Benjamin John Power is going through a period of renaissance. With Fuck Buttons having last released Slow Focus in 2013, he has used this time to completely focus on Blanck Mass. While this journey started with minimal and ambient notions, it has blossomed into something much more aggressive and potent.
The bliss of the self-titled record gave way to a heavier, post-techno inspired vision, highlighted brilliantly in 2015’s Dumb Flesh. From that point on things have only become more intense for Power, with World Eater presenting a terrifyingly intense ride and this year’s Animated Violence Mild seeing Blanck Mass reaching peak brutality. So when Blanck Mass visited Manchester, there was no way I was going to miss the chance of seeing how Power’s brutal vision would translate in a live environment, so I headed to YES and their Pink Room to find out.
Arriving at the venue just before the opening act, the lights dim and through the speakers echoes a strange cover of Destiny’s Child “Survivor”, building up an epic atmosphere. Not sure what will ensue, but the track suddenly comes to a halt, and two figures arrive at the stage. So, this is not an electronic artist or a band, but instead, two drag queens, Frans Gender and Violet Grace. I honestly cannot remember the last time I went to a gig and the support act was anything but a band or other musicians, so I was interested to see how a different performance would fit. And actually, it was excellent, with the two performers going through a hectic act, which included everything from lip-syncing songs by Nicki Minaj to miming extravagant scenarios, performing acrobatics, and jumping off the stage and into the crowd. Overall, a very witty and enjoyable set.
And now it is time for Blanck Mass, with the video wall constantly projecting a collage of images, Power comes to the stage and prepares to unleash utter hell. The introduction from Animated Violence Mild sets the scenery and soon enough the relentless progression of “Death Drop” rushes in. Through the industrial-inspired, pummeling percussion, the fleeting effects cause the whole ride to spiral out of control. The pressure that Blanck Mass applies increases as Power grabs the microphone and starts uttering screams, with the disfigured mantra “Don’t bite, don’t tread on me” repeated ad nauseam.
From that point on, Animated Violence Mild takes the lion’s share of the setlist. The glitch induced intro of “House vs. House” begins an exhilarating trip through IDM sentimentality, balancing finely between the extreme and the sublime as sharp synthesizers co-exist blissfully with harsh percussive elements and vocal samples. This dichotomy does not, of course, exist in “Love Is a Parasite”, which begins with a cataclysmic assault before it settles to an intoxicating breakdown with the whole venue vibrating under the heavy bass that Power’s unleashing. Even more so is the case with “No Dice”, with the main hook repeated brilliantly alongside the excellent effects additions and vocal samples. Everything is in constant flux for Blanck Mass, and the audience responds to this infectious groove. That is where a minor trip down memory lane ensues.
Turning back the clock to 2015’s Dumb Flesh, Power unleashes “Dead Format”, a fantastic track that also serves as a mental image of how much Blanck Mass has evolved through the years. The initial, overwhelming approach with the noise overflowing from the speakers and covering the entirety of the venue is stunning. Equally impressive is the subsequent drop to a more straightforward techno perspective, with the monotonous progression creating a hazy, acidic effect.
World Eater of course gets its due in one of the more laid back moments of the set with the majestic “Please”, but it is actually a single release that rounds up the night. While adhering to the electronic music conventions and tradition, Blanck Mass unleashes the Odd Scene/Shit Luck EP single in all its punk-esque glory. The pummeling drums and the constantly present distorted vocals bring to mind the grindcore of Napalm Death with a more blackened sense than the IDM of Aphex Twin. But Blanck Mass skillfully combines these two diverse worlds to create an explosive and, at the same time, intense finale.
Dragging the tracks through the noise of “Odd Scene”, all the way to their majestic doom-laden peak is nothing if not masterful, while the condensed “Shit Luck” erupts through its cosmic aggression. It is an abrupt offering, a perfect closer to an unbelievable set that solidifies the potency of Power’s vision.