On October 18, I went to see electronic duo F*** Buttons at (le) poisson rouge in Manhattan. I’ve been listening to this Bristol, England-based group for a few years (they’ve been putting out albums since 2008) so I was excited to finally see them live on this tour to promote their latest critically-acclaimed record Slow Focus (which I reviewed here.) Formed with Andrew Hung and Benjamin John Power in 2004, the duo's experimental drone music incorporates elements of post-rock as well, and since this 800-person venue sold out a few days before the show, it’s clearly struck a chord on our side of the pond too. Despite their provocative name, there’s nothing X-rated about F*** Buttons: their soaring, pumping and even tribal-sounding music is predominantly instrumental except for some occasional chanting, with imaginative song titles like “Sweet Love for Planet Earth,” “Surf Solar” and “Flight of the Feathered Serpent.”
The first act was the most “conventional” one: Mystery Skulls consists of Luis Dubuc, who uses a laptop and one other piece of equipment. He was originally from Venezuela, then Dallas and is currently based in Los Angeles. He played pumping dance music with Daft Punk-style beats and Prince-style vocals, sounding like a more futuristic re-imagining of new jack swing and ‘90s R&B. It was a pretty fun way to get started.
After that, it was time for another solo act: Lichens. Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe uses a modular synthesizer and his versatile voice to create what sounds like ancient cries and chants against layers and layers of hypnotic synth. Backed by an ever-changing projection of an eye-shape and background going through a dizzying array of patterns and colors, Lichens’ easy-to-get-lost-in set got a huge applause and cheers.
At last, in a haze of smoke tinted blue by the lights, it was time for F*** Buttons to begin. They kicked it off with Slow Focus’ first track “Brainfreeze,” using a pounding, mid-tempo drumbeat soon layered in zephyrs of buzzing, glimmering synth and later a triumphant electric guitar. The crowd definitely got moving to the beats, particularly when F*** Buttons played their shining single “The Red Wing,” which I think kind of sounds like a re-imagining of old-school hip-hop-type beats. They played a great mix of thumping, simmering drone from their albums, creating a truly compelling sound that I had a great time experiencing in person. I strongly recommend checking them out.