Gig review: Ben Frost at Howard Assembly Room, Leeds

Ben Frost
Ben Frost
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Ben Frost’s performances should come with a health warning.

The Australian born, Iceland based composer and producer leaves the audience feeling physically sick and disorientated with a set that combines classical minimalism with black metal and electronic sound manipulation.

Performing with a live drummer, the unsettlingly loud set starts with the kind of squalling guitar and metallic percussion usually associated with Throbbing Gristle. The bewildering effect is heightened by plumes of smoke and stuttering strobes that flicker so frequently it becomes necessary to protect your eyes.

It’s a show that few would have anticipated when the multi-instrumentalist first appeared on the scene in 2001 with Music For Sad Children, a minimalist release of ambient pastoralism that earned favourable comparisons to the Boards Of Canada.

He’s since given way to darker impulses, including soundtrack work and collaborations with contemporary dance companies, but none of this could have prepared listeners for his fifth studio album, this year’s A U R O R A.

Brutal in the extreme, it creates a physical claustrophobia that alternates between being locked in sheet metal factory and being strapped in the flight path of a dozen aircrafts with engine malfunctions.

It’s a cavernous wall of noise that’s interspersed with psychotic drum rolls and sub-bass sounds that are built around what could either be a man snoring or lion purring, the separation in Howard Assembly Room’s high quality speakers increasing the feeling of threat it generates.

This combines to produce a performance that’s definitely not for those of a faint disposition. In provoking such extreme reactions, however, it’s hard to determine whether it’s one of the worst shows ever witnessed or a work of genius that challenges notions of what constitutes music.

Gig date: November 14

Jonathan Wilson

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