What Does Black Midi Say About You?
Last year, a video surfaced on YouTube that showed four young men decimating an Icelandic hostel with a sonic buzz saw. The clip, uploaded by the Seattle radio station KEXP, was a relentless, 26-minute descent into a wormhole of rabid guitars and lacerating drums. Guiding all that sound were the paranoid vocals of a singer who looked barely out of high school. The video was compulsively shared online, and black midi, the London-based band behind all that noise, was suddenly being pegged as a group of authentic rockers in a music landscape saturated with market-tested pop.
Black midi began honing their sound shortly after they met at BRIT School, a performing arts school that has seen the likes of Adele, Amy Winehouse, and FKA twigs pass through its doors. There, its members, Geordie Greep, Morgan Simpson, Matt Kwasniewski-Kelvin, and Cameron Picton, were encouraged to experiment and improvise. That perfectly imperfect sound can be heard on their debut record, Schlagenheim, which also stands as a perfect encapsulation of the four-piece’s frenetic live show. “It’s like Russian roulette,” says Greep of playing in front of an audience. “It could be the best show you’ve ever done, or it could be absolutely terrible. The main thing is that you can’t have any expectations.”
Zero expectations is how black midi are approaching their future. So far, they’ve shunned attempts at trying to contextualize their music, especially when they’re asked if their bleakly abstract sound might be a response to Brexit. “If that’s the comparison people want to draw, then that’s cool, but for us, it’s just about music,” says Greep. “It says more about the person describing it than the band. In that way, we’re an inkblot test.”
This article appears in the fall 2019 50th anniversary issue of Interview magazine. Subscribe here.
Grooming: William Blair
Photography Assistants: Alex Hopkins and Ryan Petrus
Special Thanks: Smashbox Studios