Live Review

Black Dice, The Schoolhouse, Brooklyn

The boundaries between musical genres are dissipating…

Last Saturday, Black Dice completely upset my expectations of the band at their Schoolhouse show in Bushwick, Brooklyn.

My original introduction left me with the perception of these musicians as group of sound collagists. Their early records were abrasive forays into industrial noise, found sound, and favored atmospheric over traditional song structure. Intermittently, a listener could hear the distortion of human voices rubbing up with the crunch and clang of sounds that would be as at home in a foundry as a Black Dice record.

The music would not feel out of place in an art installation commenting on the alienation of modern society or presenting another permutation of the post-apocalyptic future that seems to continue fascinating our culture. There is a description of working in a munitions plant in Orwell’s 1984 that, if read aloud, would make excellent accompaniment to some of the band’s earlier albums.

Over the course of their last two albums, Black Dice has undergone a strange metamorphosis. It feels slightly absurd to say, but with tracks like ‘Glazin’ and ‘Night Crème’ they’ve found a way to incorporate their abrasive cut-and-paste aesthetic and bring it into the realm of dance music. This evolution was made greatly apparent at the band’s performance.

In the lofted third floor of an abandoned church, the three members of Black Dice step up to their electronics like DJ’s stepping up to turntables circa 1991. I had expected a deluge of raw sound full of squeals and crashing, and instead find myself bobbing my head to the beat.

This is not to say Black Dice is for everyone. Their sound still consists of off-kilter beats, weird chirps, and a bass largely constructed to flirt with the red line of most sound equipment. Electric guitar is present but largely unrecognizable auditorally, and it is utterly impossible to distinguish an individual word of any song lyric. Yet, despite the difficult aesthetic most of the crowd bounce and jostle, happy to find the uncommon groove and dance.

Bands like Black Dice may be the best examples of the unique musical times in which we live. The boundaries between musical genres are dissipating, dissolved by the accessibility of musics far beyond our immediate cultural history and our continued interest in referentiality. The self-reflexive pop star is no longer uncommon, and the Internet has provided the opportunity for the collapse of large record labels and the spread of bedroom pop and independent music.

While Black Dice are not Lady Gaga or Kanye West, their evolution is representative of the growing conception of what pop music can be. While each of these artists come from an obviously different background (noise music, art school, and rap), they are engaging with the cultural expectations of pop music, subverting melodies, utilizing unusual time signatures, and creating music to which people can dance. Perhaps if the intersection between the conceptual, experimental, and popular elements in music continue to converge, we’ll see bands like Black Dice listed alongside superstars.

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