During Ratking From Within the Crowd (Center and Towards the Back).
- Find more friends. My social toxicity is clearly at some kind of all time high. An hour pre-show I still can’t find anyone to take this ticket from me for free. I’m actually giving it away. I hadn’t predicted this, not for Ratking—They who breathe the 5 Burroughs, who rapidly graduated from ‘Ones To Watch’ lists to the 'Best of 2014’ lists with the velocity of uncontrolled fire, they who seemed, last year, to carry the perceived future of New York hip-hop squarely upon their conspicuously young shoulders. Gratifyingly enough, everyone inside the Ding Dong’s sunken, quadrilateral bandroom has clearly been waiting to see them at least as long as me. 21 year-old rapper Wiki is palpably relieved to be yelling and bouncing in front of a crowd that gives the enthusiastic same back to the stage.
- Try Not to Age So Quickly. I have a crematorial headstart on 2/3 of this room by almost a decade. I’m surrounded by skin like unused Bakelite, faces that looked almost ironed. [Author’s Note: Naturally expected from a band who boasts two out of three members south of 22] But Ratking, roiling and fizzing from the stage, make the increasingly familiar 'Feeling-Awld-at-a-Yung-Person-Show’ more complex than usual. It’s in their visuals, which are mercilessly edited and filtered slices of 80s Troma celluloid, early anime and a whole bunch of Very New York 70s stock footage—everything from candid footage of gangs like the Savage Nomads, residents clashing with police and spidery maps of the New York subway. The whole visual aspect has been curated to capture a very specific attitude—something about place, struggle and lineage (ie New York/New York/New York) The whole thing comes off beautifully, buttressing Ratking’s gritty NYC narrative. But it has a strange resonance also. Wiki broadcasts vocally and physiologically as young and vital, transmitting the same kind of sweat and tension, the same sort of outrage and disaffection that the watery images spilling over the stage are showing. This vaulting from past to present isn’t anything new, and absolutely works at a spiritu-creative level. But it feels weird when you’re the one who’s been vaulted. It gives the creeping invisibility a sense of completion, like I’m generational glue. Or maybe generational soil— where younger generations spread themselves through me and rhizomatically back towards earlier decades, folding the slightly more distant past against the current day. But its all mostly fine really, especially for the socially disinclined [Author’s Note: me] even if it is a little existentially eerie.
- I Should Rewatch 'The Toxic Avenger’. One of the problems with the (and I feel like I’m definitely now heaping together molehill sand into something larger) liminal age thing, is that I’ve seen a lot of Ratking’s visuals before in different places, so unlike the youthful majority of the audience, their footage doesn’t exist for me as a series of disconnected vignettes, but tantalising snippets of things half forgotten that I always merely begin to twist over in my brain before the screen lets them go. It’s all pretty distracting. By far the most distracting is a car chase sequence from The Toxic Avenger (1984) where Slug and Bozo are in a small mustard yellow car which is being pursued on foot by Toxie (the film’s homunculus-like, chemically deformed hero) until he eventually makes it into the car, sending it careening through the streets, de-awning buildings, scattering pedestrians and generating cinematic pandemonium in all directions. It’s great. But I keep losing track of Ratking, my brain swerving ever back to the Toxic Avenger, and feeling close to dismayed when the visuals move on.
[Author’s Note: Beyond the simple fact of my age, I also attribute my child-like inability to not be wholly enraptured with the on-screen activity to the fact that I have not have lived in a house with a television since I was about 18, making my relationship to any kind of televisual medium increasingly 'awestruck moth to naked flame.’]
- Gotta Try (If It’s Even Possible) To Be (Even a Little) Less White. I feel like, even in this mostly peach-skinned room, I’m the whitest guy here by a fair margin. There’s only two possible challengers, and they’re pretty remote. The first is a guy thrashing against the lip of the stage, long blonde locks spraying wildly about him as he moves in unadjusted metal/punk moshpit style—straight up and down on high repeat. The second is a girl (blonde also) who has this compulsive thing where she crooks her arms in front of her and shakes her fists in the same way as Wheel of Fortune contestants do when they manage to build a full sentence out of two vowels. But neither of them have anything on me. I’m swaying at the middle-back in gold-rimmed spectacles with a book-length essay in my pocket by a UK author (Deborah Levy) called ‘Things I Don’t Want To Know’, a response to an essay by another UK author (George Orwell).
