This Battles article was written by Sam Forsdick, a GIGsoup contributor. Edited by Gavin Wells. Footer photo by Grant Cornett
The stage floor of Manchester Academy 2 was a maze of wires and electronics; an array of Guitar peddles littered the floor whilst Keyboard, Synth and Drum kit – including a ridiculously high crash cymbal– completed the setup. The venue had been transformed into a sort of musical laboratory, primed for the imminent appearance of experimental Math-Rock trio Battles.
To begin with the stooped figure of Bassist Dave Konopka was all that featured on the low lit stage as he tweaked the effects pedals beneath him, twisting and contorting the sound of his Guitar. Ian Williams, was next to enter the stage, Guitar in hand, and began a kind of call and response with Konopka until suddenly it morphed into the stuttering opening of ‘Dot Net’. Drummer, John Stanier, was the last band member to appear from backstage, taking his place front and centre before savagely beating at the Drum kit that sat before him. Stanier’s tireless work on the Drum kit, regularly craning to reach the 7 foot high crash cymbal, provided an energy and drama to the performance which could easily have been missing with the lack of a front man.
It was a fantastic opener that perfectly demonstrated the art of repetition that the band are renowned for. The rhythm of each song comes from the looped refrains which are gradually built upon and layered until a recognisable song or sound emerges from the experimental ether. It was fascinating to see each song evolve onstage as more Guitar loops and layers were added to the melting pot.
Stanier has commented that this method of playing allows him to be more inventive and melodic as an artist and it truly seemed that the Drums were the focal point of the set during their live performance. Whilst drummers are normally relegated to the back of the stage, required merely to keep time, here it was the centrepiece.
Battles moved swiftly and effortlessly from one track to the next, this time moving to hits from their second album ‘Gloss Drop’. The spiky and angular chords of ‘Futura’ were met with a warm reception from the audience before the band transitioned into stand-out single ‘Ice Cream’. Surprisingly the opening chords sounded fierce and disjointed live with Ian Williams – wielding his guitar like a gun – striking every string with a ferocity that pushed them to breaking point. The smoother sound of the bouncy Synth gradually took over and the song came into full swing making everyone dance along.
Battles then returned to the tracks from their brilliant recent album ‘La Di Da Di’ tearing through ‘FF Bada’ and ‘Summer Simmer’ before bringing out the sleigh bells for an extended rendition of ‘Tyne Wear’. Then as the primal drumming and warped vocals of ‘Atlas’ came blaring through the sound system the crowd began bobbing in unison.
As ‘Atlas’ was slowly building towards its second peak a pint glass could be seen hurtling through the air before spilling all over their carefully arranged electronics. As Bassist and Drummer continued unawares, both completely absorbed in the music, Williams picked up the microphone calling for an end to the song. He then proceeded to berate the person who had unintentionally and single-handedly ruined many people’s favourite Battles track. What should have been a highlight of the show became a somewhat embarrassing moment as Konopka went into great detail expressing his anger towards the pint thrower.
Fortunately the band were able to bring themselves back together for their final song ‘The Yaba’, one of the biggest hits from ‘La Di Da Di’. Unfortunately by this point the show had lost all momentum and the set ended with a fizzle rather than a bang. Although people eagerly cheered for an encore it was clear the trio were not happy with the over exuberant crowd member and the venues lights came on bringing, what had been a fantastic evening of musical experimentation, to an abrupt end.