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Charlie Frame , July 7th, 2015 12:23

Charlie Frame reports from the Barbican in London

Photograph courtesy of Mark Allan/Barbican

There's an uncanny potency in this room, one that belies the Barbican's cosy seats and dulcet auditorium lighting, scooping up gently from the wing curtains. Plastic cups containing the last dewdrops of Becks Vier roll under seats. An elderly lady in eveningwear opens a bag of nuts. There might even be an intermission - ice cream and wooden spoons perhaps. An undeniably polite setting for Boredoms, a band for whom bulldozing the stage was once a literal reality, not a fantastical rock & roll metaphor. We could be sitting down for a ballet or theatrical production, and yet despite the comfortable setting this nervous energy is palpable, emanating from the intense glimmer bouncing off dozens upon dozens of drum cymbals placed systematically around the stage.

Tonight we get to witness an act of near-mythical status. From the scattershot punk experiments of their early days, to the extended psychedelic visions of their later records, it's safe to say that Boredoms' career arc has been more than remarkable. With only a trickle of recordings released since their climactic 1999 album, Vision Creation New Sun, Boredoms have popped in and out of the music timeline, confounding expectations at every turn. Central to the vast gamut of genre exercises, collective live happenings and side projects spanning the Bore-niverse is a belief in the transcendent qualities of noise. Legendary shows of old would see Yamakata Eye flinging himself into the crowd with a running jump as the band screeched, grunted and skronked over face-melting distortion and pummelling tribal rhythms. I'm secretly hoping tonight might turn out like the Madness show I once saw at the Southbank Centre in which the entirety of the seated audience ended-up jumping around at the front. As it happens, few will leave their seats this evening, save to escape from the coming onslaught.

As the lights go down, the audience is subdued into silence, baited like at the start of a film or classical performance. Enter the orchestra (and it clearly is an orchestra), led by Eye, Yoshimi P-We and the rest of the Boredoms, followed immediately by 88 peripheral players who place themselves in front of each cymbal, facing inwards. An uneasy applause wells up around the stalls and circle, the odd intrepid whoop submitted by braver members of the audience. And then silence and darkness once more.

After what feels like an age, we're aware of a tiny steam-like hissing sound, no louder than air escaping from a bike tire. As the sound builds, we see each member of the ensemble picking up soft mallets one-by-one and tapping extremely gently on their cymbal. The cycle continues as mallets are swapped for sticks, and then harder sticks, the hissing gets evermore present, going up the scale of famous decibel ranges: lawnmower, thunder, motorcar, jet-take off, and finally up to rocket launch – an ear-splitting squall of white noise, all on the same frequency range, the cymbalists hammering as hard and as fast as they can. Those who have witnessed Swans or My Bloody Valentine live will understand that earplugs are a must unless you enjoy going cross-eyed with pain. But in this case any ensuing tinnitus will be largely down to acoustic sound as opposed to amplified feedback.

In the centre of all this stands Eye - the eye of the storm if you will - surrounded by six full drumkits whose players (the Boredoms, along with other noise-scene luminaries like Oneida's Kid Millions) appear to have each been allocated a cymbal group and colour. There are also several guitarists and bassists present, though sitting in the stalls, the complicated set-up isn't entirely clear to the uninitiated spectator. From above it's a gigantic Simon Says game, each corner of the circle containing a colour which lights up and glows whenever each group plays. When Eye raises his arms, they get louder, pushing things to breaking point when he finally touches his fingertips above his head.

For two hours they play - build and release, explosion and crunch, cool wave and hellfire. The dexterity of each player, from Eye's ebullient acrobatic stage-cues, to the core drummers' syncopated rhythms, all the way to the outer-players' dexterous resilience, it's an impressive sight to behold, and one wonders exactly how they all keep it up. This is damaging music. Damaging to the ears, damaging to the drummers' elbows, damaging to the cerebral cortex and yet somehow great for the soul. Once the initial shock and awe has subsided, we're left in a drifting trance-like state, meditating on waves of sound. One forgets oneself, moves across mountains and ridges far beyond London and the Barbican.

Eye leads the band in some expressive call-and-response chanting and soon the glimmer of something familiar - the iconic refrain of Vision Creation New Sun - appears through the squall like a helicopter catching the horizontal glint of the sun on the Serengeti. This is redemption through controlled chaos, payback for the extended build-up and by far the highlight of the evening.

Frustratingly, Boredoms seem to peak a little early with this and continue to play for at least another 25 minutes, repeating a number of similar tricks along the way. Had we not been pummelled into submission beforehand, the descent would have been a lot more fun, but as it happens the performance feels just slightly too long. Nevertheless, as the orchestra dies back down to the merest sizzle, and then to silence, the players are met with rapturous applause. The audience unpin themselves from their seats for a standing ovation as the players leave the stage. The lady with the bag of nuts left some time ago.

Overall it's an impressive, bombastic performance. Maybe not quite the uniquely moving experience it could have been due in part to the length of the show and its similarity in some senses to the Boadrum concerts that came before, which also featured multiple drummers. All told, this was a happening like no other. Sheer volume, sheer adrenaline and possibly the closest Boredoms have ever come to achieving their manifesto of a pure noise nirvana.