Fuck Buttons @ Le Poisson Rouge, NYC 10/18/13

You can tell a lot about a band and the way people feel about them based on their opening acts. I learned something about both bands when I saw Chelsea Wolfe open for Swans earlier this year, and I learned a lot when I saw LCD Soundsystem open for Arcade Fire in 2008 (I. Was. There.). Now after seeing Fuck Buttons’ excellent performance with Mystery Skulls and Lichens I feel like I understand them better than ever before.

Walking into Le Poisson Rouge to see Mystery Skulls aka Luis Dubuc at a laptop cooing and shouting his R&B vocals over big EDM beats set the initial tone for the night. It was big, glitzy, and sexy pop music that got people moving. 4/4 beats and comfort food melodies mixed to incite dancing, cheering, and fist pumping while Dubuc fiddled with his laptop. It felt somewhat out of place for what was to come admittedly, and sure enough once Lichens took the stage the tone of the evening shifted considerably. Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe, who has performed for years as Lichens was the polar opposite of Dubuc’s set. Seated with a cup of tea at his modular synth he looked more like someone operating an old switch board than playing an instrument, though as the set grew in weight and intensity he came off more as someone delicately diffusing a bomb. Through his various music patches and vocal loops Lichens created a breathtaking soundscape; heavy drones, prickling beats, and massive vocals fed through the synth patches that shake you. It’s profoundly spiritual music. For every pop touchstone Mystery Skulls set brought to mind, Lichens brings things like The Holy Mountain and Butoh-dance founder Kazuo Ohno’s controlled intensity (note Lowe’s hands when performing and how subtly physical his performance is, even when seated). Lowe’s performance was absolutely captivating, better than I’ve ever seen him before.

And now we come to Benjamin John Power and Andrew Hung of Fuck Buttons, a group that really came out of the tradition of noise and drone yet has nonetheless captured a massive audience. The drones, and the vocals (animalistic and screamed by Power; electronically treated and alien by Hung) are certainly in that experimental tradition, yet the music throughout their set touches on house, hip-hop, and almost heart-wrenchingly gorgeous melodies that made people dance just as much as they put them into a trance. Fuck Buttons’ music lies somewhere between pulse pumping dance music and droning experimentalism and it’s that deft blending of both that has become their greatest strength.

Charging right in with Slow Focus opener “Brainfreeze” was a good choice. Live it sounds like some massive army marching towards you from the distance. Then through the noise came the opening riff to Tarot Sport’s first track “Surf Solar” which was where the audience started to really lose it. They play a vibrant set and one where planning and sequencing are important, hitting the majority of the new album, stretching it out in new ways. Seeing them live also shows the amount of skill and communication required to perform this music. First of all, the chemistry and interplay between Power and Hung is unreal. Always performing face-to-face, they send subtle signals to each other, locking eyes throughout the songs, communicating with the kind of intimacy that comes with nearly a decade of musical partnership. It’s also worth noting that while many might miss the explosive vocals of Street Horrrsing (honestly, if there was one disappointment of the night it’s that Hung and Power seem to be giving “Sweet Love For Planet Earth” and “Bright Tomorrow” the cold shoulder) Fuck Buttons have not abandoned vocals. It’s a great surprise to see how many of the songs on Slow Focus are filled with vocals, just ones that the band has hidden in the music, to the end of creating a more unified sound. And it just got better, the final run of “Sentients” with its violent, percussive chiming; a sprawling hypnotic take on “The Red Wing,” and finally the noise hip-hop of “Hidden XS” was absolutely thrilling and has made me see the new album in a totally new light.

The first time I ever heard Fuck Buttons, they were actually an opening act. I’d never heard of them, they were just some band opening for Mogwai. Yet I’ll never forgot them coming out exactly on time and making me a life-time fan within five minutes. They still come out right on time, funnily enough promptness was the one thing I knew to expect from this performance. Any other expectation I had was blown away.

[Img via baleoutphotos.]

Comments (1)
  1. “…he came off more as someone delicately diffusing a bomb.”

    Nailed it.

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