LIVE REPORT: Blood Sport
Josh Gray reports from Cafe Oto in London
How like three lads from the soggy streets of Sheffield to take afrobeat, a genre built around communal joy and celebration, and twist it into something so dark and alien it might as well have been written to soundtrack an H.R. Giger V&A retrospective? And on what planet would the resulting unholy marriage of noise rock and African percussive pounding be anything other than a discardable mess of an experiment, fated to join the mass grave containing the rotting corpses of such ill-advised fusion scenes as grindie and crunkcore?
The planet, judging by Blood Sport's performance at the Café Oto is this one. Anyone disappointed by Battles' phoned-in 2015 record can rest easy knowing that the spirit of their early EPs is alive and well in the form of these three canny Northerners. The café's low-slung stage means that only the 12 or so guys at the front get to properly witness the complexities of the band's performance, but the rest of us are still able to bask in a unique sound not unlike Foals getting slowly lowered into the Mariana Trench. The sculpted guitar lines of Alex Keegan and Nick Potter stutter and squirm, drilling deep into the rhythmic base provided by the slick drumming of Sam Parkin, a musician more machine than man. Given that the act following Blood Sport would be afrofunk pioneer Tony Allen, the fact that Parkin still manages to display some of the most inspired drumming of the evening tells you all you really need to know about the quality of musicianship this band can muster.
This interplay of overlapping guitar lines and throbbing rhythms continually evolves but never changes drastically, forming the core formula around which the trio's unfaltering set is built. There are no song introductions, no moments of respite. The concept of slowing to a halt seems to be such anathema to Blood Sport I wouldn't have been surprised to see Keanu Reeves rifling through their backline hunting for Dennis Hopper's explosive leavings. At times their inspired use of motifs and willingness to take the long route when transitioning into the next song has more in common with a neo-orchestral performance more than the half hour set of a pedal-happy guitar band, but at other times their cacophonous breaks sound like they could be intentionally masking mistakes that the audience would be none the wiser about. This is the great advantage of the being even a partial noise rock band I suppose: inject a song with enough odd squalls and diversions and no one will be able to tell when you genuinely fuck up.
And nowhere is the noise rock element of the band's DNA clearer than in Nick Potter's (for want of a better word)… vocals. Heavily effected and completely inscrutable, they cut through the venue's PA like the dying cry of some giant prehistoric insect. The clicks and wails fed through Potter's vocal box sound so inhuman that, if he were ever to quit the band, the other members could do worse than to search for his replacement at Seaworld. Thankfully the band retain the self-control to limit these vocal excursions in order that they never become too off-putting, allowing them the help build the otherworldly atmosphere while not undermining the fact that Blood Sport are really an instrumental jam collective at heart.
The band are starting to lock down some high profile fans beside Tony Allen: Bombay Bicycle Club's Jack Steadman graces the audience on the Saturday and apparently Yannis Phillipikanis, who was there the night before, is pretty much in love with them. I imagine it's only a matter of time before Tom Watson name-drops them in his next shadow cabinet resignation: the ultimate ratification for any underground band. Their gradually rising profile, coupled with the greater palette of sound and growing maturity apparent on their new album's material, could see Blood Sport become the unintentional breakout act of 2016. I wouldn't hold your breath for a crossover pop hit though, that would be far less comprehendible than even their most oblique of sonic experiments.