How exactly can a live show win an award before it’s even happened? Insane, toxic levels of hype, that’s how. At some point or another recently, it looked like Noisia, the Dutch drum and bass mega-group, would soon be no more. Instead, over the summer, they announced Outer Edges, their first album in six years, which would also serve as the framework for their most ambitious show to date.
Given that drum and bass germinated from jungle and breakbeat, most of the practitioners cut their teeth producing in bedrooms, and playing at grimy warehouse raves. Now, it rules the club scene across much of Europe and elsewhere in the world, but the sets don’t tend to come with any particular USP beyond perhaps a basic AV set up and a sprinkle of stagecraft. The music is intense enough on its own.
Not enough for Noisia, though. The group have always had a reputation for pushing boundaries, going in heavier, and hitting harder. So, when they descended on Brixton last Saturday, ready to introduce London to their latest machinations, I had to get involved.
It wasn’t just Noisia, either. The lineup was stacked – Transit Mafia, Alix Perez, Mefjus, Ivy Lab and Annix. Getting inside was like being enveloped in some kind of feverish raver’s paradise. The Electric is a versatile venue, attracting all kinds of crowds, and on this particular night it was heaving. The queue went all the way around the block, and inside the walls were practically vibrating as the huge crowd ebbed, flowed, thrashed and twitched.
The thing about any drum and bass night is that you have to pace yourself. The music is so hard, so fast and so heavy that you would literally die if you stretched yourself too far. Happily, the two sets before Noisia came on – Alix Perez and Ivy Lab – struck a contrast between deep, squelchy bass and old school Amen breakage.
By the time Ivy Lab left the stage, the atmosphere was almost too much to handle, and then the lights went down. An electronic rumble serenaded the headliner’s arrival, and then three large, round lights appeared on stage. The lights were, in fact, Noisia, dressed in glowing black hoods that made them look like some kind of futuristic forensic science team. Plumes of flame shot across the screen behind them, and as the crowd erupted, they got down to business.
To say their set was good would be a disservice, it was phenomenal, and I’ve honestly never heard such powerful acoustics inside the Electric. The only complaint I could possibly make was that it’s quite hard to appreciate the AV aspect of a show when the music has you dancing so furiously you feel like your limbs are going to blast from your body like you’re fucking Mazinger.
The set was essentially a run through of all the hardest tracks from the album itself, but again at a show like this you’re not exactly memorising the order so you can post it on Setlist.fm when you get home. By the time they finished up, the crowd was breathless, despite the fact that they still had Annix and Mefjus to content with.
Outer Edges is a very live-sounding album. Even listening to it at home, the crispness of the drums and the way some of the vocal samples echo and fade make it so much more tangible than any of Noisia’s previous material. Obviously with this kind of thing ‘live show’ is a kind of spurious term, the music is born in the studio and you’re hearing it on a grander stage, with some fiddling around between tracks, but it’s the same version of the material.
The difference here is that Noisia have made it into something more meaningful, something which drives at a central concept, a very uncommon thing for a bass music show. Hitting the right vibe for the crowd to follow is one thing, creating an atmosphere which effectively turns a concept album into a concept show is quite another, especially if your only forms of language are beats and bass.