B L A C K I E Detonates New Material In East Downtown

Welcome to B L A C K I E's Inferno.
Welcome to B L A C K I E's Inferno.
Photo by Francisco Montes
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B L A C K I E, Ruiners, Baby Horse
Civic TV Laboratories
May 13, 2017

“Release” is too passive a word for what B L A C K I E does with new records. Houston’s preeminent/only noise-rap savant’s creations aren’t simply offered up for consumption. He fires them from a scattergun into as many faces are within range. If nobody flinches, he turns the volume up. B L A C K I E’s records constitute an act of aggression, directed inwardly, outwardly, in all directions. He releases them in the same sense that dynamite releases energy.

That was precisely what the crowd at Civic TV Laboratories signed up for at B L A C K I E’s record release show on Saturday — a new detonation. Even after dark, it was incredibly hot inside the airless East Downtown warehouse space, particularly when artsy, young twentysomethings packed in to hear post-punk openers Baby Horse and Ruiners. Both bands delivered nice sets, with audience members bopping around happily and sipping warm beers from paper bags. Between acts, there was the chatty, loose atmosphere that always comes with a good warehouse show. But when time came for B L A C K I E at last, backs straightened and lips were sealed. The night turned serious.

The anticipation was thick in the air, or maybe it was just a sweaty funk.
The anticipation was thick in the air, or maybe it was just a sweaty funk.
Photo by Francisco Montes

Not everybody gets what B L A C K I E does; even fewer probably like it. But no one can deny that he takes it as seriously as a heart attack. He spoke to no one as he set up his four, monolithic JBL P.A. speakers. When he began warming up the reed on his saxophone by blowing the mouthpiece as loud as he could, it was a clarion call. The hundred or so people hanging out in the lot filed in quietly.

The anticipation was thick in the air. Maybe it was just a sweaty funk. Whatever it was, it smelled terrible — B L A C K I E shows are hard on the senses, man. The man himself looked a little dazed, maybe wondering if he was really ready for the kind of eruption he knew he’d have to deliver.

“Thanks to everybody for coming out,” the performer said. “I got merch for sale in the corner. I’ma play this new record.”

With characteristic brevity, he then hit 'play' on his backing track. A cacophony of broken strings swelled to ear-splitting levels. Lit only in dim red, B L A C K I E paced there on the concrete floor, pouring a bottle of water over his head. Then he pounced.

Not everybody gets what B L A C K I E does; even fewer probably like it.
Not everybody gets what B L A C K I E does; even fewer probably like it.
Photo by Francisco Montes

It’s not fair to say that B L A C K I E screams from his guts. It’s more like he screams from his toenails. On Saturday night, every cell in his body attempted to rocket into his smashed-flat microphone to be converted into electrical energy. Anguished saxophone and massive, martial snare drum beats blew the front row’s hair back as the artist doubled over in exhalation. The mike stand didn’t last a song, obliterated alongside whatever had been clogging my sinuses all spring.

The new suite of recordings, titled Remains, turned out to be far less dissonant than the stuff B L A C K I E was blasting on his previous cycle. Beats ram their way to the fore on the new batch, riding tremendous projectiles of distorted bass. He picked up the sax only briefly on a couple of pieces, honking along with the din, but more often it was the mike being brutalized. I don’t think I understood a word he screamed, and B L A C K I E took no care that I understood. It was enough for me to understand that he was screaming it.

Eyes bulging, veins popping, he smashed his body into the first few rows, hollered directly into faces and eardrums, and soaked people with violent splashes of water. The noise emanating from his PA was incredibly loud at all times. It was adrenalizing. At one point, the artist disappeared somehow and emerged at the back of the room, sweating, crawling and screaming amongst the people who had thought they were safe. It was punk-rock; it was performance art. It was loud. Basically, it was awesome.

Later, the noise emanating from his PA was incredibly loud and adrenalizing.
Later, the noise emanating from his PA was incredibly loud and adrenalizing.
Photo by Francisco Montes

When he was done crushing us, B L A C K I E didn’t even let his final track play out. He pulled the plug on his P.A. amplifier head and screamed, “OFF!!” And folks, he damn sure meant it.

“Thanks again, everybody, for coming out,” he said.

Most of us filed out as quietly as we’d come in, rubbing our ears. There were a lot of stupid grins going on. As always with B L A C K I E, we weren’t entirely sure what we’d heard. But we won’t be forgetting it soon.

Personal Bias: I brought earplugs — wasn’t my first B L A C K I E gig! — but I took them out halfway through. It’s not the full B L A C K I E experience without some aural discomfort.

The Crowd: Artsy college kids.

Overheard in the Crowd: “Excuse me, Mr. All-caps-with-spaces?”

Random Notebook Dump: Sometime between Ruiners and B L A C K I E, I became acutely aware of how long it had been since I’d drank out of a paper bag.

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