An uneasy anticipation hangs in the air of the Button Factory, the sort that claws at your mind when walking home at night and each shadow is a potential threat. At the lip of the stage, two drums kits sit facing one another. Behind is a table with a laptop and mixer connected to a wall of guitar amps that The Who would be proud of. Ben Frost is an artist who likes it loud.
Tonight he’s going to let loose Aurora, his forthcoming fifth solo album, and he’s not alone, with the two drums kits manned by Greg Fox and Shahzad Ismaily. The set whirrs into action with sounds of a jet engine spinning up, a single sound that marks the point of departure from his previous work By The Throat. Whereas that album used organic sounds to prey upon primal fears – howling wolves, grunting cello and stifled screams – Aurora is a vision of a future-hell that has been lit up like an oil slick, burning with a blinding phosphorescence.
Written in the Democratic Republic of Congo while Frost collaborated with visual artist Richard Mosse, these works revel in the synthetic. Between the drum hits, Frost’s blistering soundscapes are punctuated with synth stabs, conjuring a post-apocalyptic dance floor. The strobe fires so repeatedly that at times it is difficult to look at the stage, and a genuine sense of doom takes over. Barefoot, bearded and hunching intently over his instruments, Frost initiates another wave of distortion. Fox and Ismaily hammer their percussion, attempting by sheer pneumatic force to weigh down the atmosphere enough that we won’t all be sucked into a vacuum.
If it sounds chaotic, it is. But Frost – from his vantage point – retains control of the dynamics, bringing things to a pause just enough to allow recovery before beginning the next venture into the abyss. It’s equal parts exhibition and gig and, like some epochal work of art, challenges the audience in a very physical way. Some will reject it, but others will come away changed just enough that they might hear things in a new way.
Ben Frost photographed by Robin Rimbaud – Scanner