- Where is Hak? I’m sure there’s a totally legitimate and publicly available reason for this, given the fact of his absence wasn’t given a single word of attention from stage or crowd. Anyway. There’s never any way of truly appreciating the commensality of any particular organized unit until one of its parts is missing. But maybe ‘missing’ is the wrong word. The show doesn’t seem to lack anything as such, but naturally the colour palette’s maybe a little reduced. On record, the delicate, mournful tune and flow of Hak wreathes beautifully around Sporting Life’s melodies; makes Wiki’s crackling staccato feel like it hits even harder.
- Holy Moly, Sporting Life is Incredible. What Sporting Life does is deceptively complex. Behind his duel-console station (which, during setup, coaxes some serious mileage out of the sound engineer, striding repeatedly from desk to stage) Sporting Life approaches live performance with an ambidexterity rarely seen in electronic music. One hand is almost permanently draped over some kind of automated low pass filter, which, with a magician-and-crystal-ball-type flourish, sucks all the treble from the mix at will. His other hand flips around console controlling loops and lead lines. This is in addition to manually hitting snares in particular songs and percussion in perfect time with the cadence of Wiki’s vocals. And that’s just his arms. North of the torso, he’s chiming in with backups over Wiki and even abandons his post completely towards the set’s end and leaps into full-scale lead vocals.
- ‘Things I Don’t Want to Know’ (the book in my back pocket) – Pg. 83. “England was an exciting word to write. My mother had told me we were in exile and would one day return to the country of my birth.” Looking around at a roomful of kids (myself included) who had grown up embalmed in American culture, I wonder if, for some of them, this is sort of frustrating. To sing along and for the words to come out somehow wrong, to watch the images on the screen and identify deeply with a place that has been so grafted to their memory and cultural universe. I keep wondering if it’s infuriating to be in a kind of subjective exile (and I’m talking about your Very Serious hip-hop fans) from what they would undoubtedly see as a ‘cultural home’ [Author’s Note: These thoughts tend to get me somewhere towards a kind of sympathy with someone like Iggy Azalea, music notwithstanding.]
- Wiki’s Vocals Are Impossible to Resist. Most of the time it sounds like Wiki (Patrick Morales) isn’t so much rapping as gnawing on the beat. Despite being only half intelligible, his flows are undeniably limber and irresistibly percussive. The heavy introduction of his voice to a track, matched with his posture (eyes squinted to almost shutting, body tilted towards the audience) functions instrumentally as well as it does narratively…I’m into it—no more on this really.
- ‘Canal’ is the Final Song (Besides a One Song Encore) And Elicits the Most Dramatic Crowd Response of the Night. Also nothing more to add here. It was limb-bendingly, head-rollingly good.
- ‘Things I Don’t Want to Know’ (the book in my [now front] pocket) – Pg. 67. “If I had poured all my childhood anxieties into Billy Boy’s tiny carcass, he had a lot to carry.” As the images moving over the screen distract me again, the paradox of the projection becomes clearer. That is, the visuals are more than just images being projected against the band. The band is projecting their sound, and themselves into the tension and struggle that the visuals represent. The very thing that listeners are invited to do in their various subjective exiles—to project themselves into the struggle. To feel synchronically like representatives of—and represented by—their cultural home. The audience’s cultural home might be a different place, Ratking’s might just be a different time.
- I Guess I Should Listen to Phantogram. Wiki: “Anyone ever fuck with that Phantogram shit? Well you about to hear it…” (Before playing Ratking’s ‘Falling Off’ remix of Phantogram’s ‘Fall In Love’.)