As one-half of UK electronic-drone duo Fuck Buttons, Benjamin John Power is no stranger to exploring the fringes of experimental noise music by creating harsh and tantalizing atmospheres. He brought his solo project, Blanck Mass, which has a darker undertone and is more beat-driven than Fuck Buttons, to the Drake Underground in Toronto on Tuesday night (September 12) and proved his ability to command a room using noise.
Behind an assortment of cables and black boxes, Power jumped into "The Rat," a pounding, merciless track from his third solo album, World Eater, released earlier this year. Power set the night's unnerving and abrasive tone immediately, and he carried it throughout the one-hour, seven-song set without a pause or a breather. Unfortunately, this also meant that sound was blisteringly loud, making the small venue uncomfortable during some of the more hectic moments (including the claustrophobic shrill of "Rhesus Negative") and causing some of the more nuanced sounds to be lost in the percussive barrage.
Still, the catharsis of Blanck Mass was unmistakeable. "Silent Treatment," which was anything but, was Power at his best. It was fascinating to watch him operate his equipment with machine-like dexterity and urgency; transitioning the breathy, desolate swell of the song's beginning into the pulsating dance track through the use of craftily chopped up vocal samples was enthralling, and saw the audience sway in agreement in the darkness.
On a screen behind Power were rapidly changing, hyper-real images — unidentifiable collages blending human characteristics with grotesque and hallucinatory hues. This use of visuals put certain tracks in new context: "Please," Blanck Mass's skewed version of a pop song with its kinetic rhythms and strobing vocal loops, was accompanied by a disturbingly fleshy sphincter of some sort, emphasising the unexpectedness and volatility of the music.
During some songs, Power added his own voice by layering frightening screams into the mix, stepping out to the front of the stage at a few points in the set. He finished on this note, increasing the BPMs and the shrieks on "The Great Confuso Pt. II" and then abruptly walking off the stage with a wave.
Blanck Mass uncovers flashes of beauty amidst catastrophic sound, pushing the limits of the balance between industrial dance music and forceful dissonance. As a live experience, Blanck Mass is immersive, if not somewhat unsettling and caustic, making Power one of the more intriguing electronic artists driven by the thrill of instability.