Live Music Reviews

Bleep 10: Fuck Buttons, Mount Kimbie, Fennesz @ Barbican, London

25 April 2014


Fuck ButtonsIt is mildly ludicrous that a band with such an uninvitingly crude moniker as ‘Fuck Buttons’ can be playing the high cultural temple of the Barbican. As a refined space and home to the London Symphony Orchestra it may seem like a slightly incongruous venue for the racket that the band love to create. And conversely, it’s probably the only time you will be able to buy a tub of luxury-brand ice cream at an intermission at a Fuck Buttons gig. Nevertheless, the odd couple hit it off.

The evening marks the 10th anniversary of independent online electronic music peddler Bleep, and is part of the eclectic debut Convergence Festival programme of music+tech events. It opens with the polite salutation of “Thanks for coming down early” from Dominic Maker, one half of Peckham-based electro duo Mount Kimbie. They make for a welcome support act and impress with their bass-heavy take on dubstep – but it’s a shame that their set is distracted and slightly marred by people arriving late to find their seats. That said, the addition of saxophonist Andrew McDonnell and trombonist Sam Ricketts on stage add some needed organic flesh to their icy sound.

Before I Move Off from 2010 album Crooks And Lovers and Made To Stray from last year’s Warp-released album Cold Spring Fault Less Youth are the highlights of their set. However, the rustling from the strange tarpaulin-cum-glitter-ball they’ve deployed does tend to detract from the music in its quieter moments. They exit to polite applause from a crowd which is perhaps a wee bit older than they’re used to.

After the aforementioned ice-creams and a 30-minute breather, Bristol’s Fuck Buttons take to the stage rather unceremoniously with just a quick wave to the crowd before launching into Brainfreeze, the opener from last year’s superb album Slow Focus.

But what’s this? In the tidy temple of high art – could it be littering? A piece of paper has been left on everyone’s seat declaring, nay demanding, that tonight ‘promises to be a larger than life multisensory experience, a visual spectacle befitting the towering scale of Fuck Buttons’ music’. It’s a bombastic claim from the bum-warming papyrus, but it’s also possibly a bit too hopeful. While the visuals are at times indeed spectacular on the massive screen behind Andrew Hung and Benjamin John Power, it doesn’t quite live up to the hyperbolic billing. The distorted graphic projections of the band performing are displayed in giant size, continuously shifting and changing to create trippy visuals recalling Animal Collective’s video for My Girls.

As the punishing Sentients blends seamlessly into the next tune – like the rest of their set – Red Wing, listeners are treated to a disturbing blend of lizards and snakes in the shape of the band, set to a backdrop of semi-naked dancing women on the screen. If you’d chosen your drugs poorly tonight, you’d have surely been on a crash course for a twisted trip.

While the duo lean heavily on tunes from Slow Focus for the bulk of the set, it’s old favourite Surf Solar from 2009 album Tarot Sport which coaxes a good majority of the seated crowd to their feet to show their love. That said, the contrast between the static seating and the abrasive, monolithic sounds the group create is a problem. Fine if you want to sit back and soak up a symphony or even a wall of My Bloody Valentine sound, but it’s obvious most of the crowd want to DANCE.

As for what the guys are actually doing to create their juggernaut of sound it’s impossible to tell. Hunched over a table covered with indecipherable gadgetry they stab and prod, occasionally scream into a microphone and even thrash a lone tomtom drum for one song. And for a band whose name sounds like they should be a hardcore punk band from the ’80s, Fuck Buttons live up to their awkward moniker, all while channelling a punkier version of Daft Punk.

No sooner than the echo of their last electronic mauling had subsided in the hall than another began outside in the foyer, this time from Austrian minimalist noisenik Christian Fennesz. Armed with an electric guitar, laptop and gadgets, he showed off a few tracks from Bécs, his first Editions Mego album since 2001’s Endless Summer. Weighing in at a tidy 50 minutes, it was a fantastic chance to see him play the guitar, which he duly did in hammering, shuddering convulsions to coax feedback and gain from the instrument, especially on the stand-out track of Liminality. Teaming up with Berlin video artist Lillevan, he matched the twisting and arcing barrage of sound with the visual theme of the night – snakes. Or at least, what very much looked like snakeskins.

Whether you were just passing through to buy another beer from the bar or watching intently from the front, the glorious noise filled the cavernous halls of the Barbican with its iridescent weirdness, making it a fitting finale to a night of sonic tomfoolery that even the London Symphony Orchestra would surely have enjoyed.


buy Fuck Buttons MP3s or CDs
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More on Fuck Buttons
Bleep 10: Fuck Buttons, Mount Kimbie, Fennesz @ Barbican, London
London Gigs Diary: 3-9 February 2014
musicOMH’s Top 100 Albums Of 2013: 50-6
Fuck Buttons – Slow Focus
Fuck Buttons – The Red Wing


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