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In Review: black midi at Leeds Irish Centre

Even before black midi set foot in Leeds, their popularity with the musically experimental crowd here was apparent. Though only forming as a group three years ago, their rapid rise to popularity was reflected in their gig’s immediate ticket sell-out at local music spot, Brudenell Social Club. Moved to the higher capacity Leeds Irish Centre, the crowd was far from a certain demographic as people of all ages surged into the venue on Wednesday night.

Warming up the crowd was support act Ill Japonia, the solo project of psychedelic band BO NINGEN’s Taigen Kawabe. A lone figure onstage, his shouts and cries pierced the underlying trap beats, vocalising arrhythmically in both English and Japanese. At times this seemed poetic, yet occasionally verged more into the entertaining fashion of rap - one of his more honest and personal comments centred around his ‘disappointment in indie music’ upon arriving in England. Appearing at odds with the underlying bouncy trap beats that spilled from the speakers, this gave Ill Japonia's performance an ethereally strange air.

The venue’s choice of music in between sets was almost fever dream-like as haunting gospel music rang through the hall, swelling in volume and setting teeth on edge. Was this to cause anxious anticipation for the band’s arrival? It certainly seemed to work – the crowd shifting, unsettled, until at last the lights came back up.

Upon taking to the stage, the band members of black midi looked rather young and innocent. This appearance was slyly misleading. Opening with their very first track, the unreleased ‘John L’, the harsh cacophonous rumblings of their music quickly set the tone of the evening. Rhythmic guitar cut itself short in the hollowly resounding math-rock tune ‘953’, with enthrallingly aggressive riffs cascading in waves that barely gave the crowd time to breathe, though this didn’t seem to stop gig-goers from moshing frantically in the breakdown sections.

For many black midi fans, the band’s rare live performances are so appealing because of their striking differences to recorded material. The main difference on this occasion was the absence of guitarist Matt Kwasniewski-Kelvin, though the set was not empty without him. Amongst the riffs and drumbeats, an impressive saxophonist took his place, filling in guitar riffs with amplified blaring wails. With the addition of keys to this live performance, the sound of black midi evolved on stage as a result.

Not much for conversation between tracks, black midi preferred to slide from one raw track to the next with little pause. The misleading softness of track ‘Speedway’, with its minimalist lyrics monotonously delivered by vocalist and bassist Cameron Picton, was almost like slam poetry in its observational tone atop gratingly repetitive guitar and the complex spluttering drumming of Morgan Simpson.

Throughout their set, the band refused to stick to fan favourites, interspersing songs with minutes of pure jamming material alongside new tracks such as ‘Nylon’ and ‘Chondro’, blending odd and disturbing lyrics with the jarring vocal delivery style of Geordie Greep (who at times sounded like Kermit with a bad cold, at other times like a nasally preacher). They didn’t play arguably their most well-known track ‘bmbmbm’. The message was clear – black midi do what they want, when they want.

Despite declining to do a proper encore, in their own stoic style some of the band members reappeared for an odd yet endearing rendition of ‘Bad Guys’ from Bugsy Malone. A cheerful send-off that left the crowd laughing as they departed, an entirely different mood from the desperate surges of moshing and dancing during their set.

Photography by @kkelsraynor

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