Fun Fun Fun Fest Preview
Battles' harddrive blows a circuit
7:35pm, Stage 1
When Battles played Emo's in June, the power went out during their set. Perhaps it was just a coincidence, but the way the members play – like four parts of an overheating machine – it's easy to imagine that Battles killed the lights that night. It doesn't hurt that the NYC quartet has impeccable credentials from their former endeavors: bassist/guitarist Dave Konopka (Lynx), drummer John Stanier (Helmet, Tomahawk), guitarist/keyboardist Ian Williams (Don Caballero), and vocalist/guitarist/keyboardist Tyondai Braxton, son of avant-garde jazz musician Anthony.
From a tour stop in Belgium, a freshly awoken Williams explains that Battles was never a conscious undertaking. "I don't think any of us really knew how it would come together," he relates. "When we made Mirrored, we'd gotten to know each other, so we fleshed out our roles more."
And those roles are literal, both on their collaged Warp debut LP and in their live sets. It's hard for them to explain how it all works, evinced as Williams tries to describe how a song on Mirrored came together: "I'm playing this cascading run down the keyboard, Dave's got this choppy bass thing, John's being hyperkinetic, and Ty's doing this Stonesy blues line, like, a-chugga-chugga ..."
He pauses. "And it so fits together it hurts."
Watching them play is not unlike watching gears lock. Williams and Braxton pull double duty on keyboard and guitar, insuring the right hand has to know what the left hand's doing. "That really comes from my old band," Williams recalls, "where I was doing this Eddie Van Halen-esque tapping on the fretboard, and it was an early inspiration for why I wanted to do another band. It's just transferring the hot, soupy looseness of the guitar to the cold sterile hardness of the keyboard."
That's a good description, even if it means improvising against a zapped grid. "When you're playing every night and the songs are structured, spontaneously going against the grain onstage is sort of liberating," Williams says. "It's like, just flip it upside down."