Corsica Studios | October 13th
For good reason, Blackest Ever Black’s de facto showcase at Corsica Studios was one of the most heavily anticipated nights to hit London in months. Kiran Sande’s label has been responsible for some of the best of a not insubstantial crop of challengingly shadowy audio murk, a fact explicitly reflected in a bill which skipped eclectically through noise, drone, abstracted post-punk, grinding industrial techno, and experimental soundscaping.
The sheer scale of names drafted in was eye-opening, and a line-up which would have been notably strong even without William Bennett’s Cut Hands project, Russell Haswell, and Dominick Fernow’s first appearance on these shores in his Vatican Shadow guise, was made basically faultless. Expectations were high. Despite the diversity in the inclusion of grime progenitor Slimzee (a no-show eventually replaced by Regis, already present due to Karl O’Connor’s inaugural performance with Haswell as Concrete Fence) and a DJ set from jungle maven Jim Baker of Source Direct, BEB ostensibly remained an evening highlighting the ever more populist convergence of noise and techno into a coruscating, satisfyingly dancefloor-friendly mix.
After what seems like an unfortunate tech failure for late additions Raime (although perhaps we gave up waiting too soon) we skipped to Room 2 to catch former Wire stalwart and J Mascis lookalike Bruce Gilbert in his current position as a sonic-soundscaper, here under the DJ Beekeeper name. Initially resembling a faintly tribal take on a retro dub-techno template, Gilbert’s remit switches to an ever more meditative noise bent, incorporating Kevin Drumm-esque industrial scapes and scooped droning synth planes.
Less impressive was Stuart Argabright’s – he of No Wave/post-punk greats Ike Yard – solo appearance as Black Rain, providing some fairly listless, cyberpunk-leaning dystopian techno, which is perhaps less engrossing than that description sounds.
A quick trawl of the venue and a brief respite from the absolutely punishing walls of noise emanating from the soundsystem in the Studio’s main room was followed by a too-short glimpse of the aforementioned Haswell/O’Connor collaboration Concrete Fence (reassuringly abrasive from what we heard, and, if the initial sketches mix released last week by Haswell as a precursor was accurate, inevitably eclectic in full set form), before settling in for the live iteration of Cut Hands. Ornery noise antagonist William Bennett is on top form, and even without the thematic tropes which make Whitehouse such a bracing listen, his use of appropriated socio-cultural and colonialist visuals make for uncomfortable viewing. Sound-wise, ominous clattering segues into Bennett’s trademark polyrhythmic afro-noise via croaking, morphed vocal samples and percussive kicks, only holding up for a brief foray into a properly wince-inducing sine/static outage at the tail-end of the set.
Dominick Fernow clambers onstage clad in a questionable, but appropriate, desert-camo suit, lending an air of inadvertent ludicrousness to Vatican Shadow’s 3am set. A Very Serious Artist, Fernow’s past work has seen him take the position of veritable poster boy in the world of harsh noise with Prurient as well as a respected purveyor of punk-leaning black metal with Vegas Martyrs and Ash Pool. VC takes elements of static, rhythmic sound and 4/4 techno, but here aligns them with a paranoid middle-eastern military aesthetic. Sandwhipped kick drums and ridiculously loud, throbbing jackboot bass convene with processed yells, crackling radio static and walls of dissonant strings, creating a sound which is powerful, certainly, if not wholly satisfying. From a basic visceral standpoint, Fernow succeeds nicely: the intense volume, strobe lighting and banging repetitiveness of the compositions — which occasionally creep into something approaching audible clarity, though always pulled back quickly into the mire — are genuinely effective, in a punch-in-the-gut, quick-fix kind of way. But a sense of monotony eventually sets in, and it’s hard not to feel that the animated tape EQ-fiddling and stage prowling prove rather more dramatic than the sound he’s creating. Still, the set is a promising enough signifier of what Vatican Shadow is capable of with some dynamic growth, and Fernow is an appropriate figurehead for a night perfectly formed to propel us into the depths of winter. High praise.
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Words: Tom Howells