Birthdays; London, UK

Sometimes the UK (and even London) is a dull place, you know: too polite, genteel, and utilitarian for its own good. That’s why — after being kidnapped in the middle of an intense weather-discussing session and dumped at the front door of Birthdays in Hackney — I groggily jumped at the chance of seeing clipping., who, if nothing else, might inspire a little gratitude for the generally stupefying quiet of English life.

Helping them in their bid to splinter eardrums and corrupt the usually sexless British march toward death was MXLX, also known as Matt Williams from Beak>. Before his set Williams could be seen pacing in and out of the room/hall/moshpit/basement, a bottle of sociability in his hand. Maybe he was nervous, but once he hit the stage and unleashed his churning oscillations of Merzbow-esque digital fuzz, any suspicions that he might’ve been uptight or anxious were eviscerated. Familiar only with his excellent Black Meta album, I couldn’t tell whether he played one continuous 25-minute noise/drone piece, or strung several of his vaguely misanthropic-cum-self-loathing trips together. Either way, his waves of static all-but solidified the air, its thickening mass cut only by his own full-throated shouts and chants. Near the end, the bulging torrent of low-end gave way to a manipulated whirl of screeching high-end, which may’ve been the sound of Lucifer’s cat being sucked into space. Regardless, I took the slightly unsure applause of the crowd as a sign that his performance was impeccably caustic.

As for clipping., I was curious as to how their mixture of oblique textural beats and headlong rhymes would translate in the live setting. I was also curious as to whether they’d provide ammunition for those semi-regular (and unfair) Death Grips comparisons by being antisocially aloof during their 45 minutes, since their music is pretty antagonistic in its own right. But no, Daveed Diggs was as clubby and talkative as you like, kicking off the proceedings with a version of “Intro” that — rather than beginning at full speed — gradually accumulated its dizzy momentum on the way to those “Come get it” explosions. From there they played a queue of tracks taken from Midcity and the earlier singles, including a run through “Guns Up” that had the crowd throwing into the air the closest things they had to guns, which in England is their hands. They also played “Or Die,” “Chain,” and “Jump” — three new tracks that would suggest their future direction is one that emphasizes Midcity’s nascent contrast between abrasive dissonance and more accessible hooks/choruses. The only negative point for me was that such abrasion could’ve been a little louder, simply because without the excesses of volume some of the agitated energy of their material didn’t always reveal itself.

There was probably a reason for this curbing of decibels, however, which is that it was intended to bring out Diggs’ gymnastic flow. When he reached his peaks of tempo and propulsion during the culmination of “Story” (and the above-mentioned “Guns Up”), his rhymes became a kind of runaway train that threatened to charge ahead of itself, and that whipped sections of the London crowd into volleys of unrepentant headbanging. When they finished with their debut single “Face,” this train almost took off, and for that final song the moshpit turned into a miniature dance floor, largely thanks to the small (but no less enthusiastic) number of girls in attendance. Possibly enticed by their nubile limbs, Diggs’ launched a second tour through the crowd that evening, which is pretty much where he stayed once the virtually unbroken focus of Jonathan Snipes and Williams Hutson brought the night to a close.

[Photo: Herman von Matterhorn]

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