Battles @ The Astoria, 14/05/08

Battles

Despite having spent my afternoon watching the band soundcheck, and talking with them about their music, it’s still an odd sight to behold; such binary, mechanical, utterly alien music, being played by actual people. And there’s no Kraftwerk-style gimmicks here, no neon jumpsuits or laptops on podiums, to disguise the humanity. It’s just four very fucking accomplished guys, doing what they do best.

Dave Konopka, alone on the stage, looks utterly ant-like surrounded by the masses of synths, sequencers and cables that occupy the stage around him as he begins the bass line to what will become ‘Race In’. He’s soon joined by the rest of the band, and the beast of a figure that is Dave Staniard thrashes at the drums with a controlled fury, ridiculous stop-start rhythm changes making it impossible to dance, nod or even to tap your feet without getting tangled up.

And whilst the crowd are tying themselves in knots trying to keep up with the music, on stage Battles are doing exactly as Ian promised us earlier; fucking it sideways and upside down. ‘Tonto’ seems to have even more rhythm changes than the record does, and you can feel your heart slow as it lurches to a near-standstill, waiting for it to do an about-turn back into a steady climb.

The biggest roar from the crowd is inevitably for the familiar driving scheffel beat of ‘Atlas’, reserved as much for the welcome respite from the futile efforts to dance to Battles’ ever-morphing rhythms as it is a celebratory cheer for a song that has become (perhaps to their chagrin) the soundtrack to the band’s success. Despite its insistent, repetitive stomp, it’s by no means a straightforward song, and for a band to have some two-thousand people dancing maniacally to a song that clocks in at seven minutes long is no mean feat. But then Battles are hardly an ordinary band.

It’s hard, too, not to find yourself zoning in on individual parts of the set; whether it’s the ferocious drumming of Staniard, or the delicate rhythmic tapping of Ty, or the looping, robotic-sounding synths, you find your mind wandering into separate parts, pull yourself out it to listen to the whole song, only to find yourself sinking into some other intricate part. That’s by no mean a bad thing, and perhaps is the effect that Ty would want us to have. It is, as he says, a ‘war’ between each person’s part, and perhaps that is the ultimate collaboration.

Words: Chris Bell
Photography: Warp Records

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