Black Midi, 404 at The White Hotel, Salford (22/10/19) – Live Review

The White Hotel is a nightclub in Salford, though it looks the furthest thing from one. The exterior is an aged, discoloured concrete building. The wire mesh fencing is unwelcoming, and in the foyer there is a disused toilet filled with beer bottles. If anything it looks more like an abandoned garage. Once inside, a garage door is lifted and part of the crowd stand watching from the foyer. The rest are crammed into the small space of the interior. It is intimate and enclosed. A projector is playing a strange film in the tiny space behind the stage. Is it Monty Python? I’m trying to work out as a nun runs across a field with a cross.  

Enter ‘404’: an experimental hip hop outfit. Following their support slot I’m battling out if they sound like Death Grips, Beastie Boys, Rage Against The Machine , or all three in a concoction. Congested with 808 drums, haunting synths and shouted lyrics the crowd are absorbed. They occasionally move their heads to the sound of the electronic drum kit. The lyrics are socially aware, and the shouted vocals are filled with vexation. Here I thank the venue for providing homemade pop filters for the microphones.

One of the singers picks on me. He puts his face in mine early on in the gig. With no barrier he can afford to haunt me with his sardonic smile. Five seconds later he moves on.  They perform a track about the British Transport Police, and their motto ‘See It. Say It. Sorted’. It’s a bit of an earworm. The group shout “See it, say it, sorted. Call up, report it. You must be cautious because this world is sordid”. There is a real old school hip hop sound to their lyrics, while a hardcore, punky, sinister one in their delivery. At the same time in moments it is straight up rap. One of the vocalists at one point raps faster than Eminem on his infamous ‘Rap God’. The talent here is undeniable.

The band get their exercise spiralling around the crowd, or shouting at members of the audience to come closer. No wonder they keep positioning cold beer bottles to their cheeks, something i’ll start doing in the hotter months of the year. One member of the group is good at mime. He moves slowly as a strobe light focuses on him. My mind is tricked into believing I’m watching a clip in VR played in slow motion. As they leave the stage i’m definitely intrigued to listen to more of the groups material. I’m surprised to find they are signed to Dirty Hit (Wolf Alice, The 1975 ect). Nice diversity and a good first impression.

Black Midi arrive shortly, cutting the waiting game. They get noisier, and more confident every time I see them. They open up sounding like a no wave band rejecting society. Greep has a slider in one hand against the neck of the guitar, his other with a flashlight by the pickup. I can’t work out what he was doing. I know it sounded brilliant if that’s any consolation. Kelvin follows suit and the sound textures between them are cacophonous in the best way possible. Simpson and Picton join and an insane jam is formed. Eventually this is transitioned into ‘Of Schlagenheim’

In more recent sets there is a new direction for the band. A lot of it is based around Pictons synthesiser use. This makes the electronic element of their music more profound, yet it still keeps an analogue sound. The sounds presented are luscious and full of warmth. After praising them for a 40 minute jam at Warehouse Project they bring yet more new sounds to the table. At many points they sound like the rhythm sections from Miles Davis ‘On The Corner‘ album. I’d put money on the influence, and am more than happy with it. Some jams are repeated from previous shows, and evidently the building blocks for ambitious new material.

They play a mostly gapless set playing track after track with lengthy new jams. One thing I love about this band is one song never sounds the same played live. Greep and Kelvin uncoil guitar leads like they’re american cowboys lashing their whips, Morgan batters his drums as per usual, this time to the point where he can’t even sit down. He’s self consciously raising himself from his seat. I’ve never seen him this wild, and that is a statement. He has a neck chain in his mouth to stop it from battering on his chest. Picton is running from bass to keys multi tasking incredibly.

As the band play ‘Ducter’ he delivers a synth solo that changes the key, and mood completely. The sound he gets is very similar to ‘Welcome To The Machine’ by Pink Floyd, and somehow the band transition this back into ‘Ducter’. At another moment (i’ve forgotten which song sorry) he plays what sounds like a moog, not unlike the sound Stevie Wonder has on ‘Superstition’. Lovely. To my pleasure the sound of this venue is amazing, unlike previous occasions seeing the group. Maybe this is the reason their enthusiasm is tripled. What i find interesting is the band substitute certain songs (‘Western’, ‘Talking Heads’ and ‘Crows Perch’) to make room for these jams. 

The crowd (at their shows) also gets wilder. They chant lyrics at the band between extreme mosh pits. The photographer next to me almost lost his camera a few times as we both fell flat into the stage. I can confirm that when this group play academy shows, ‘Near DT, MI’ will start a few fights, and security will struggle to break them up. A guy crowd surfs kicking me in the head as he comes down behind me. Maybe he thought he’d be kicked out if he hit the stage? Someone throws a beer bottle. In a mosh pit the shards of glass went through my shoe causing my foot to start bleeding. If the group weren’t good i’d be peeved off.

As the group play ‘BmBmBm’ they merge the song with the Friends theme tune. It makes me laugh how on recent performances they always finds a song to mix ‘BmBmBm’ with. At Pitchfork festival it was ‘Champagne Supernova’, and now this. The brilliant and original Nikki Graham pickup sample remains.

As the band close their set with the lengthy version of ‘Ducter’, the audience chant for an encore. Greep is the only member left on stage by the final minute. The act is more staged than usual.

Upon Leaving the venue a guy steals Morgans sweat drenched towel. He buries his face  taking the sweat in. Something I find very comical. As usual Black Midi are on fire. See this group intimately while you can. I implore you.