From to De Sade to Ballard, the idea that the body is a system of organic cogs and connectors with a very basic set of primary instincts is an old one, and in the modern age of prosthetics, wearable tech and augmented reality it’s becoming increasingly hard to see the divisions between man and the machine. This is a subject that obviously concerns post-electro-stoner-pop-hardcore band, Death From Above 1979, essentially a throbbing mass of impulses so electronic in sound and industrial in action that it’s sometimes hard to tell which bits is the instrument. And to an almost Kate Bush-level of online furore (THERE WERE LOTS OF TWEETS IN CAPITAL LETTERS), after a 10 year ‘hiatus’ they have returned.
Camden’s Electric Ballroom plays sticky-floored host to the two-piece tonight, and watching their silhouettes yawning like snakes and moving up and down, both guitarist and drummer move like industrial pistons. New album The Physical World is loud anyway, and live it’s so uncomfortably loud that it sounds like one of them has slipped back into the venue half an hour after the sound check and turned all of the knobs up. Jessie Keeler’s bass moves hell for leather - particularly on debut album title track midway through the set, which opens with a bass riff so fast and punishing you think your eyes are going to fall out. ‘You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine’ is not so much a wistful declaration of emotional coldness as it is an aggressive statement of intent. Combined with which, the uncanny stillness of Grainger working at the drums gives off the impression that his arms are simply mechanical extensions of the sticks. Even the sound is industrial, loud like a factory, repetitive like a machine.
DFA are back with Physical World, and whatever the reasons for the reunion (it’s money - ssh don’t tell anyone), they now have enough material to fill a forty-minute setlist. From opener ‘Turn It Out’ through to ‘Right On Frankenstein’ (a good four minute song that could have been a great three minute song), via highlights from both albums, DFA are pretty much the most exciting live band you could hope to see right now. However - as you look at the sausage-fest that is a DFA gig, the beers held aloft in the air, the shouting, the singing along to bass riffs (at one point in ‘Trainwreck’ with the number of bros shouting ‘DUR NUR NUR NUR NU NU’ we could have been at a Fratellis gig), it does cross your mind - is listening to DFA1979 the musical equivalent of buying a big porsche?
Despite this, when they ditch the stoner breakdowns and hit the hits, DFA becomes really effective. At times, Keeler’s basslines are baroque in their intricacy, but when a simple juggernaut guitar and drums build up, is when things really get going. From the slow-build (from loud to LOUD) of ‘Little Sister’ to the scrape and pound of ‘Romantic Rights’. You’re A Woman was a kind of horny break-up album, but in Keeler/Grainger’s hands, even the break-up songs sound like shagging songs. From the trademark elephant noses on the front of both albums (a symbol of the phallus as well as power) to the slightly less nuanced lyrics of new songs like ‘Virgins’, both albums are steeped in sex. The comparison with De Sade is apt, because one gets the feeling listening to the lyrics from debut You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine and this year’s The Physical World that Jessie Keeler and Sebastien Grainger may also be ‘connoisseurs of sexual pleasure’. “Where have all the virgins gone?” Grainger, sings on rock-stomper, ‘Virgins’. I think you fucked them mate.