February 2nd | Crofters Rights
Photos: Luke Macpherson
Red lights beam down behind Black Marble. A screen is showing low-fidelity videos in black and white, where static distorts images of pornography and undefined, eerie imagery. All attention is focused on the two men on stage. One holds a guitar, the other a bass, and pre-programmed drums and synthesised instruments play along. With this stripped-down set-up, Black Marble managed to transfix a crowded Crofters Rights with a set that showcased the best of their new release, whilst playing and re-imagining a slew of fan favourites from their earlier works.
Before Black Marble took to the room, support was provided by LA-based Panther Modern. Playing in complete darkness bar a fan of yellow and blue laser beams at the front of the stage, Panther played a series of flowing micro club mix epics that punished the listener with a barrage of filthy bass sounds.
The production on these tracks was impressive. The bass had a meaty bite to it, a tangible presence as it rattled the venue floor, whilst the melodic components chirped and jittered, turning industrial screeches and twangs into hummable counterpoints to the ever-present bass. Thudding kicks hashing out hard techno rhythms were complimented by wispy, strained vocals buried in the mix too, as the lone member of Panther Modern danced in darkness and the crowd throughout the set.
In stark contrast to the volatile energy of their supporting act, Black Marble enticed the audience with a stoic melancholy instead. Throughout, the duo’s instrumentation was on point, though the music of Black Marble has never been about technical ability. It was especially clear, in a live setting, that their songs aren’t written to bang, but to slowly creep onto the listener, more concerned with vibe and atmosphere than flashy theatrics.
The most impressive thing about Black Marble’s performance was how they breathed new life into their music in a live setting. The set consisted largely of cuts from new album Bigger Than Life, where they made songs that on record sound flatter really come to life on stage. Lead singer Chris Stewart’s voice also somehow sounded even better in person than on record. It was still treated with a large amount of echo, but there was more soul to his downbeat dark-pop anthemics.
The instrumentation itself sounded more stripped-back, giving the event the intimate feel of an acoustic gig, yet also sounded more produced and higher fidelity than their records. Each guitar twang was clearer and more impactful, each drum kick more forceful and kinetic.
Even though Black Marble largely deal in music for quiet contemplation, their fifty-minute set still left an electric buzz in the air when they finished. Maybe it was the fan service, adding new guitar parts to older songs that didn’t have them before, evolving their music in a way that didn’t eclipse the sparse brilliance of their early work. Maybe it was the surprise cover of Wire’s ‘In Manchester’, which they commanded to make it sound their own. More likely it was the simple, imperfect performance by a group who have honed their synth-pop skills to a fine point over their well-earned career.
See the video for ‘Private Show’ here: