review by: Paula Mejia, photos from previous shows in DC
Sensory overload doesn’t even begin to cover it. Anamanaguchi’s sweaty opening set at the Black Cat, laden with a face-melting array of chiptune, late 90s era Game Boy Color sounds and a giant mosh pit, was truly surreal and slightly terrifying- especially if you were in the dead center.
As a band notorious for their love chiptune and 8 bits like contemporaries Fang Island, Anamanaguchi doesn’t fuck around with subtleties. No, they lay it down and tell you exactly what hypercolorful aesthetic drives their sugar-rush, punk-influenced sound: the rich array of sounds drawn from Double Dragon, a hint of Ratatat’s characteristic crunching guitars and mid-80s Nintendo games, with a very slight underlying layer of pop.
And the visuals? From a band heavily influenced by video games, I would expect them to be nothing less than a combination of trippy, spectacular and slightly nauseating from so much color. From photos of cats to exerpts from classics such as Starfox 64, Anamanaguchi remind you that the visual component to a show is crucial to make the sensory experience complete for the audience.
With synthesizers emulating 8 bit sounds, it’s no surprise Anamanaguchi put on a high energy performance in their climb to build a digital empire of sounds. Add to that the addition of an incredible drummer, a crowd eager to transcend head bobbing and throw themselves into the mosh pit, and you have yourself insanely fun show.
After Anamanaguchi, the densely packed crowd buzzed with infectious excitement that soon turned to roaring applause when Will Wiesenfeld, also known as the mastermind behind the moniker Baths, took the stage. I had the opportunity to see Baths’ fantastic- and ear-splitting – show back in February at the Rock and Roll Hotel with Canadian art rockers Braids, and I was curious to see how the show differed this time around.
He began his set with the first track from his debut Cerulean, entitled “Apologetic Shoulderblades.” Although there was nothing apologetic about the way Baths dived into the set with the same fervor of the crowd.
It didn’t take much to notice that this wasn’t your typical electronic show. No, this show was for the nerds. The lovable ones with an extremely adept knowledge of Battlestar Galactica and an appreciation for the 8 bit sounds that defined the video games from their childhood, unsurprisingly having a profound influence in their music taste as adults.
And let’s not forget the music nerds. While fairly accessible, when you get down to it, Baths is musicians’ music, and Will Wiesenfeld has to be up there in the top ranks of music nerdiness. It’s undeniable that Wiesenfeld is incredibly skilled from a technical standpoint, yet it’s evident more so in the way he works onstage: playing with time signatures, intensely motivated over the keys, meticulously modifying beats and making sure that everything is in place.
In this era of “laptop DJs,” Baths is in a category of electronic-based music of his very own, melding together an innumerable amount of disciplines ranging from glitchy electronic to downtempo hiphop to even – dare I say – very minimalist dubstep. Compared to the live show, his highly experimental album Cerulean is a more cleaned-up listen than frat boys on formal night, pre-pregame. In person, however, Wiesenfeld takes the traditional song, makes use of static and improvises transitions while indulging in subtle bass drops and unconventional drum loops.
Despite the cliche description your stoner friends always articulate of “music as a form of being cleansed,” you haven’t really experienced refreshment until you’ve seen Baths live. Harmonizing with his own pre-recorded voice on “You’re My Excuse To Travel” and record scratching kept the audience unsuspecting amidst heavy dancing during standout tracks “Lovely Bloodflow” and “Aminals.” As the set progressed into a dancier set of new tracks, the sound shifted from chirping birds to a prominent disco influence to a series of ominous beats, slowed-down builds characteristic of trip-hop veterans Massive Attack.
It wasn’t until midway through the show that I noticed that the minuscule orange lights dotting amplifiers and tables were actually miniature candles emitting a warm glow from behind Wiesenfeld. I caught myself gaping even amidst the familiarity- which is exactly where the amazement lies with Baths’ music.