This might be the opening night of the Proms, but there isn’t a Union Jack, a gang of excitable pensioners or a bassoon in sight. No one asks for Rule Britannia, and they wouldn’t get it even if they did. The BBC Electric Proms are a variation on the theme. A collection of performances over a set period of time, but instead of subject matter spanning hundreds of years, artists who represent the here and now, with a few old hands on board for good measure.
It may not be a comparison that instantly springs to mind, but New York’s Battles have a lot in common with the usual sonic output of Prom season. Lazy writers will lump their music in the same pile as math rock, formulaic combinations of the usual band instruments. But there is a deeper, darker energy here. Similar to fellow New Yorkers Black Dice, Battles combine samples, effects and pulsating drumming to form the musical equivalent of a static energy ball. Rhythm and sound shoot off in every direction, starting off fairly abstract then fusing together into the kind of urgent, attention-grabbing noise which you can’t ignore.
Race In careers around KOKO, building on its initial sampled layers by tight, controlled drums. Atlas, despite the helium sounding vocals, has a guitar line out of glam-rock and a foot-stomping percussion to hold it up. It sounds like the soundtrack to the most warped cartoon you ever saw. This is clever music, not the easiest to take at face value and enjoy, music which requires an eager ear and persistence to unwrap its multitude of layers. But if you do, its anarchy and organized chaos will tug you in and shake you up at will.
Tonight, however, belongs to Editors. Whilst their support act are genius in their own under the radar way, Editors are like a battleship breezing its way through the choppy musical currents in Camden tonight. Put, simply: they sound huge. Stadium, festival, huge. Long touted as the missing link between Joy Division and U2, tonight, in a smaller venue than they have become accustomed to and with the backing of a four piece string section, if anything they sound confined. It’s almost as if the sheer volume and grandeur of their tracks is threatening to break through the rafters.
The evidence of this is two albums which sweep effortlessly from bleak, yet musically upbeat indie pop to enormous room-filling ballads without missing a step. Tonight’s show is delivered in much the same way. High-energy singles such as Blood or Munich carry a nervous energy, front man Tom Smith spitting vitriol and tenderness equally in perfect baritone. At these moments, or during any of the more upbeat tracks, the string section are more or less obsolete, drowned out by the lead guitar and vocals, but it’s irrelevant anyway: Smith is a camper Ian Curtis with a better voice and the rest of the band feed off his quirks and jerks to deliver more than a few spine-tingling moments.
Likewise, when they calm things down, Editors are equally captivating. Again, Smith is the lynchpin. Hunched over a piano like Chris Martin’s gloomier twin, he first admits to being terrified, then plays a perfect rendition of Well Worn Hand, the string quartet finally finding its place in tonight’s performance. The Weight Of The World, again with strings resplendent is as haunting as it is atmospheric, you can’t help feeling that a vast swath of lighters in the air would be far more appropriate than a few mobile phones at the front of the audience.
The encore includes a frankly magnificent double header of The Racing Rats and Smokers Outside The Hospital Doors. Smith is almost maniacal, climbing on the drum-kit, mounting the piano and approaching each syllable like he wants every person in every corner of the venue to hear. The strings ebb and flow, again drowned out by electric instruments, but still performing the almost impossible task of making Editors sound bigger, grander and more important.
The ease with which they pull it off is impressive, the performance more so. Editors are at a point where they have the luxury of both a honed, dynamic and at times scarily good live show, backed up by a consistently impressive recorded output. This may have been a Prom with only a quartet to its name, but it clearly had the grandeur, power and performance to rival anything produced in the Albert Hall recently.