Black Midi Review
black midi took the Somerset House stage on Wednesday night for their July summer series, and delivered what Clash assumes could only be the performance of a life-time, leaving hoards of attendees the next day with sore necks, lost voices, and the inability to shut up about how they covered ‘Wuthering Heights’ and ‘Yonkers’ back to back. With an air of effortlessness, black midi managed to make two hours feel like fifteen minutes, keeping a crowd captivated, controlled, and attentive through pure technical talent.
Bands with such a gigantic, thrilling live presence only come around once in a while. Tangly riffs and hardcore thumpers are guided by the immaculately timed breakneck beats by standout drummer Morgan Simpson. As if peeling away the pristine layers of decor, history, and elegance from the historic Somerset House, black midi’s music transforms the space into an anarchic world of their own, founded upon hyperkinetic production and populated by swarms of shirtless fans covered in war-wounds upon return from the mosh pit.
Eccentric, outsiders, unconventional, misfits, mavericks. Is it punk, is it jazz, is it art rock? No one is quite sure how to classify black midi. The English experimental band have defied boundaries and genre classifications across their career, accruing fame for their impeccable instrumental capabilities and electrifying live performances. They burst onto the English music scene back in 2017, debuting their single bmbmbm in 2018 and their Mercury Prize nominated album Schlagenheim in 2019. Their latest album, due to release on July 15th, is bound to be a delightful dissociative escape. While it’s hard to tell if any of what was played last night was unreleased, as most of the songs are more jam-style and improvised, the show can only be an indicator of an explosive and impeccable project.
As an operatic opener resonates across the Somerset House lawn, crowds slowly and steadily began to clear space. The quintessential mosh-pit, in which a black midi show would be incomplete without, was beginning to form. My friend Will quickly shoves his phone and wallet into my bag, shouting “I’ll be right back,” and shouldering his way into the chaos as the band sets off an explosive start with ‘953’. Water bottles are chucked, friends are hoisted onto people’s shoulders, and impassioned riffs mix with the sound of laughter at the scene unfolding. The next two hours blur together, with hardly any breaks or rest as black midi relentlessly fire out banger after banger.
Debuting singles like ‘Sugar/Tzu’, ‘Welcome to Hell’ and ‘Eat Men Eat’, while also ending on a particularly energised performance of the classic ‘Slow’, the eclectic mix alternated between a head-rush of punk and new-jam-style material, providing a unique sound that could only be classified as inherent to black midi. Before the gig, a poll was sent around asking fans which song they’d like them to cover, with the choices ranging from Rosalía to Diana Ross. Fans lucked out and were spoiled for choice when black midi decided upon four covers, including Kate Bush, Tyler the Creator, Rage Against the Machine and Frank Ocean.
A black midi gig, I’ve now learned, can be exhausting and physically taxing, however it was nothing short of inviting. There was something fantastic about watch them effortlessly work with the venue, somehow making punk-jazz seem like the natural and native genre for Somerset House. Tasteful calamity is what they foster: encouraging a crowd to ‘fuck it up’, a sea of shirtless people riding on their mate’s shoulders, screaming out in cathartic joy.
While my friend Will could be seen from a distance revelling in the chaos of the mosh-pit, I started up a conversation with someone next to me (as best you can at a gig like that… Involving a lot of shouting and “hold on, stick a pin in it I wanna headband for a sec”) who appeared to be alone. He said that he had never really listened to black midi before, and that none of his friends were interested. He had gone to Somerset House Summer Sessions a few days prior, and had such a nice time he decided to book a random night and fly solo. Having now been witness to such an energetic performance, he now said it was “probably the best decision of his life,” and how after the show he’s immediately adding their entire discography to his Spotify playlist. The warm, inviting nature of black midi, seemingly contradictory with some of the most intense mosh pits I’ve seen in my life, allows listeners to feel apart of something at their gigs. It doesn’t matter if you’re a diehard fan or a newbie, because at the end of the day you’re privy to some of the most impressive technical capabilities and live talent of the English rock scene.
One of the best parts of watching members Simpson, Greep, Picton, and Evans bounce around on stage is that they seem to genuinely get on, and it’s just so much fun. There’s a million synonyms I could use in place of fun, however fun just does it the most justice. It’s cathartic, and joyful, and boisterous, but above all black midi not only impressed with clear technical talent, but also by creating an environment where getting shoved into a sweaty mosh pit during London’s summer heatwave is perhaps the most fun thing you can do.
From moshing to crowd waving, an eclectic mix of jazz and punk permeated through Somerset House last night, captivating a crowd for nearly two hours. As I write this, wincing whenever I have to crane my neck from all the head banging and listening to black midi’s new single through underwhelming laptop speakers, I’m already looking up when they’re playing next. As a music lover, you end up going to quite a few concerts, as live music is always exciting. However, in my lifetime, I have never seen black midi’s stage presence matched or even approached before. They’re a band I truly believe was intended to be heard live, as opposed to through speakers or headphones. Their live performances makes the music feel “complete,” and despite the incredibly young age of the performers, they hold the attention of the audience like seasoned professionals. Whether you’re a die hard fan to just someone who likes to thrash about a bit, we cannot recommend splurging out for these mavericks enough. Our only advice: wear pre-loved beat up trainers and leave the work bag at home.
Words: Ruby Carter