The Tinnitus Series at Bushwick’s grand but raw venue, The Wick, is maybe the most exciting recurring concert event in Brooklyn right now. Presented by Blackened Music and Pitchfork’s metal and noise column, Show No Mercy, its shows have so far provided a big-crowd platform for experimental music, rivaling MoMa PS1’s Summer Warm Up shows and Red Bull Music Academy’s large-scale events. The two previous Tinnitus nights have been strong. Ben Frost brought epic Viking drama to his installment. Tim Hecker had punishing levels of volume that made one fear the return of the Elder Gods. But last night’s performances by US producer Container and UK artist Vessel were more impressive and joyous. They both braided pure noise into dance-music thump, finding the exact moment where pain turns into pleasure then seeing how far that might stretch.
The night started with solo guitarist Sarah Lipstate, who released her latest Noveller record Fantastic Planet this January. Lipstate leaned into her light and expressive strumming, much less beat-driven than the acts who would follow. She layered treated guitar tones over pre-recorded elements. Occasionally she swiped at her strings with a violin bow to get specific sustained drones. Her music veered into shoegaze, a pedal’s crunch giving quick cathartic hits. But she seemed less interested in using rock n’ roll structure than in highlighting the wayward flutter of amp distortion in air. It was almost always chill and pretty, moving consistently if gently forward at its own loping pace.
Ren Schofield pretended to be chill for 30 seconds or so before dropping the first megaton beat of his Container set. Following the warm breeze of Noveller it was a thrilling shock, back-footing the speaker adjacent and producing the sort of giggles that ripple through a movie crowd just after a monster’s sudden jump into frame.
Schofield is a normal-looking, check-shirt and jeans dude from Providence who places shards of industrial noise in loops and patterns demanding reactive motion. Five songs of Adhesive, an EP released on Mute Records’ imprint Liberation Technologies, were enough to make it one of our Best Records of 2014. Live, he surpassed that stuff, kicking ass relentlessly and with an almost casual air. There was an abruptness to his early transitions, building up steam just to drop off a cliff. As it progressed, those blunt cuts got smoother. He didn’t stop using screaming snippets, but his ugly tones got weirdly groovy in extended repetition. His beats were, to use a thoroughly fossilized term, block-rockin’. The cavernous, not-quite-full room was just a slight drag, holding the show back from reaching full-froth. The pockets of the crowd that did dance were semi-manical. Schofield would break from his own cool stage demeanor now and again, head-bang for a minute or two, before backing off to sip a beer, right to seem satisfied.
Vessel‘s Sebastian Gainsborough set up on the floor. From the back it first appeared like a performance art goof, squiggling waves conjured by an empty stage. The only way to get a glimpse at the tangle of wires and multi-knobbed boxes making those sounds was to nestle in good and tight, shoulder-to-shoulder in front of the speakers. It was a simple, but super effective way to elevate dial-tweaking into a rock-star performance. It forced an intimacy that the otherwise awesome Container set lacked. Leaning in to witness Gainsborough’s physicality, to see him furiously punching distortion pedals after ripping off his shirt in a fit of hysteria, was to kill the cliched complaint that electronic performances are somehow definitively inert. Reaching Aphex-Twin levels of grind-fuckery with sweat-slicked effort is a vast chasm away from lackadaisical laptop clicking. Vessel’s great 2014 record, Punish, Honey, had its own wild intensity, but didn’t really suggest the pure hedonistic release of his live show. He screamed into the air, that sound eaten up by his music’s volume.
A celebrity sighting can be a crummy, irrelevant thing to use to validate a performance. But there was a certain undeniable thrill in watching Björk, unmissable at the right-front edge of the gear table, responding with total glee. An icon of 90s alt-culture at a moment of redoubled relevancy just totally losing it to your unkempt, vibrant sounds is an endorsement that feels legit.