By Leon Sommer-Simpson
6 Nov, 2019
The last black midi concert I participated in left me caked in a thin layer of mud, from my shoes up to my hips. I couldn’t make the blue suede of my Pumas reappear for the better part of a month. I use the word ‘participate’ because ‘watch’ doesn’t quite capture the experience of a black midi show. At 2019’s Pitchfork Music Festival, I lept and spazzed and shoved and danced in a mosh pit of twenty-somethings who were unafraid to get muddy. Although the Constellation would be free of rain and mud, I knew that black midi would inspire the same turbulent dance circles they had in Union Park.
The reason why people mosh and jump to black midi is all but obvious if you’ve ever heard one of their driving, rhythmic songs. The group of London twenty year olds are all jocks of tempo, switching from lulls to fast progressions in a heartbeat. What I describe are their stylings of math rock, heard on their critically acclaimed first album, Schlagenheim. Listening to the album is energizing and dizzying, but seeing such coordinated time signature changes happen before your eyes mid-song is all the more impressive.
This coordination is achieved with the help of the band’s prodigal drummer, Morgan Simpson, who gives a backbone to the guitars and bass. Black midi pulls from subgenres of rock beyond that of math. The band incorporates elements of shoegaze, through their use of looper pedals and the wall of sound, dramatically building on tracks like ‘Ducter.’ While 90’s British bands were first dubbed shoegaze because of their nonchalant stage presence, looking down at their feet and looper pedals, black midi would best be dubbed a ‘Morgan-gaze’ band for their frequent staring at drummer Morgan Simpson for time queues. I digress. Part of what makes the band inexplicably fun to dance to are these very rhythmic and tonal swells, shifting from moments of pure punk, to a lullaby, and back to punk again. Such shifts afford the mosh-lover a moment to catch their breath before diving back in.
For the head bobbers and other non-moshers, there is plenty to enjoy at a black midi live show. Lead singer and guitarist Geordie Greep dances and squeals. After staring past the audience for an extended time, he will look down and greet them with a number of manic facial expressions. At points he squats and takes untimed large steps back and forth across the stage. His performance accent sounds akin to a nasally David Byrne, singing while swirling a couple of grapes in his mouth. Behind his thick accent and the punchy drums and guitar tones, Greep can be hard to understand, but he brings intense idiosyncratic energy to every song.
The band was groovier than I had ever heard, playing guitar-based jazz, funky pedal-looped sections, and diving into segments of drone. The performance feels like a series of cannonballs into the deep end. The rendition of ‘Ducter’ vaulted into synthetic animal squealing madness, bass player Cameron Picton churning on the synthesizer while lead guitarist Matt Kwasniewski-Kelvin sunk to the floor and started playing the guitar with his teeth. Such moments of controlled entropy are common during their performances. During ‘bmbmbm,’ Kwasniewski-Kelvin plays sounds of a woman yelling incoherently on his iPhone, and presses it against the strings of his electric guitar to amplify it in some roundabout way. Black midi is the perfect combination of experimentation, strange fixations, and punk spirit that makes for one of the best live shows you will ever witness. If you’re at the front like my fellow moshers and I, at the end of each song, you’ll be far too out of breath to give the applause you wish you could.