Published Jul 10, 2019What are Black Midi? Post-punk, noise rock, funk? Another over-hyped UK buzz band? A mirror for our collective anxiety?
They are all this and more. A quartet of friends who met at a famous London arts school, the group made a name for themselves in the same South London scene that's produced Shame and Fat White Family. Their music sounds utterly familiar, yet apt descriptions feel just out of reach.
Schlagenheim, their debut album, comes after a string of much-drooled-over singles. It does little to dispel any of the mystery that surrounds the band, even while proving them worthy of the praise they've received across the pond.
The music, a heady mix of Talking Heads funk, post-punk rhythms and Amphetamine Reptile noise, hits hard. Whether delivering thundering guitar riffs or skittering rhythms, the band — singer-guitarists Geordie Greep and Matt Kwasniewski-Kelvin, bass player Cameron Picton, drummer Morgan Simpson — show both technical aptitude and formal adventurousness; standard verse, chorus, verse structures don't really register.
But it's frontman Greep who elevates the band above the fray. Where the pulsing thump of "BmBmBm" feels like a weight, it's Greep's rapid sing-speak that keeps the track in motion, bobbing and weaving. Elsewhere, on "Of Schlagenheim," his nasal wail soars above the cacophony, like a postmodern Robert Plant, raised on a steady diet of Grand Theft Auto rather than Lord of the Rings.
Greep reportedly built a fictional world, called Schlagenheim, where much of the record takes place. That might be a bridge too far for music fans who like their art personal. Listening to the album, though, it's the way he sings those words, rather than their literal meaning, that leaves the biggest impression, like a totally unintentional glossolalia that only deepens the enigma.
What are Black Midi? Black Midi are very, very, very good.
Read Exclaim!'s Summer 2019 cover story on Black Midi here. (Rough Trade)