Black Midi's Debut LP 'Schlagenheim' Is Part Talking Heads, Part Noise, All Consuming

Guitarist Cameron Picton: "You have to listen to the album to understand what it means"
Black Midi's Debut LP 'Schlagenheim' Is Part Talking Heads, Part Noise, All Consuming
Photo: Dan Kendall
"All he said before the gig was, 'I'm going to jump up in the air and when I land, just go into noise and we'll see what happens."
 
These instructions, recounted by Black Midi guitarist Cameron Picton — in an Exclaim! interview just a month or so before the release of their hugely anticipated debut LP, Schlagenheim — were the sum total of the communication Krautrock godhead Damo Suzuki gave the young members of Black Midi when the group played with him in London.
 
"That was it," says Picton. "He's really quite a quiet guy."
 
Since bursting out of South London last June with their debut single "BmBmBm" (pronounced "boom, boom, boom"), the quartet have wowed fans with their visceral, improv-heavy live shows and left music pundits searching for apt descriptors of their heady mix of spiky post-punk, Talking Heads funk and Touch and Go Records noise.
 
The band formed while its members were students at the BRIT School of Performing Arts and Technology, a free but prestigious school in London that counts Adele and Amy Winehouse among its alumni; the quartet's live debut doubled as their final performance at the school.

Such lack of direction would throw most bands, let alone one made up of four teenage friends, completely off their game. Yet the members of Black Midi — Picton, singer-guitarist Geordie Greep, guitarist Matt Kwasniewski-Kelvin and drummer Morgan Simpson — not only rose to the occasion; they've seemingly adopted that "advice" as the prime directive for songwriting.
 
Where early singles like "BmBmBm" and "Speedway" were "written out" by Greep and Picton, nowadays Black Midi rely on improvisation when writing.
 
"We'll spend like two hours or more just jamming," says Picton. "We'd record it and then in the evening or the next day, pick out the bits we like and starting refining them.
 
Several of the "best bits" from their gig with Suzuki — commemorated on a self-released limited edition cassette — became songs on the band's debut album, which drops on Rough Trade June 21.
 
Listening to its nine tracks, it's easy to understand how the band became the toast of the always-fickle UK music press. Recorded by Dan Carey (Hot Chip, Franz Ferdinand), the tracks hit like a gut punch, while the mix of sounds confounds classification and begs repeat listens.
 
Yet attempts to dig deeper into their meaning will come up dry. "Talking Heads" got its name from the fact that it sounds like the New York band, while "BmBmBm" got its title from the rhythmic pulse of its guitar riff. And Google Translate won't help you with the record's bizarre title: "It's  a non-word," reveals Kwasniewski-Kelvin. Greep's lyrics tend towards fiction, rather than the personal, and "Schlagenheim" is the world where several of the songs take place: "You have to listen to the album to understand what it means."
 
It's Black Midi's world, and we're just listeners in it.