Addicted to the Build-up: Battles are masters of jiggling electronic rock

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Battles | Photo by James Breslin
Battles | Photo by James Breslin

Experimental rock band Battles hails from New York and came to Union Transfer this past Sunday night in support of their third full-length album, La Di Da Di. The skilled trio produces instrumental music that falls somewhere between rock, funk, and dance, and does so by pairing technology with more classical instruments to create fluttering, robotic sounds. The main draw of seeing Battles live is the excitement that comes with witnessing them compile instrumental loops until each song shape shifts into its grandiose climax.

Their set began with anticipation as guitarist/bassist Dave Konopka came on stage to build his foundational loops, before his partners joined him to kick off the show with a rambunctious performance of “Dot Com.” This kind of ritual happened often throughout the evening, with tracks starting off choppy and minimal until the digitized effects interlocked into their beautifully composed arrangement. Konopka commanded an assortment of guitar pedals while interchanging bass and guitar, Ian Williams wielded his axe while playing dual synths, and John Stanier acted as the band’s backbone with his masterful drumming technique and ridiculously high ride cymbal.

The result of the band’s progressive electronic soundscape is music that has movement, and a jiggly, semi-solid consistency. Each member’s contribution wove together to construct a bold forward momentum, which altogether sounded like how jello looks and feels. As members added their respective parts, the music elastically maneuvered in a different direction, reacting like a block of gelatin being flicked around just for the fun of it. Battles’ entire set got the crowd moving accordingly, especially the jubilant “Ice Cream,” but their best moments were reserved for last. The trio ended their set with a vibrant performance of their most well known song, “Atlas,” and a crowd-pleasing encore that showcased their progression as a band, with “The Yabba.”

Battles put on a lively and tight production that was all the more impressive when you consider the number of variables involved with their technical songwriting and complicated use of gear. In addition to proving their top-notch musicianship, the band showcased its ability to create progressive music that is as danceable as it is artistic.

The most pleasant surprise of the evening was Xenia Rubinos, who opened the show with a charismatic set of electronic-based R&B that succeeded in getting the devoted crowd excited and engaged. The soulful Brooklyn musician played fuzzy synth lines and captivated the crowd with her versatile voice, and drummer Marco Buccelli kept techy beats going while adding in guitar pedal effects. Check out their EP Magic Trix.


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