The Sound Academy, again.
The space is a cesspool, a dance club-turned-venue so outrageously unfit for live music or for any social congregation. It’s extraordinary how irrespective of the artist that is performing, the space tends to invite the most unruly of crowds, as they huddle together with multiple beer cans cradled in their crumpled arms, and howl and squawk and prattle, without respect for the musician on stage or for those in the audience who have come to see their dearest idols play. Those few others stand quietly among them. They tap their feet and perhaps sing along to their favorite song, and they simply try to steer clear of the distractions caused by the feral alcoholics in attendance, still screaming, and still barking aberrant honeyed-phrases to the phantom-like songstress on stage, as she timidly sings an icy ballad with such unalloyed emotion.
Yet it’s all so fitting too: How to Destroy Angels feeds on dystopia, and nothing can complement their breathtaking techno-colored stage production more than a vile, ghastly throng, who so magnificently bring to life the doom-laden soundscapes that the band so achingly embraces.
Just a few feet away from the boisterous spectators, the four male members of the group stand on stage, motionless and almost lifeless in monochrome garbs, as the heroine of the collective stands some scant steps ahead of them. The four function like automatons almost, turning knobs, manipulating sounds and images, and frequently switching between some traditional instruments too. Somehow, they represent that future dystopia faultlessly, unmoving in their stations, simply functioning, and sometimes, mechanically accompanying the songstress’ vulnerable and utterly human voice.
Mariqueen Maandig, always at the fore of the collective, seems to represent that last trace of genuine humanity when she sings and when she moves and even when she walks back into the shadows to tinker with the electronic instruments on stage. She is quiet, and vulnerability lusters through her white dress and her hushed demeanor, as a drapery of images walls her off from her audience and forces her to disconnect.
Then, as the atmosphere finally splinters in And The Sky Began to Scream, so do the blinds of light severing her from the stage and from the world beyond it. Obscured by melancholy blue, the muffled gang of four behind her launch into Ice Age, and she croons so purely and so wholeheartedly that the chill of the haunting track almost consumes the decrepit venue.
A sozzled audience member manages to distinctly shout “You’re hot!” at the visibly impassioned songstress, and the audience disintegrates into loutish laughter.
Undistracted, she continues to sing her song, past the clamorous crowd and almost past her own narrator’s gloom. The disorder is just as much a part of the show as the tumult of the madcap images engineered onto the dynamic drapery of screens on stage, constantly evoking unease, restlessness, and most of all, sheer lonesomeness.
Her cohorts on stage are gifted and adept, and the multilayeredness of the sounds they construct and the images they project are inconceivable and stupefying. But there they stand in silhouette, behind the schizophrenic flickers of ocular noise, inert and motionless, functioning solely as machines, as instruments playing instruments and nothing more. There is no humanism in their melodic executions, no eccentricity: just noise – deafening, beautiful, harrowing noise. It is dystopia brought to life: noise pollution and dehumanization. Yet it is so musical and so wonderfully evocative.
It’s the solitary humanity of Maandig’s on-stage temperament which makes the music so embracing. It gives the otherwise detached musicality its glimmer of kindness and helplessness, and it is all the more heartrending when even Maandig begins to be obscured by the billow of ravishing yet inorganic light during The Space in Between – her voice now computerized, and her image, slowly blurring, blurring, blurring, until it completely fades into the abyss of the blackening stage.
She comes alive again, furrowing with the groove of Fur-Lined, and finally greeting the bedlam with relish, before everything turns over into itself again with The Loop Closes, as colors blink and tweak and transfigure over and above and behind her, and as the screens luster with desolate navy blue, and as she meekly lets the frost thaw and wholly envelop her with A Drowning. You can only hold on for so long.
Yet even with her subsumed by the noise and the tumult, nothing seems to have changed: the crowd is still bellowing with drunken abandon, the electronica-infused dye is still seeping into the willowy screen, and the engineers continue to twist and turn and propagate noise, without a hush of sentience left in them.
The four then embrace her into their automatonic world, and she stands beside them, as a mere unit as opposed to a cognizant person. She is now accompanied by the brawny operator beside her, as they mechanically saunter through the words and through the techno-addled lush of On the Wing. So meekly and so detachedly she lets the dissonance engulf her and her droning equal.
They grow dim, and gradually, they jointly fade away. She is static now, but among friends – motorized, conformed friends.
Photos: Rory Biller