New Blood: Battles

Their music possesses a sense of the manic, yet contains a powerful logic and forward momentum

Feature by Jay Shukla | 16 Apr 2006

The gusto of genuine originality and the willingness to experiment are rarely concomitant with popularity. History is, unfortunately, littered with examples of artists who never reached the audiences that they rightfully deserved.

And yet, occasionally, the planets do align, and the world sits up and takes notice; momentarily alert to a fresh spring of lucidity and invention that has somehow managed to bubble up from beneath the dry, stolid tarmac of 'popularity'. So it is that Battles find themselves in the eye of the storm; the subject of countless wagging tongues - from straight-laced indie folk seduced by the supple, infectious rock of Tras, to the avant-garde faithful, beguiled by the band's impeccable underground pedigree. There is little doubt that Battles' two performances at Triptych will be some of the most eagerly anticipated of the whole festival.

Speaking to The Skinny, guitarist/keyboardist Ian Williams was obviously excited about their upcoming dates: "Yeah, Triptych should be amazing. I hope we have some time to see some of it. I hope to hang out mostly with Big Daddy Kane, of course… and pay the usual respects to the Scottish royalty who will also be on the bill."

The seeds of Battles were sewn as long ago as 2001, when the four band members came together under the encouragement of Williams (formerly of Don Caballero) to flex their collective creative muscle. Multi-instrumentalist and fearless avant-garde adventurer Tyondai Braxton adds a healthy dose of unpredictability to the equation, whilst the laser-guided riffing of Dave Konopka and brutally precise drumming of John Stainer (ex-Helmet, Tomahawk) provide Battles' compositions with juggernaut-like momentum.

The band were signed by Warp late last year; a savvy move from the electro-centric label, which is taking steps to broaden its roster of artists. Williams elucidates the group's thinking: "We've always liked the music on Warp. The idea of making good music first and only then thinking about how to sell the record seems to be a common goal we share. It doesn't seem like it would throw them for a loop if we decided to make way out music instead of something more commercially appealing."

The recently reissued collection of the band's early recordings, entitled 'EP C/B EP', shows that Battles have the knack for crafting tunes that are informed by the spirit of improvisation and experimentation; possessing a sense of the manic, yet containing a powerful logic and forward momentum. Tracks like SZ2 make use of numerous short, overlapping phrases and melodies that bounce off one another in the most playful manner, until a panoply of thunderous, jazzy stabs threatens to tear the track apart. It's thrilling stuff, but according to Williams the band have already moved on: "We recorded those EPs when we were first starting out. Then we went out and played a bunch of tours and sort of learned how to rock as a band, or whatever it is we do. So we are in a different place than we were at the beginning."

Having already established their credentials as an unmissable live act at festivals such as Sonar and ATP, the mind boggles at what the band will have in store for us at Triptych. Battles are that most rare of breeds; a band who defy expectation and whose potential seems almost limitless. Bring it on, whatever it may be.

Battles will play The Venue, Edinburgh on April 28 (with Steve Reid/Kieran Hebden and Carl Craig) and The Tramway, Glasgow on April 29 (with Sun Ra Arkestra, Reid/Hebden, Colditz and Future Pilot aka DJ Set).

'EP C/B EP' is out now on Warp. The b