Now 'ear this
Brooklyn trio Black Dice turns dicey beginnings into a solid roll
Straight outta Compton. Big ups to Brooklyn, aka Crooklyn. Greetings from Baltimore, Charm, aka Harm City.
Hear shout-outs to these cities and you can imagine the grind on their gritty streets, the kind that could produce the brusquest of beats associated with each. But hearing an artist give love to Providence, R.I.? Meh, not so much.
"Straight outta P-Town" just sounds dirty, not grimy. Yet Providence played an influential part as the launching pad for Black Dice, a group responsible for some of this decade's initial rasping indie noisecore. On its fourth full-length, Broken Ear Record, Black Dice hasn't exactly gone NWA, but a renewed emphasis on rhythmic structure has resulted in a metamorphosis from dislocated filter-buffeted abrasiveness to head-bobbing lope. It also helped the band establish an almost lyrical phrasing without sacrificing all oscillations of the vivisectional sonics from its conception.
"When I was going to [the Rhode Island School of Design] in Providence, it was an edgy town where there were a lot of cheap, derelict warehouses," says guitarist/sequencer-operator Bjorn Copeland, who assembled Black Dice around 1996 along with bassist Sebastian Blanck, vocalist Eric Copeland and drummer Hisham Bharoocha. "And in these fucked-up spaces were bands making fucked-up music for people who were really into aggressive stuff. Sometimes you'd play on the floor and the people right in front of you had as much to do with the show as the musicians. It was a time free of rules."
It was also a time free of form with free-flowing volume. Rarely being invited to play club gigs, Black Dice — along with such confrontational skronking thrash acts as Lightning Bolt, Forcefield and Arab on Radar — built up an unnervingly piercing PA to inflict audiences with sequencer-strafed splatters of timbres clanging like sheet metal dry-humping and howling like being ear-fucked with a high-torque drilldo. "What made it interesting to us was because it was very different to polite indie shit, stuff where people find a formula with some degree of success and they churn it out," says Copeland. "That's the model of what we don't want to do."
A move in 1999 to Brooklyn, however, precipitated changes in Black Dice's lineup and output. Aaron Warren replaced Blanck and Black Dice cultivated a following as prone to visit the Whitney Biennial as a DIY warehouse show. Like a video game running low on alkali, Black Dice's processed pixel tones flickered in fits and starts, being further splayed even as they grew weak. "The shows got less violent, but they still engaged people," says Copeland. "It became more sonically engaging than physically engaging."
Indeed, Black Dice began exploring unsettled trills of desire, dread and debris, feeling a kinship with multimedia artists/musicians including Mike Kelly and Jim Shaw, whose works explore abstractions and inferiorities both lewd and lucid. For Copeland, being embraced by New York's art and fashion communities wasn't detrimental, acting as just another parallel outlet for Black Dice's assemblage of visceral thrills.
"I consider myself someone who makes stuff to confront — works on paper, sculpture — and then I also go make stuff in the studio," says Copeland. "Having performed in museums or art galleries, I can see why people might think we're an 'academic band,' but it's the same as kids in a garage making grunge songs. We just want to have fun when we do it. We play until everyone feels the skeleton of a song solidly, then you find parts to embellish, exaggerate, manipulate and punctuate."
Still, Broken Ear Record comes across as Black Dice's most cerebral, or at least thought-mapped, album to date. Now a trio following the departure of Bharoocha, Black Dice has combined bratty tribal undulations and corroded robofunk thuds, making garbled, asphyxiated musique concrète like sandblasted Middle Eastern mosaics. Like an eroded tile, there's a linear civility that frays into a fracas about the edges, though only one-third of the tracks highly favor bristly static over a static stomp. Providence surely smiled on these sonic anarchitects, even if they've come a long way since those riotous days in Rhode Island.