London based noise/math/art-rock/post-punk/improvisational-jazz group black midi (stylized in lower case) are hard to pin down not simply for their self-imposed mysteriousness and lack of official releases, but also for the shapeshifting nature of their music. The quartet (comprised of singer and guitarist Geordie Greep, bassist and vocalist Cameron Picton, drummer Morgan Simpson, and guitarist Matt Kelvin) have played a string of shows in the U.S., created a ton of buzz at SXSW, and are currently set to play four U.S. dates this summer, including Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago. All of this from a band that currently has three songs on Spotify and zero members older than 21. Though for as few impressions the group has made, each of those were STRONG, very promising impressions. Follow us through a brief guide on all things black midi that we could track down
The first official black midi single, “bmbmbm” was released exclusively on a 7” by Speedy Wundergound in June of 2018 along with B-side remix “Savage Gary’s Dbdbdb.” The track is driven a slow and foreboding bassline and bafflingly features snippets of (very profane) interviews with Big Brother 2006 contestant Nikki Grahame. Live recordings reveal these samples were worked into the track by Kelvin holding a phone against his guitar. Greep maniacally repeats the line “she moves with a purpose, what a magnificent purpose” as the performances and the snippets of Grahame get increasingly aggressive, coming to a head with what is ostensibly an improvised freakout. The track is not available to stream or on the band’s Youtube, but several high-quality live recordings do exist on Youtube.
Live Session with Damo Suzuki
It’s not entirely clear how black midi came to link up with former Can singer Damo Suzuki, just as it’s unclear how much of their live session together was rehearsed and how much was improvised, but the result is awesome and raw.
The first of the group’s tracks to make it onto Spotify is a collaboration they did with the similarly London-based and genre-defying Jersen Fendrix for a charity compilation benefiting a soup kitchen called It’s Briiixmaaas . Of all things, “Ice Cream” is a Christmas song, but it still features some inventive instrumentals and impressive drumming by Simpson. Fendrix’s dramatic delivery adds a very sentimental quality to track. Even if you’re not a fan of Christmas music, the track is worth a listen.
The earliest release on the band’s YouTube, though not availible on streaming, “Speedway” features a repetitive and trace-inducing guitar lead reminiscent of something This Heat might have done. To date this is the group’s only officially released track that features Picton’s vocals, who in comparison to Greep is more reigned in and robotic in his delivery, sounding similar to David Byrne or Tim Darcy of Ought. The lyrics are as idiosyncratic as the arrangements, playing with different combinations of “new,” “old,” “buildings,” and “towns”: certainly the type of mundane subject matter one would expect of a Talking Heads track.
On the first of two non-collaborative black midi tracks to make it to Spotify, Simpson’s frenetic drumming once again takes center-stage. Greep’s sneering yelps once again lend an unhinged edge to an otherwise airtight and mechanical song. The band were also kind enough to share isolated clips of the instrumentals for any interested remixers. For those who wish to view the video, be strongly advised that it uses intense strobe effects, so we are not embedding it here (click here to view it).
The sunniest and poppiest of any black midi track, “Talking Heads” still retains the group’s trademark labyrinthine arrangements and high-octane performances. In a press release Greep said “it is accessible music, there are experimental aspects that we’ve taken from when we went crazy at the beginning, we’ve just reigned it in to make something that is pop music.” Whether the title is a reference to a band the group just has to take inspiration from is not confirmed, but we’d venture so far as to guess that it is. It’s jittery, loose, and fun, and hopefully the song’s release points toward an impending full-length.
black midi clearly shines brightest on the stage, where they have free range to improvise and push each of their songs to its limit. There are many live recordings of the group online which showcases not only the songs listed above, but also a slew of untitled tracks. We prefer this KEXP session the group did during Iceland Airwaves 2018.
If these songs and performances are any indication, catching one of black midi's sets this summer is a must-do. Look forward to our coverage of their set at this year's Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago.