Life is stressful, and life is strange. Our understanding of the world is built on a web of infinite lies, distortions, misrepresentations, and, essentially, a version of history which is skewed. This was an angle pushed by Willian Burroughs as far back as the early 1960s, and which subsequently came to be a key aspect of postmodern theory: amidst the blizzard of information, historians sift through the ‘facts’ and ascribe them narrative significance and superiority over one another, while at the same time forging a linear version of events which necessarily frames them in a position of cause and effect.
Tony Curtis’ Hypernormalisation documentary presents an alternative perspective of those events, and rationalises the semi-fictionalised version of events which has become accepted as the narrative of historical fact, in the name of simplification, and primarily for political end. The music of Manchester-based duo worriedaboutsatan features on the soundtrack to this epic documentary and, indeed, many other projects for film and television. Hypernormalisation is one of those works which makes you feel tense and uncomfortable. On the other hand, the music of worriedaboutsatan, while built on what on the surface may appear to be jarring incongruences, offers a conduit to escape the horrors of the modern world in some small but precious way.
Tonight’s event is the fifth and final date of a mini-package tour which serves as something of a platform for the type of music favoured by the label, This is it Forever, run by Gavin Miller and Thomas Ragsdale, aka worriedaboutsatan (and also for a time, Ghosting Season), with Sunset Graves – the brainchild of Andy Fosberry, who also happens to run microlabel 3rd and Debut providing a complimentary yet subtly contrasting coalition.
Sunset Graves’ material could reasonably be lodged into the brackets to techno and electro. And while it would be just to praise the swirling ambience which eddies around the set, and the meticulous architecture of progressive beats which defines the sound, any objective appraisal of the performance will inevitably fall short. And herein lies the magic of Sunset Graves: the carefully-considered and yet equally intuitive structures and the attention to texture and detail disappears in the enrapturing experience of simply experiencing it in the moment. Playing in near-darkness, the man with the short back and sides and the Sonic Youth ‘Confusion is Sex’ T-shirt makes musical alchemy.
The same is true in many respects of worriedaboutsatan, an act who have evolved immensely over the course of the last decade. Without doubt, while they continue to exist on the fringes, the word of music is all the richer for their presence. Way back, they could be described as post rock with glitchy beats. In fact, I probably did describe them as precisely that. In fact, my first review of them in 2009 contained the following: ‘The scratchy click and pop beats give way to thunderous pounding rhythms, and Tom, arched over the Mac, looks like an alien hardwired into the mains as he twitches spasmodically. Meanwhile, lurking in the gloom, Gavin adds depth and texture with drones by means of guitar played with a violin bow.’
And so, in many respects, little has changed. Gavin still conjures layers of vaporously-textured guitar sound, occasionally with the use of a bow to the strings and Thomas still launches salvoes of thumping beats and deep, resonant basslines. Yet, by the same token, so much has changed. The pounding beats are there from the start, making for a more direct and immediate impact, and the sonic and textural contrasts are more prominent than ever.
Having performed independently of one another during their hiatus, Gavin and Thomas’ contrasting styles have become more pronounced, and now, as Gavin cascades cinematic post-rock textures from his fretboard, Thomas cranks out evermore dense, thumping rhythms and woozy basslines which resonate around the solar plexus. They play facing one another, and if you put a line down the middle of the stage, or split the screen, you would likely be convinced you were watching two separate shows: Miller rocks silently back and forth, his guitar so drenched in effects as to not sound remotely like a guitar, while Ragsdale is a man possessed, savagely attacking his electronic gear and channelling every last drop of power from its circuitry through his veins and into the PA. But it’s the contrasts which ultimately render worriedaboutsatan such an exciting and unique proposition, both sonically and in a performance setting.
It’s in the coming together of these seemingly dichotomous forces that worriedaboutsatan create their unique and utterly immersive space. There are vast expanses of sound which wash over the listener, and as the tracks often segue together, the set feels like a deftly-navigated sonic journey. It’s clear that I’m by no means the only one in the room who’s completely engaged: the minimal visuals – on this outing, relatively simple changes of light, and not a lot of it, as they still favour playing in near-darkness – mean that it’s the music which stands well to the fore, and this s music capable of inducing an almost trance-like state. There’s a guy in front of me who’s flailing his arms and pounding the air in time with the big beat drops, and there’s no question that he’s utterly lost in the moment; the majority of the rest of us simply stand stationery, transfixed.
More than a decade into their career, and worriedaboutsatan are stronger than ever. If there was any doubt following the release of Blank Tape last year, they’re an act who are going far beyond fulfilling their early promise and are now well into the realms of forging a niche that’s entirely their own.