Live Review: Ben Frost @ London ICA, 11/10/17
Ben Frost’s music is all about immersion and texture, so it’s no surprise that in his live performances he wants to induce the audience into a sort of state of shared catatonia. This began even before he took to the stage at the ICA on Wednesday night; first through the deep techno playing over the PA leading up to the set, then by the ominous beeps that took over, pre-empting his arrival onstage, interspersed with loud hissing jets of dry ice from the smoke machine. The whole thing was reminiscent of the opening moments of his recent album The Centre Cannot Hold. Indeed when he was in place behind his table of amassed equipment, head down, he soon launched into the loud, searing ‘Threshold Of Faith’, whisking away any breath from anyone who hadn’t quite caught it in the build up.
The structural bass pulses that informed the early moments soon became overwhelmed by Frost’s synthetic distortion. Behind his desk he was swaying, head down, long hair draping across his face, which surely would have been wrapt in concentration as he carefully sculpted the sound. The first section of the performance was full of amorphous sounds with seemingly no beginning or ending, just emanating out of and back into the ether. Once happy with the textures of distortion gained, Frost strapped on his guitar and added some razor edged sparks to the mix.
After a brief pause in which he shouted to the sound guy that his monitors were “fucked” (unsurprisingly), Frost took a more subdued aside into work from his recent Super Bad Times film soundtrack, filling the room with plenty of audible sparkles and allowing time to relax. This soon came to an end as he brought up a haze of hovering, threatening bass to canvas his next set of synthetic melodies and shapes. Even amidst this inchoate noise, the urge to move your body in some capacity to vibe with the music was intuitive, and the crowd all started moving somewhere between a nodding head and full on hopping on the spot. When more melodic elements moved into the space, they floated down like raining cinders amid burnt out buildings; beautiful but unsettling.
Frost then took the energy of the crowd and jacked it up to its fullest potential, as he moved into more thudding techno-oriented sounds. Combined with his grating machinery textures, the result was akin to some of the most thrilling cuts from By The Throat, and again saw the crowd lurching into some kind of bodily appreciation. The heady mix built into a steady onslaught of whirring and grinding, before Frost cut it off and departed the stage.
He wasn’t gone for long, and returned in just his tank top, to deliver a final salvo. Moving through the pulverising-yet-delicate ‘All You Love Will Be Eviscerated’, he once again confounded the audience’s desires to dance, instead giving them more to mentally chew on. This gradually dissipated into a protracted and calming outro, like resurfacing after a deep and murky dive. The resounding applause and cheers from the benumbed audience at the finale proved that they’d all stuck with him through his sonic tour of dark and spooky caverns, and would happily do it again.
This article was originally published on The 405 - 13th October 2017.