The first exposure I had to the auditory hallucinogen of Blanck Mass came from a CD sampler, a compilation of featured artists on the Rock Action record label. It was a free CD which caught my eye purely because it contained a couple of Mogwai tracks I’d not heard before (“Drunk And Crazy” and “Special N“, for those interested) but on playing the album, two artists really jumped out: Errors, and the solo project of Fuck Buttons’ Benjamin Power, Blanck Mass– whose “Sundowner“, 8 minutes of eye-wateringly beautiful noise, became world-renowned after featuring in the soundtrack to the 2012 Olympic Games opening ceremony- remember how optimistic and forward-thinking everything felt then? My god, how did the Anglosphere turn to an absolute shitshow in such a small period of time, it’d be funny if it wasn’t so sad.
Perhaps it is this gradual darkening of horizons and loss of hope for the future that has spurned Blanck Mass to take a darker path in the following years, or perhaps sheer coincidence of life imitating art- either way, new album Animated Violence Mild is far removed from the post-rock drone of the past, instead forcibly carving its path into listeners’ skulls with the intent to overwhelm and destroy- even the PA music playing on entry into the Pink Room, Nico’s Chelsea Girl and The Marble Index, is purposely cultivating an uneasy atmosphere.
In something of an unexpected left-turn, Blanck Mass’ support is in the form of Frans Gender and Violet Grace– two Scottish (by way of Bristol and Essex, respectively) drag queens who bring giddy chaos to the stage as they giggle, bicker and belch their way through their fantastic rapid-fire mime, dance and lip-sync routines- in one, a deconstruction of Adele’s back catalogue turning the singer into a untethered prankcaller, while the self-titled “auditory stroke” of songs welded together with the shared word of ‘touch’ includes Frans leaping down on the floor (“the splash zone”) to interact with the crowd- dancing against some, taking beer from others before ultimately collapsing onto the ground to rapturous applause.
Both performers come with incredible energy, with Violet’s reputation of leaping from high places escalating up to a huge taint-destroying full-splits drop from the stage onto the floor- the crowd an almost perfect mixture of gasps and cheers. A strange warm-up choice, definitely, but by the end of their set, Frans and Violet had the Pink Room eating out of their hands.
A single table overflowing with patch cables, software and hardware cast against a projection of a black metal-influenced logo, Blanck Mass’ set begins with a mesh of demonic voices crawling out from the void before a THX-level sub-bass blasts from the speakers- the audience is listening, whether they like it or not. “Death Drop“, lead track from Animated Violence Mild, is the sound of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop falling through a black hole- nightmarish in its brutality with pulverising blast-beats and Benjamin’s distorted screaming over unholy bursts of harsh metallic Ventolin-esque noise as the screen flickers with coloured strobe lights melting into a chaotic kaleidoscope.
Most of the material featured is from the new album, a dark, sprawling attack on the senses that somehow, almost defiantly, manages to be danceable: the glitchy techno/trance of “House Vs House” keeps a solid four-to-the-floor beat underneath the nauseating tones built up from chopped-up vocal samples, it’s certainly possible to imagine some parallel universe where this is projected out from the main stage of some central European EDM festival to tens of thousands of raised hands.
Hints of Blanck Mass’ past still exist, fragmented and trapped beneath oceans of static and relentless beats but occasionally surfacing for air, but even these moments of semi-euphoric respite feel wrought with menace- the small room with the save point before the upcoming boss battle. An extended wave of calm is suddenly interrupted by a jump scare as a rotted, twisted version of “Sundowner” breaks through a piercing feedback-laded blast- beauty cast in ugliness, the abyss gazing back. From there the intensity builds ever further into the twin monoliths of brutality “Odd Scene” and “Shit Luck”, two behemoths created from samples of crushing, doom-laden guitar riffs and fractured drum loops which combined with the distorted screaming from Power (the only organic element of Blanck Mass, still processed and altered to the point of unrecognition) reaches out into black metal territory, the sound throttling the very air as all is unleashed- the audience bludgeoned and trapped in place as the sonic onslaught crescendos into singularity, overtaken by white noise as with the briefest of waves and smallest of smiles, Blanck Mass exits, allowing the machinery’s output to naturally decay to nothing- continuing on purely within the ringing of the ears of the Pink Room’s occupants.
Earplugs might have been a good idea.
Words and photography by Liam Moody (of The Cat & Drum Social Club).