Experimentation is a double edged sword. That applies to any facet of life really. Whether that’s going to a new hairdresser, dabbling in cross dressing or just trying to figure out what the hell Ras el hanout is before adding it to a stir fry; experimentation can only really go one of two ways.
This is extremely applicable to the music world. Most musicians and artists will, for the most part, choose to play it relatively safe. What worked last time, will probably work this time, and therefore will work the next time. Maybe throw in an occasional banjo riff to give the illusion of change. But in a world where many people complain that music has become too similar, that everyone is starting to sound the same, who are the people out there playing the roles of the mad scientist or the crazy necromancer?
Here are 10 bands and musicians doing the most experimenting in the music world today.
Rhode Island is known for a couple of things. Being tiny, crustaceans, being where Family Guy is set and two blokes called Brian who can melt your faces. Lightning Bolt are living proof that louder is better, and therefore much louder is much better. The technical term for their style would be noise rock, although a more fitting term would probably be nuclear rock. It’s one set of drums, one bass guitar, two guys and it sounds like there are seven of them.
Just pure distortion and warped sounds shrouded in pneumatic bass guitar lines and drumming that could wake the recently dead because Brian Chippendale is the sickest brother to touch a drum kit since Buddy Rich. Apologies to Ginger Baker. Lightning Bolt are monumental; almost impossible to absorb.
So in the light of that, the only way to effectively describe them is in simile form. Here we go. Lightning Bolt sound like:
- A mountain falling over
- Swallowing a pulse grenade
- A star going supernova
- A cinderblock to the skull
- Guerilla Warfare
- Nothing else.
If kitsch was a genre, then Haiku Salut would be its pioneers. A three piece out of the Derbyshire Dales that have a sound that sits in the sweet spot between folk, electronica and modern classical music. Their music is full of tiny little twinkles and glitches filled with these repetitive, incessant melodies which gradually grow and melt into one another like a glacier meeting a mountain.
Perpetually mute on a stage filled with flashing lamps and static television screens whilst utilising instruments such as the accordion, glockenspiel and the Theremin; Haiku Salut manage to stay just on the right side of hipster goodness. They’re a band that dissolves into your ears like they’re playing from inside a beloved music box and manage to hit that intangible, hollow spot that sits just behind your tummy.
Japanese outfit Nisennenmondai sound exactly like you’d think a band named after the Y2K bug would. Enormous barriers of distortion and clanging noises like someone’s thrown a brick into a washing machine on a heavy spin cycle. It’s so damn dubby. Underscored by constant high hat ticking and intense bass lines, Nisennenmondai are raw and intricate like a hunk of carved sashimi.
It’s so muscular and chunky, like being sandwiched between a pair of prop forwards. It almost boggles the mind that this sort of noise and ferocity could come out of three tiny women from Tokyo. They’re effortlessly infectious and if John Stanier from Battles (spoiler alert) says they’re sick, then that’s exactly what Nisennenmondai are.
Oh look its Battles. Battles are what you would get if you ran Animal Collective through the mangle a couple of times and then left them in a cold, dark place for a few days. Listening to them is like getting your ears caught in a vice grip. They are able to jump from a snail’s pace of looped bleeps to warp speed at the flick of a fader as everyone of their tracks builds and builds like a tantric orgasm.
From Ian Williams looping every single strand of music put in front of him to infinity to John Stanier’s cymbal perching somewhere in the upper troposphere, Battles are an outfit that like do things their way, at their own pace. And when they get themselves into the pocket and get going; it’s modern day witchcraft.
Supermassive and guttural. Fuck Buttons were birthed in the bowels of the Earth next to all the dinosaur bones, magma chambers and gigantic crystals. They create these colossal, elemental sounds that give you the same feeling of looking at the wonders built by an ancient civilisation and struggling to comprehend how they were able to do something so spectacular.
Full of crushing synths and slamming drums that somehow manages to be melodic as well as noisy. With sounds taken from old karaoke machines and children’s toys, Fuck Buttons’ tracks could easily be the theme to a distorted game show where the grand prize is that you get to live.
See, some musicians are experimental and others are experi-mental, Comparative Anatomy are most definitely the latter. Seeing, hearing and absorbing this duo is like binging on peyote, or eating that ridiculous chilli from The Simpsons. You’re gonna see some stuff you weren’t expecting. Namely the two huge dudes dressed as a chicken and a rabbit both playing bass guitars and a tinkering with a gluttony of samples, most of which seem to be recordings of orcas and dolphins.
Comparative Anatomy are experimental in the same way that adding ethanol to your dirty pint is. Sure it’s intoxicating but it’s a hell of leap to make if you want to get drunk. Bizarre, eccentric and every other synonym out there that mean’s bat crap crazy; Comparative anatomy are way out of your comfort zone. We ain’t in Dalston anymore friend.
Public Service Broadcasting
Nerds making music might be an accurate description of Public Service Broadcasting. It’s two bespectacled guys with severe hair partings dressed head to toe in tweed doing some of the most interesting things in the music world as of about midday. Public Service Broadcasting’s sound is a patchwork quilt comprised of Pathé news vignettes, archived samples from the BFI and a heavy spattering of bleeps and bloops. This is loopy music in every sense of the world.
Yet despite all this, they manage to create music that feels warm; and perhaps more importantly, it feels human and man-made. Public Service Broadcasting might just be the closest thing to The Books working today. And that can only be a good thing.
Los Angeles has produced a large number of hip hop artists over the years. Clipping are not like any of them though. Not so much a band or a group as a zeppelin explosion. Incessant feedback, ear drum bludgeoning screeches and beats so broken it’s like they’ve speared and jackhammered. They’re a straight up noise violation.
Yet amidst all this clamour and decimation, Daveed Diggs’ languid remains to epicentre. It’s silky, smooth and poetic so when it’s set against the neutron bombs that are their beats, it’s the ultimate annihilation. It’s watching a hungry bear break into a chicken coop. So when someone asks you why your eyes are bleeding and why you’ve got that dumb look of joy on your face, you can tell them it’s clipping bitch.
Even by this list’s standards, Matmos are seriously heady stuff that is really out there. This is not stuff to play to a girl when you bring her back to your place after a date. Their most recent album was made entirely by sampling sounds made by a washing machine; whether that was banging on it, the clicks buttons made or noises blurted out during a 60-minute wash. Another album samples noises from medical procedures and surgeries. Agreed, it’s a little gimmicky, a bit of a novelty act; but ultimately the music is interesting. And good.
Matmos’ work is full of jolting glitches and screaming static like your stereo is suffering interference from solar flares. This is a group experimenting with the very concept of sound and the notion of form and musical structure. It can be difficult to listen to at times, almost like you’re playing a game where the rules are constantly changing arbitrarily. But when it hits you, it smacks you right between eyes. And that noise of you getting hit between the eyes will probably be sampled and looped by these guys. As well as the follow up sugery.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor
Arguably, post-rock bands make the most beautiful music out there, and if you believe that then Godspeed You! Black Emperor are the Victoria’s Secret models of music world. It’s minimalist, stripped down to the bare carcass of how they want to sound. There’s gloom and dark clouds in their music, hope and catharsis. It’s the most beautiful destruction possibly.
Soft plucking, dusty violin strings and imploding guitars with a sense of impending doom and eventual hope. Godspeed are a band that you can see whatever you want reflected in their music; the decision making is left up to you. And that’s why they’re experimental, because in this instance, you are the painter, they are merely your canvas.
This article was written by Dave Pittaway, a GIGsoup contributor