Can they keep up the pace?
Battles - Live at HMV Forum, London

November heralds the end of hectic tour schedules for many bands, but not Battles. They have been on the road consistently for eight months, pedaling their unique brand of angular math rock and their tour will culminate in the ultimate gig for serious musicians: the co-curation of ATP’s ‘Nightmare Before Christmas’. Despite the sizable venue, one can’t help feeling tonight’s show at the HMV Forum is a warm up in preparation for December’s headline slot.

Nisennenmondai will be providing tonight’s support. They are a Tokyo-based three piece with a hard, repetitive sound. They bring a rawness that makes Battles sound positively mainstream. Sayaka Himeno smashes her drum kit for long periods of time with such intensity; her face obscured by hair, her arms a blur. Bassist, Yuri Zaikawa layers this with a fast and strangely danceable bass line, whilst guitarist Masako Takada creates waves of delay and distortion. The effect is slightly unsettling, but they are the perfect teaser for what is to come.

Battles enter the stage with a nonchalance that denotes their length of time on the road. Guitarist, Ian Williams saunters on in salmon pink shirt, sporting a rather well-kept handlebar moustache. He is almost indifferent to the sea of fans watching his every move, as he takes his guitar. Dave Konopka has slightly more urgency in his movement. It is clear he means business.

The band begins with ‘Africastles’. Williams’ child-like keyboard hook draws us in as the screens upstage flash bold blocks of pink and orange. John Stanier takes a sleigh bell stick to beat out the opening percussion - an amusingly apt instrument considering the not-so-distant Christmas curation. This is followed by ‘Sweetie & Shag’, featuring Blonde Redhead’s Kazu Makino whose recorded voice is distorted, slowed and manipulated, whilst her face appears on screens upstage. ‘Dominican Fade’ allows us to truly appreciate Staniers skill as he hammers out a relentless beat, untiringly persistent, as his shirt soaks with sweat.

‘Atlas’ is a welcome surprise to an otherwise modern set. Battles’ best-known track was a product of the band’s previous incarnation as a four piece, but tonight a sampler fills the gaps in the absence of Tyondai Braxton’s warped vocals.

Other notable highlights include ‘Ice Cream’ with its building rhythm, punctuated by flashing images of pink dairy, whilst a melodic mouth organ crescendos. ‘My Machines’ features Gary Numan’s unmistakably powerful vocals. His face appears bold, with black kohl-lined eyes seemingly staring at each member of the audience.

Unfortunately towards the end of this marathon show, the band’s stamina is waning. Eight months’ touring with such an energetic set is taking its toll: timing is lost and mistakes are made. Konopka is apologetic as he announces “We threw a few mistakes in there because we figured that’s what you paid for… Apart from that, the vibe is generally good.” Perhaps he is convincing himself because ‘Futura’ and the subsequent encore of ‘Sundome’ are fairly lacklustre. The band is exhausted as they leave the stage.

ATP fans are hoping for a treat this Christmas, but can Battles deliver the goods? If they allow themselves time to energise and re-focus, they might just pull it off. Let’s hope so!

Words by Becci Ride

Follow Clash: