showcase tends to be up in the air, some would say it’s always better or worse, but I went in with no expectations since my mind was blown away from the eve before. This time we showed up at 11 o’clock, right before Simian was due to go on stage. With drinks in hand, we shimmied our way up to the very front, clinging to the barrier between the audience and stage. The music hit and the rest was history. I was in Berlin, at Bar 25, dancing my heart and soul out alongside everyone else in the room. In America, I feel that the audience always maintains their composure when seeing an artist, their self-conscious vibes are palpable and everyone seems more rigid than relaxed. For once, that was not the case. The crowd, the space, the lights, the music, and the performers: everything was in it its right place. I had seen Simian spin DJ sets at Le Passion Rouge before, but this did not even remotely compare. James Ford and Jas Shaw did not hold back as they plunged into their hit Sleep Deprivation off Attack Sustain Decay Release first. The first song sets the tone for the rest of the show, and the audience was hooked.
The duo rocked all of the favorites from their legendary album Attack Decay Sustain Release, while debuting tracks off their new album Delicacies. When this album dropped a few months ago, I was not too sure how I felt about it. Attack Decay Sustain Release had hit my ears for the first time in 2007, and to this day I will confidently say it is in my top five favorite albums of all times. The entire composition was elegantly executed. Tracks such as “Sleep Deprivation”, “Clock, Wooden”, and “Tits & Acid” told rich, dense instrumental stories in their four-minute entirety. “I Believe”, “Hustler”, “It’s the Beat”, and “Hotdog” supplemented the deeper tracks with their vocal samples and catchy hooks. I have yet to hear an album that is so well balanced and audibly intriguing.
When Delicacies dropped, I made a point to download the album the midnight of its release, expecting some sort of Attack 4.0 version. I was entirely incorrect. The 9-track album solely housed 7-9 minute European dance tracks, purely instrumental, I didn’t understand. Granted, my mind was turned off by this concept that I hardly gave the album a proper full listen, and would attempt to put on a new track here and there as the month progressed, but the heart and soul were absent.
Seeing this live changed my point of view. I realized that as opposite this new album was from the previous, the two combined created an action packed and emotional set. Also, watching these two play live, and visually observing how much free range they had over the manipulation of every line of sound made me appreciate it that much more. Words (vocal samples) do not limit an artist’s creativity, but when you are tweaking hundreds of knobs on stage for an audience of thousands, instrumental tracks are limitless. The duo maneuvered cautiously through “Aspic”, “Nerve Salad”, “Thousand Year Egg”, and “Ortolan”.
The show was over before I knew it, and once again I was left buried in a sea of sweat yearning for more. Hands down, the Simian Mobile Disco concert was one of the best shows I have seen in years, and has set the bar high for everything else my eyes and ears will encounter. Thank you HARD NYC for living up to and surpassing your expectations for the weekend. Can’t wait until next year.