Better than: A Sound Tribe Sector 9 show.
Electronic music fans know all too well that converting friends to the genre can be a difficult task. For some, emotion will just never translate through a sampler or drum machine the way it does through a guitar and vocals. Countless groups have tried to bridge this gap in the past, but none quite as well as Mount Kimbie on their latest album, Cold Spring Fault Less Youth, out this week on Warp Records.
Tired of the limitations of a mostly electronic setup, the London-based duo has expanded their reach with the album by incorporating a range of rock and experimental influences and a significant amount of live instrumentation. To make sure the songs translate in a live setting, they’ve even added a drummer, which is probably the last thing you’d expect for a group that used to only play dance clubs.
The fans that Mount Kimbie acquired with their widely praised debut are clearly along for the ride, but their latest single “Made To Stray” has only added to the flurry of interest surrounding the group. Last night at the Bowery Ballroom, the first stop on their North American tour, several attendees expressed their desire to hear the song before the band had even reached the stage. Luckily, their two opening acts, Vinyl Williams and Holy Other, were more than enough to hold the crowd’s attention.
LA psych prodigies Vinyl Williams started off the evening with a heavy set of lush distorted guitar melodies in the vein of My Bloody Valentine. Though they’ve only been together for two years, this young band is talented, refined and extremely-well rehearsed. Fronted by guitarist and singer Lionel Williams, the band played a tremendous half-hour set that left the small crowd of only 40 to 50 people awestruck.
Psych riffs with hints of post-punk droned through the Bowery’s brilliant speaker setup as members switched off instruments and put every last bit of energy into their performance. Young bands often feel as if they have nothing to prove, but Vinyl Williams make certain that you get what you paid for. One wonders how a psych-rock band would fare as openers for an electronic act, but the crowd — a strange mix of models, computer programmers and bloggers — was very much on board.
The second opener, Holy Other, was a bit more divisive. After releasing two albums full of atmospheric head-nodders, the mysterious UK producer has ditched his mask, but still performs in total darkness, with the exception of a strobe light and some striking projections. His bass heavy catalog sounded exceptional in a live setting, but the lack of originality in terms of remixing and improvisation came at a cost. “Touch” was one of the only tracks that differed significantly from the album version, instigating several lulls that just made the show feel like a rave for depressives.
Mount Kimbie is known for their technical wizardry so it wasn’t a surprise that the changeover before their set extended to nearly a half hour. When they finally took the stage, the Bowery turned quickly devolved into a scene from the Cypress Hill Smokeout, clouds billowing from the crowd as fans attempted to get into the right zone. The heady set that followed couldn’t have been more perfect for it, as Mount Kimbie dealt out extended jams of tracks from their two acclaimed full-lengths.
With so much gear to handle (guitar, drums, samplers, pedals, keyboards, drum pad), you’d think there would be at least a few noticeable flubs in the performance, but the duo was incredibly precise. The two leads members focused intently on their equipment while engaging fans with impressive vocal performances on tracks like “Blood and Form.” Every song leapt out of its original form with the assistance of the new drummer and loads of distortion and effects.
Older tracks like “Carbonated” and “Field” were bolstered by the live instrumentation, but newer cuts like “Break Well” and “Made To Stray” sounded specially tailored for a live setting. On “Break Well”, the drummer pounded away on a jazz-inspired rhythm that would fit nicely alongside Flying Lotus’ newer material. On “Made To Stray”, the two lead members belted out their vocals in tandem over a glossy synth-melody and a chest-pounding drum pattern. Throughout the song, the whole venue seemed to be shaking, a combination of the maxed out subwoofers and the visceral excitement in the crowd.
After the show, fans outside expressed gratitude to the duo, one saying “Your album made me think about electronic music in a different way.” For a group that that says they barely even listen to electronic music anymore, it may be surprising that their new album has had that kind of impact on listeners, but it’s clear that electronic music is more easily digested when tempered with other influences. It also helps that, in a live setting, there really is no one else out there quite like Mount Kimbie.
Overheard: “I just want to hear “Made To Stray” and then I’ll be happy.”
Critical Bias: Bowery Ballroom is my favorite venue in the city, possibly the world.