Words: Sachin Turakhia | Photo: Alex Waespi
The joy of going to see a black midi show is you never know exactly what you’re going to see. Will it be a version of 20th Century Fox fanfare? Will the band be dressed in chef whites? Will we be treated to a full country set? The band will always keep you guessing as to which personas will be playfully adopted that evening. Tonight they’re playing a special late-night show, as part of Pitchfork Music Festival London in collaboration with EFG London Jazz Festival, which added anticipation to this beautiful uncertainty.
Experimental poet Moor Mother – acting as tonight’s support – sets the tone early, bringing dissonance to the pristine lobby of The Queen Elizabeth Hall. The mixture of jazz beats and enormous basslines had the effect of crushing the audience into giving them its undivided attention. Most notably when Moor Mother barked, “This is where we listen to music, in the plague, in Queen Victoria’s fucking mansion. This is where we look nice, with our fancy fucking faces.” If some of the audience hadn’t heard of Moor Mother before the show, they will most certainly never forget them now.
By the time black midi arrive on stage – introduced by their travelling boxing announcer as the “Undefeated heavyweight champions of the world, black hellfire midiiii” – the anticipation is at fever pitch. This boils over immediately as first notes of 953, the opener of the Mercury nominated debut album Schlangheim, thunder around the room. The barriers between the stage feel this energy, buckling almost instantaneously – providing the answer to which type of black midi we will see tonight: the chaos inducers.
After 953, bassist Cameron Picton had to tell the crowd to be careful of the barrier, but he was clearly thrown out of his comfort zone in doing so. The band looked completely oblivious to his struggles as they effortlessly jam, playing music with such ease. They gave off the impression that displaying mastery of your instruments is as easy as breathing. This opening sequence is a prime example of what makes black midi so well-liked. They mix a playful sense of humour and an unrivalled mastery of their instruments with an air of awkwardness. It’s endearing and awe-inspiring at the same time.
This musical prowess is maintained and demonstrated throughout the show from the whole band, notably bolstered by Seth Evans on synth and Kaidi Akinnibi on sax. Special mention must be reserved however, for drummer Morgan Simpson. In Morgan, black midi have, quite simply, the best drummer on the current circuit. He is a force of nature and unrelenting all night. From this point onwards, the set is a frenzy, leaving the crowd sweaty, euphoric and satisfied. Tracks from both of their albums mix together with a couple of new songs that were showcased – spoiler alert, the new tunes are excellent. The only slight personal let down was the lack of a tender moment in the show. The gorgeous ballad of Marelene Dietrich for example, one of the standout tracks from their second album Cavalcade, could have added an extra dimension to the evening. Tonight though, black hellfire midi were chaos inducers and chaos did they unfurl.