Algiers Impress Bristol Audience

by Finn Dickinson

Photo credit: Alessia Naccarato.

‘ALL POWER TO THE PEOPLE’ reads the sign at the back of the stage housing Algiers’ and Moon Diagrams’ arsenal of instrumentation. Having arrived early, there’s something ironic about being the only person in the room bearing witness to a slogan espousing empowerment to the masses, but as a mere individual, I don’t feel emboldened enough to infer what that something is. Instead, I’m earnestly wondering whether the instruments lying beneath the portentous mantra are going to be broken down and distributed evenly amongst the crowd during the proceedings of the gig, in a payment of homage to the legendary Marxist rock-and-roll gigs of the ‘60s and ‘70s. I hope so.

Before the ill-fated battle of my analytical left-brain and creative right-brain can reach its inevitable double-knockout conclusion, Moon Diagrams takes the stage and immediately derails my trains of thought. I shouldn’t be surprised – I never got around to nationalising them. Moon Diagrams brings with him all the expected charisma of an ambient solo project frontman, and assures the audience that ‘If you’re looking forward to [Algiers], they’re going to be awesome later. In the meantime, I’m gonna make you miserable.’

The music of Moon Diagrams could easily soundtrack the dreams of a lovelorn robot undergoing a cannabis detox, and it transitions from ambient noise to minimal techno as it’s pumped out into the atmosphere. It’s a glacial change, and one which is hardly noticeable until your aurally-tranquilised brain eventually slaps itself in the face and admonishes itself for becoming so entranced. Moon Diagrams’ diverse and esoteric sound-collage manages to recall contemporaries as broad as Blanck Mass and Caribou – in particular, set highlight End of Heartache evokes Dan Snaith’s patented pairing of sunny melodic flourishes with an endearing lyrical anchor (‘I just want you to keep me around and never let me go’). I don’t want to start making lazy comparisons to other electronic musicians, but now that I’ve finished, we need to talk about Algiers.

Franklin James Fisher is one hell of a frontman, and hell is undoubtedly the operative word. Algiers’ style is notoriously difficult to pin down, encompassing post-punk groove, post-apocalyptic soul and atonal walls of sound, but their lead singer’s impassioned cries of protest and near-inhuman energy make it clear that Algiers’ is the sound of an incensed jinn having infiltrated a gospel choir – and the congregation are certainly rallying behind their leader. The role of apparent musical polymath Ryan Mahan appears to comprise operating various bits of technology and dancing like a madman, whilst guitarist Lee Tesche slowly begins to incorporate bows and drumsticks into an instrumental routine which would make Jonny Greenwood blush. Drummer Matt Tong, having shed the chains of Bloc Party, proffers a performance with the proficiency and rigour of a well-oiled machine and the passion and hair of a good old flesh-and-blood humanoid.

Algiers’ Gadarene charge into the opening track of their fantastic sophomore effort The Underside of Power ranks among the most impressive concert-openings I’ve ever borne witness to. The introductory rumblings of Walk Like a Panther quickly give way to Franklin James Fisher’s mighty howls of rebellion (‘We won’t be led to slaughter / This is self-genocide’), as industrial onslaught wreaks havoc on the crowd. Make all the socialism jokes you want (3-4 so far, if you’re me), but Algiers’ performance is as sobering as it is stimulating.

No rest is offered. No respite is needed. Cleveland – a musical microcosm of the tragic history and bitter injustice of racial oppression – somehow sounds all the more eschatological in a live setting, whilst Mme Rieux brings Franklin James Fisher to his knees, apparently bearing the emotional brunt of the beautiful despondency he shares with the crowd. The Exchange excels at facilitating the quasi-perverse intimacy of the moment, and continues to lend weight to the tone set by the evening’s subsequent offerings.

Animals shines in the context of the claustrophobic environment, which wonderfully channels the visceral snarl intrinsic to the song’s observations on American crypto-fascism. It’s almost worrying that this anti-Trump anthem exists in the modern era, because anyone who listens to it a few years from now (after the nuclear holocaust) will inevitably end up headbanging their way through the walls of their residential concrete bunker and being instantly torn to shreds by packs of irradiated wolves (I’m willing to bet 5 tins of non-perishable goods and 10 shotgun shells on this eventually happening).

The zenith of the evening comes in the form of Time to Go Down Slowly, which is the sound of coked-up hard-bop in its death throes. The performance is an emotional paroxysm which contrasts starkly with Fisher’s taciturn between-song nature, and rightly so; if there’s one thing to take from the evening, it’s that Algiers’ music inarguably speaks for itself – but here’s 800 words about it anyway.