Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Marijuana Deathsquads at Our Black Heart, 11th February 2014

Marijuana Deathsquads make one hell of a racket.  Well with a six-armed drummer furiously bashing away they would wouldn't they?  With their lead signer burbling a distorted electronic howl, people twiddling switches and dials, swaying back and forth in front of a pile of musical gadgets - they make a deafening, rhythmic jet plane boom.  I love it.

Marijuana Deathsquads first caught my eye due to their marvellously over the top name,and my curiosity was further aroused when a review of their album in the Guardian described their sound as "[a] genre-busting voyage that hurls in everything from dark psychedelic electronic drum'n'bass to pastoral progressive rock." So when I saw they were playing a gig in Camden I couldn't buy tickets fast enough.

Hailing from Minneapolis, the Deathsquads have a variable line-up consisting of (according to Wikipedia): Ryan Olson, Isaac Gale, Stef Alexander, Ben Ivascu, Mark McGee and Spyder Baybie Raw Dawg.  The venue upstairs in Our Black Heart doesn't have the biggest of stages and three drum kits occupy a whole bunch of space, so the band's equipment projects down into the crowd: a tangle of wires and flickering LEDs creating an environment that looks half like a music studio and half like an intensive care ward.  There are eight people on stage, three drummers, one lead singer, three people on the equipment and one bearded guy standing in the corner singing into a microphone to little effect.

The night is barely managed chaos, the songs melting into one another with few moments for us to applaud or even gasp for breath.  Anchoring the whole affair is an outstanding drum section.  Any single one of them would suffice for a decent band, but the three of them playing at once creates a constant rumble of cymbals and snares - it's like being trapped inside a piece of industrial machinery, the kind of impossibly complex clattering beat that you'd usually expect to hear in a Squarepusher or Aphex Twin track.  As the three play on, scarcely stopping for a break they begin to get covered in sweat.  I watch with sick fascination as the sweat patches grow on the drummer's chest, eventually meeting up in the middle in a kind of damp, sticky Rorschach pattern.  

Down the front of the stage, bouncing into the crowd is lead singer Isaac Gale. Maybe this is a stage name, maybe not - either way 'Gale' is extremely appropriate.  His voice, mangled through a vocoder, comes out as a strangled digital howl - like a robot undergoing surgery without anaesthetic.  What he sings isn't so important, and at any rate picking out particular lyrics from this sea of garbled fury is a fool's errand.  What we do hear is rather morbid; "We know how this ends / We're all gonna die in the ocean / Amid a boiling sea / Under a violet sky / We'll sit and watch the waves / Crash into the burning mountain/ On an endless beach".

Clutching the mic with white knuckles, a thousand yard stare plastered over his sweaty mug, Gale looks like some old-time doomsday preacher.  As the beat kicks in once more he begins to thrash his head around maniacally, giving those of us in the front row a spattering of perspiration.  This is a gross, fucked up baptism, but a baptism nonetheless.  By the time it's all over you've been whacked so hard there's cartoon birds fluttering around your head, your eardrums bludgeoned by a sonic blitzkrieg.

Fun though this all was - there were a few peculiarities that I never quite figured out. Opposite Gale was a guy fiddling with a Macbook and singing into a microphone to no obvious effect.  Maybe he's the only one that knows how to work the sequencer, but is a crap singer, so they give him a disconnected microphone. Maybe there was a technical glitch.  Either way he cut a lonely figure, singing a song to nobody in particular.

Aside from the insistent pulse of the drumming it's difficult to tell exactly what each member of the band is contributing to this cacophony - but the combined result is aggressive, furious and yet strangely danceable.  There's a hint of the distorted punkiness of Atari Teenage Riot here, but combined with  some of the dance poppiness of LCD Soundsystem.  It's a lethal combination, music that both blows your mind and shakes your ass.

My only real disappointment was that there wasn't enough room for an elaborate stage show, Our Black Heart is a touch too small for a band with this many members.  The night before they'd played a church in Brighton and I can only imagine how much better the show wouldve been if the band had had a little more space in which to move around in.  They're on at the Troxy tonight, and I found myself wishing I'd booked that night instead.  That aside, Marijuana Deathsquads more than lived up to my expectations. I only hope I never stop enjoying bouncing like a pinball around a claustrophobic venue to bugfuck mental music.  

(One more thing, while the tickets were a bargain at a couple of quid each, two pints (served by a pretty rude bartender) coming to more than £12 really isn't on, London prices or no London prices.)

Marijuana Deathsquads are supporting Polica at the Troxy tonight: tickets here.

Edit: I have since been informed that the guy speaking into the microphone was coordinating the three drummers.  Which makes sense.

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