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LIVE REPORT: King Midas Sound, Incubate
Rory Gibb , September 13th, 2012 04:53

King Midas Sound scorch the Incubate Festival with a performance that proves, once again, that they're one of the most exciting musical propositions the UK currently has to offer

The ground is rumbling beneath my feet. Bass and rotor chug collide in the air and throb like a migraine. Thick, suffocating clouds of dry ice billow through the space between bodies. Somewhere in the gloom, occasionally picked out by white strobe light, I can just about make out the figure of Kevin Martin, clad in his standard-issue hoodie, hat and jacket uniform. The space in between is filled with faceless silhouettes thrashing back and forth.

The bass continues to escalate, tearing up from the floor, shaking my guts and rippling the hairs on my skin. I feel like I'm in Platoon, picking my way through dense jungle while helicopters scream overhead dropping their deadly payload. [Helicopters don't 'scream' they 'thwack', and it is unusual for them to drop ordnance. Firing rockets is more common - Quietus Military Ed]. No, I'm being battered stupid here, I'm actually inside the Huey's engine compartment. I lean across to explain this to Luke. "It's that bit in Apocalypse Now where they airlift the gunboat over the sand bar," he nods, sagely.

It's been interesting to track reactions to Martin's King Midas Sound project, with vocalists Roger Robinson and Kiki Hitomi, over the last few years. It's generally accepted to be an exploration of his softer side, quite some distance from the militant dancehall of The Bug and shredding hip-hop/noise constructions of Techno Animal. I've certainly been guilty of using terms like 'lover's dub' to describe King Midas records in the past and, to be fair, their debut album Waiting For You was remarkable in its ability to wring such delicate music from such weighty components.

The development of their live show tells a different story. Their deep and pillowy debut performance at Hyperdub's fifth birthday party at Corsica Studios a few years ago was more in line with their debut LP and Dub Heavy Hearts & Ghosts EP. In the years since, however, their live incarnation has undergone a Hulk-style bodyshock, blasted with radiation until its muscles swell to near-bursting point and the sonic overspill from the stage hits the audience as wave upon wave of toxic particulate matter. Tonight, they absolutely shred a small crowd in Tilburg's 013 venue.

Rumours beforehand of a decibel limitation on this evening's performance prove ill-founded, as when we arrive at the venue we're greeted with signs plastered all over the place: 'WARNING: King Midas Sound's show is EXTREMELY LOUD. Collect your earplugs from the cloakroom'. The shockwaves from the show's opening segment - Martin alone, turning the dancefloor into a warzone, with sub-bass pressure amping up nervous system activity to the point where we're anxious, jumpy, rattling - are the most intense I've ever heard him generate, overturning even King Midas' explosive gig at Corsica Studios in August. At times the vibrations are enough to give the unsettling sense that my skin's molecules are being shaken loose, that the edges of my body are crumbling to the point that I'm physically dissolving into the surrounding air. Anyone expecting Martin's soft side was sorely mistaken: King Midas are a proposition as fearsome as anything he's ever done, and just as preoccupied with that fine line where brutality and beauty collide head-on, where volume and sheer brute force are used as impact weaponry.

It's that preoccupation with matters of the body that ties them to contemporaries like Factory Floor, Perc and Shackleton. More than once this evening I find myself thinking that, with this group of current British artists (and others like them) so willing to root their music in physicality, sensuality, rhythm and humour, Throbbing Gristle's legacy sits in safe hands.

But what marks out King Midas Sound is that there's a mean pop twist to everything they do. Where on Waiting For You Robinson and Hitomi were disembodied spooks, fragments of ideas drifting in the spaces between bass and reverb-drenched percussion, in the live arena their presences are far more concrete. Robinson thrashes on a guitar during a new track whose bassline is so massive and so caustic that it feels primed to raze the entire building to the ground; he and Hitomi trade verse and chorus in a series of chants and sing-song incantations catchier than anything they've done so far. Appetite suitably whetted for their next album.

For the encore I'm directed by one of the festival's organisers to stand in one particular corner of the room. "It's a resonance chamber," he grins. He's not lying. Here the bass rumble from the PA runs direct through the walls, turning them into giant speaker cones. I'm buffeted back and forth for a final five minutes, and my legs turn to jelly. I exit the venue with Vietnam vibes still clinging to my skin like napalm.

Bottom photo by Sjanett de Geus