Tri Angle Records celebrated its 5th Anniversary in a decommissioned bank basement across the street from the New York Stock Exchange on Friday night. The Red Bull Music Academy event showcased what makes Robin Carolan’s New York/London-based electronic music label so distinctive and worthy of a retrospective after just 5 years: a roster of artists making challenging, hard-to-pin-down music that is nonetheless recognizable as Tri Angle. The artists don’t necessarily sound alike (Evian Christ’s hip-hop deconstructions are very different than the Haxan Cloak’s threatening soundscapes), but they all bear an aesthetic kinship.
There are a few distinguishing characteristics of Tri Angle artists: a ghostly, gloomy quality; no attempts to conceal the music’s entirely digital origins; a focus on texture over melody; and sounding something like dance music but also not, because the drums are too brittle, the rhythms are too off-kilter, and the mood is too bleak. The lobby of the former J.P. Morgan headquarters at 23 Wall Street, which attendees passed through before heading downstairs into the basement for the performance, was completely filled with fog and a few black mesh screens billowed from the ceiling while a spooky ambient drone played. It was an accurate visual representation of what Tri Angle sounds like.
Down in the basement, the feeling was “dance party in a bunker after the end of the world.” Concertgoers drifted from room to room: the larger main-stage room, which felt like a construction site, with walls that couldn’t be touched lest you come away with spray foam insulation crumbles on your black shirt; the smaller, hotter second stage room that only held about 100 people and had LED lights that streaked across the ceiling like comets. The vault became a screening room for a short film by Lucien Smith called “a Clean Sweep,” which was sort of like a walking tour of New York City landmarks with poetic narration by Glen O’Brian.
Main-stage highlights of the night included Forest Swords, whose name and music remind me of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, all graceful moves and lacerating points, and the Haxan Cloak, whose bass at one point was so loud and deep that it took on a physical presence. A guy with a Terminator-like vibe (Teutonic poker face, dressed in all black, sunglasses inside at night) put his whole body against the speaker to feel the vibrations from the bass whiteout, and after he left I tried it too. There was a breeze. It was rad. In the smaller room, Lotic played a distorted, nearly bass-less take on techno that still provoked the most dancing of the night. Lotic himself at one point jumped up on the DJ console with his shirt off and humped the air while on all fours.
Oh, and Bjork was there. She wore a sequined mask throughout the night, and before I realized it was her, I stood next to her in the crowd. I thought, “this woman looks like Bjork.” Iceland’s #1 export, who will be headlining at Governor’s Ball next month, played a surprise DJ set in the small room (she’s connected to Tri Angle by the Haxan Cloak, who contributed to her album Vulnicura). She spun a globetrotting mix that jumped from Middle Eastern singing to Portuguese spoken word to choral music to white noise.
On the whole, the show was probably the most Gothic thing to ever hit Wall Street.
(Photos: Brendan McInerney/ANIMALNewYork)