Hype Williams are late.
Perhaps they underestimated the time it takes to flood a venue with smoke. No exaggeration here: no-one in the dark little sweatbox that is Power Lunches, in East London’s Dalston, can see a thing. As the doors open, smoke engulfs you and the only points of light are the blue LEDs on the behemoth of a sound system that the quixotic London duo have hauled in, and the beer fridges lost in the haze.
Extricating the truth from the press release prankster bullshit that accompanies Hype Williams is an exercise in futility; and it’s frankly missing the point. Whether there’s any truth to their stranger-than-fiction ‘origins’ or supposed arrests for dead raccoon theft becomes a moot point once you’re buried in Power Lunches’ ARP-like basement, straining for air and hopelessly in thrall to Hype Williams’ slippery, hyper-fractured soundclash.
For ten minutes before Dean Blunt and Inga Copeland – real names or not – take the stage, people lurch into each other in the grey, and a looped, baleful So Solid Crew sample echoes through the darkness, soundtracking their enforced disorientation. It’s all a touch Guantanamo. When the two culprits finally loom onstage, they don’t so much arrive as materialise, half-formed against a violent crackle of distant sirens, gunshots and ugly, hallucinogenic layers of war field sound that’s alternately blissed out and freaked out. Forget seeing their faces; you can barely make out an outline.
The sound system they’ve brought is intentionally too powerful for the room, and becomes a weapon. Around you, hands cover ears and there’s a creeping retreat from the stage area – futile as the duo’s confrontational noise floods the room. Nostrils vibrate uncomfortably, and low frequencies mount an attack on your eyebrows and chest cavity. The samples range from the familiar (Chicks on Speed’s ‘Deceptacon’ keeps trying to find its way into the mire) to the heavily processed and barely identifiable.
By controlling their audience in the most physical way, by removing sight and replacing it with ear-splitting sound and aggressive physical sensation that catches even these careworn hipsters off guard, do Hype Williams succeed in exactly the way they intended, or do they shock and awe to distract from a lack of content? Some have suggested that Hype have nicked the emperor’s new clothes and paraded through Dalston in them, scenesters riding their coat tails.
It’s a lazy accusation, and their manically textured output discredits it easily enough. Every time you acclimatise to the noise, the clashing layers transpose and align, forming a beautiful, undulating wave of dub. And just as you begin to relax, move, slink along with it, it all separates again and the onslaught resumes.
A setting like this is where the duo are at their most authentic and accurate – a dark cellar where no-one can see a fucking thing except smoke and hulking shadows, and the cataclysmic nonsense spewing from the sound system is all. The only light comes from one slow strobe which, for forty five minutes, lashes its light out and visibly sucks it back in, over and over, incessantly until you close your eyes in submission. For six minutes one brutalising loop shakes your respiratory system out of joint. This shit makes absolutely no sense at all.
As they exit, someone shouts ‘Long live Hype Williams!’.
Their response: ‘Nah, kill us.’
In an offensively over-marketed world where everything is for sale and reduced to a semiotic device with a quantifiable price, this feels like a legitimate response. They lie about their names and origins, they number rather than name their tracks, they smear every whip-crack beat with cringing levels of feedback and warped, paranoid samples, and fuck you if you can’t figure it out or draw your own conclusions. And all the while, your face and thighs and earlobes vibrate with frightening force, and your sightlessness no longer matters. They have made their live set a purely physical experience. Why? Because they can. Maybe it’s not all hype; maybe they’ve devised a genuinely new way of making and experiencing live music. Or more likely not, but we’re all too shell-shocked and fooled to tell the difference. Either way, they’ve made their point.