23 Wall St, New York
Tonight we have infiltrated. There is an infiltration afoot. Or maybe they know we are here. Maybe it’s a set up. Maybe they are happy we are here, or maybe it’s a concession. Money talks very loudly round here, but then so does music. Tonight’s music is very loud, very special and it’s a lot to take in.
23 Wall St is a deserted building that used to belong to the financial institution JP Morgan. The New York Stock Exchange sits opposite, with the digital display of the day’s closing trade figures scrolling past for the dedicated financier, or whatever you call them. As we stand in line for Tri Angle Records’ 5th birthday – a part of Red Bull Music Academy’s New York festival – it all feels a bit strange. But as we are ushered inside and take our place downstairs in the dark vault of the old bank complex, the picture becomes clearer. With financial institutions increasingly becoming figures of menace in our minds, hosting a label whose roster often channels a sense of dystopian dread in such a venue does, in fact, feel apt.
The venue is pure concrete – underground car park concrete. Grey, imposing and raw, the surrounding is complimented by the sound which is visceral and really, really fucking loud. The production level for what is essentially a pop-up venue is unbelievable. The stage screen LED projection is perfectly deployed to provide bursts of light within the darkness.
After Forest Swords finished his set, you could sense the air of excitement within the venue as one masked woman took her position behind the decks. Presumably after her work with Tri Angle affiliated artist and the next in line to perform, The Haxan Cloak, Björk’s invitation to perform at the event was met with softer ears than perhaps other requests of this nature have in the past. The set that unfolded included Tri Angle releases, Kate Bush, Cut Hands, Death Grips, Brandy and grime instrumentals that were often merged female vocals. And while the novelty of major stars DJing is sometimes slightly ruined by dubious technical ability, Björk’s set showcased her dexterity as well as her impeccable taste.
The two following performances were arguably the musical standouts. The sheer physicality of The Haxan Cloak’s live show jostles for position as one of the most engulfing live electronic acts on the planet. There were pockets of ambience, space exists between the industrial thudding, but The Haxan Cloak’s set climaxed with a pulverising, cathartic aural assault, and the sound system coped admirably.
Evian Christ’s position at this table of musical oddities felt like the most linear of all the artists performing, yet his position as a man capable of the most curious of genre mutations is becoming increasingly assured. The hugely impressive LED backdrop gave the party a rave-like mentality, but Christ’s variation was astounding. Trap beats, grime beats, hip-hop beats, broken beats, trancey overlays, confounding sonics and wild variation informed an exhilarating 45-minutes. Adequately conveying the kind of music Christ presents is a task, yet for a man whose regard has been noted at the highest level, that is hardly surprising.The night was rounded off by Vessel, whose exuberance had clearly reached fever pitch as he performed topless and suffered with a few difficulties that perhaps belied his enthusiasm at this point.
Summarising a night of such magnitude is tricky. Red Bull Music Academy have, once again, sourced a venue that is both unique and curious. The variation that can be roughly put under the banner of brooding and unsettling music is wild, and it sounds even more loaded with potential when it’s presented on the doorstep of the financial elite.