The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website


Charlie Frame , November 14th, 2012 06:14

Charlie Frame goes to see Black Dice in Dalston... but WHY WON'T ANYONE MOVE??!?!?!??!?

Two days later the ringing would subside and I'd find myself wondering if it hadn't all just been a dream about a submarine rave attended by a bunch of grumpy-looking mannequins. Perhaps I'd hallucinated the whole thing on the tube up to Dalston Kingsland – the train-carriageness of the room, the way its passengers fended each other off with a glazed jut of the elbows, the increasing absurdity of a situation in which such a large concentration of fellow men and women try their damndest to out-ignore each other. What was the old platitude again? Nobody dances on the tube and nobody smiles at gigs? Or is that the wrong way round?

There's something perverse about being made to peer down the neck of such a long cramped space just to catch a glimpse of three men playing around with what may as well be an electric guitar and a miniature train set. Without sound we'd all just be standing in the dark facing the backs of each other's heads, which strikes me as a very peculiar way to spend one's time.

And yet there is sound - or noise, if that's what you want to call it. "Noise music" - an oxymoronic label that implies abstraction, fracturedness, chaos - in short, difficult listening. But this isn't chaos. Fractured, jarring, yes, but tonight's show is pure meticulous energy. What happens at a noise gig? What do people do? According to the blank expressions in tonight's crowd, not a lot. But as the drum machine stomp of 'Outer Body Drifter' grinds out of the speakers, I feel elated. I want to whoop and jump around like a double-dropping raver. Tidal waves of square-bass, gurgling synths, bizarre Triassic shrieks played on god-knows-what fill the thick air of the underground venue with an intensity that courses through me like an adrenaline mainline.

But who am I kidding... This is Black Dice, not Carl Cox. This is the band who've slowly evolved from crazy abstract hardcore to crazy abstract electronic bleeps and bloops over the course of well over a decade now.

Black Dice in their early hardcore incarnation circa 2002.

Should anyone be blamed for them picking up a few wallflowers and arm-folders along the way? Early Black Dice shows were legendary affairs, hugely kinetic on a musical and physical level. Watching on YouTube, it's not always so easy to tell who's a part of the band and who's in the audience, as band-members leap and tumble about with the crowd to their pulverised take on hardcore. Whizz forward to 2002 and suddenly everyone's standing still, both band and audience hunched over wires sprouting from a mass of pedals and sound modules while quasi-ambient squirgles echo around the room. As the music became more and more disjointed, no wonder people stopped moving. It isn't natural for the human body to want to move to abstract noise, for the same reason we don't dance to the sound of hammers or leaky taps.

Indeed, dancing had been the last thing on my agenda this evening. I was more interested in finding out about Black Dice's working methods – exactly how they coax these frankly alien sounds out of their machines, and to what ends. But even four rows back it soon dawns that there's no use in even trying to see what's happening on stage. All we have is the dark, the sound, and the backs of each other's heads. I'm not having this. My fist raises involuntarily and I pump the air, allowing myself a little bounce and a cheer in the process. I feel the back of my head being stared at with a more damning intensity than before and instantly feel sheepish.

What if Dalston is wrong though? This year's Mr Impossible album (from which the majority of tonight's set is based) sees the band arriving at a whole new destination on their journey through sonic deconstruction. To most it's a headache on a stick, but by Black Dice standards it's a veritable hootenanny – as close to a party record as they've ever come. In the same way early EPs once stripped thrash and hardcore down to their most basic elements, allowing the listener to reassemble them into something tenuously recognisable, Mr Impossible makes sausage meat of breaks, electro, jungle, gabba and techno, reforming these dance signifiers through circuit-bent electronics and elaborate pedalboard ingenuity. Unsurprisingly it's the lengthy middle-section between these two periods – the experimental dirge-outs found on albums like 2005's Broken Ear Record and 2007's Load Blown - that has come to define Black Dice and their audience in recent years.

Of course there's nothing wrong with taking time to stop and listen and absorb. These are some pretty freaked-out sounds and no denying it. But let's not forget this is the same band who once signed to James Murphy's DFA label and made a small but surprising wave on the indie dancefloor with the Cone Toaster EP. This is more than just an interesting assemblage of noises to zone out and ponder over. These tracks have structure, rhythm, bounce, which is even more apparent when played at top volume in the vision-impairing gloom of Birthdays. Obscured onstage and without a visual focus the band takes on the role of a three-man turntable, spinning through interpretations of album faves 'Pigs', 'Rodriguez' and 'Pinball Wizard' like a DJ expertly working the crowd. At these tinnitus-inducing levels it doesn't seem to matter how broken it all sounds – everything falls into place as ostensible dance music; rave taken to its ultimate logical conclusion. The impression is that Black Dice really do want their audience to get up and dance, which all adds to the frustrating eeriness of tonight's inert atmosphere. I'm left baffled – how indeed can we not MOVE to this?

Goddamn it. "I don't know about you lot, but I came here to see fucking BLACK DICE!" I think I must have said that out loud, because someone turns around. Ah. Sorry Dalston. Sorry for ruining your standing-still fun, but this is happening. Dark rooms, thumping beats, no band to be seen – this is dance music, and until Black Dice play the big room at Fabric, vibrating floor and all, this is where the action takes place, and there's nothing your glares and pointy elbows can do about it.