Review: Black Dice, Forum Theatre, Melbourne
Venue: Forum Theatre, Melbourne
Saturday 8 October
Early Black Dice gigs had a reputation for brevity and violence; these days, the violence is purely aural, yet the American noise-electronica band’s reputation is no less fearsome. MIAF’s official copy calls the Black Dice live experience “abrasive”, a “relentless audio-visual assault… that will splinter opinion and also, potentially, your eardrums”.
No wonder many in the audience tonight sported garish fluoro earplugs and expressions of vague apprehension. Your reviewer, not generally averse to noise, had nightmare visions of the crowd falling to their knees as one, hands clapped to bleeding ears, as the band, impassive sonic torturers, cranked the volume ever higher.
As a wise man with a clock slung around his neck once said, don’t believe the hype. Black Dice were loud, and yes, abrasive, but never less than enjoyable. Call me a masochist – carve it into my thigh with your thumbnail if you like – but there’s something to be said for sensory submission, and Black Dice are more than happy to make you their bitch.
Black Dice began as a post-hardcore band, and while their lineup and music has changed significantly in the intervening years, their approach retains a punkish simplicity. The band took the stage abruptly and launched their set without preamble. The three Black Dice occasionally nodded their heads and fiddled with banks of equipment, but otherwise affected a passive stage presence.
On record, Black Dice have been known to flirt with traditional song structures. Live, they play essentially one set-long song, in which a constantly morphing array of beats, bass grooves and snatches of melody coalesce and diverge, with incomprehensible vocal yelps and whines thrown in at seemingly random moments. The effect was punishing at times, but moments of pure noise were few. Much of the set was, dare I say, eminently danceable, in a fucked-up kind of way.
Throughout the show images were projected on a screen behind the band: a mixture of sliced-up found footage – my favourite was a much-repeated, truly incongruous snippet showing a ’70s beach babe skiiing on a dolphin – and bitmap psychedelia. Like the beats and bass lines, the images were in a constant state of deconstruction, and the effect was hypnotic.
The threatened “audio-visual assault” may not have eventuated, but there’s no denying Black Dice’s power and ingenuity. They even inspired love: one couple, seated towards the back, spent almost the entire show locked in a lustful embrace. Clearly, one person’s industrial noise-slurry is another person’s make-out soundtrack.
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