The Greatest Gig I Ever Saw: The Death Set - Eletrowerkz '08

Raucous Baltimore noise punks, The Death Set, are infamous for their out-of-hand live performances, breakneck songs and reckless energy. Here's why I'll never forget the night I found them in the back room of a North London club.
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Raucous Baltimore noise punks, The Death Set, are infamous for their out-of-hand live performances, breakneck songs and reckless energy. Here's why I'll never forget the night I found them in the back room of a North London club.

Whenever I hear someone describe an artist as the “greatest live act” they have ever seen, I try as hard as possible not to make eye contact with this person, in the hope that I won’t be subject to a boring story from a boring, ageing man (they are usually men) about a boring band they once saw, probably before I was born.

People always use their “favourite” anything as an excuse to show off how cultured they are, how refined their taste is, how much of life they have experienced and most irritatingly, how much more they know about anything you care to mention than anyone who dares to be younger than them.

It’s not just old people though. The number of people from my generation I’ve heard describe a banal cult band from the past who were painfully dull, even in their heyday as a great live band worries me greatly *cough*...Black Sabbath...*cough*...

For some reason whenever we discuss the greats there is a terrible misconception that older is better and that “clever” music, made by men with long hair and stupid moustaches deserves to be fawned upon for being serious and thoughtful.

Back in February 2008 I was in North London with a friend looking for somewhere to get a late drink following a sensational, if slightly sobering and downbeat Charlottefield gig, to clear our heads.

Those of you familiar with Charlottefield’s work will understand the need for something light hearted to do after seeing them perform. My friend suggested that we go to the Electrowerkz, which was nearby and hosting a Ninja Tune club night.

We walked around the club and its various rooms to see what was going on. Each room looked fairly standard for a Ninja Tune night, which if you’ve never been to one is basically a collection of oddities rammed into a building, some of them performing, some of them not and no clues as to who exactly falls into which camp until the show starts.

There was one room that didn’t look quite the same as the rest.

I still firmly believe that your life will be enhanced by going to see a show that the band describe as ““A lot of high energy spazzing for a really short period of time”.

The basement room was rammed with people despite the fact that nothing was happening, and the stage was completely empty, except for a few speakers. It took me a few moments of being in the room to realise that the stage was empty because the band had set up their equipment on the floor.

Think about that for a moment; Equipment set up on the floor, amongst the public. That might not sound particularly exciting as a set of words on a computer screen, but imagine seeing this in a room which was by this point filling with even more people talking excitedly about the band about to play. There was a sense of electricity in the air, and that electricity was going to be right in our faces before long.

At roughly 1am, The Death Set walked into the room and delivered a performance that earned them the prestigious place in my mind of being the greatest, most exciting live band I’ve ever seen.

Playing to a room of North London Nu-Rave trendies who seemed equally as confused by the pre-show set up, they screamed relentlessly energetic, inane tunes over thrashed power chords and synthesised backing that wouldn’t have been out of place in a nursery rhyme.

Within 5 minutes of the set starting every member of the band had stood on some part of my anatomy, including the drummer. Mind blowing.

“But, if they were all leaping about like maniacs, how on earth did they play their instruments?” I hear you cry. Well, they didn’t need to as they came equipped with a mini-disc player (yes, a mini-disc player in 2008) with their entire set loaded onto it, leaving the band basically giving an elaborate karaoke performance. Problem solved.

The songs were indecipherable from one another. They all lasted less that 120 seconds, they all contained vocals, guitars and drums distorted beyond all comprehension and they were all extremely fast.

The band were completely disengaged from one another and probably not paying a great deal of attention to what they were playing. It was a mess, a brilliant mess, just about held together by the backing track.

Just when you thought the show couldn’t get anymore absurd, the backing track would throw up an 80’s pop classic from The Jackson 5 or Salt-N-Pepa, or a crushingly heavy Hip-Hop loop.

Whenever we discuss the greats there is a terrible misconception that older is better and that “clever” music, made by men with long hair and stupid moustaches deserves to be fawned upon for being serious and thoughtful.

It didn’t feel like a gig, more like a private party being thrown by the band that you and the rest of the audience had somehow ended up gatecrashing.

This intense level of insanity was sustained from start to finish. From the moment of the first note being played to the drum kit being launched several feet in the air, marking the end of the show, there were literally no breaks whatsoever in the music. At no point did any member of the band stop leaping off of any surface they could find above floor level and as an audience member, there wasn’t a moment you felt you could take your eyes off of the performance.

Maybe it’s because I’ve seen them play live that I still hold dear to my heart the band’s 2008 album Worldwide. Whenever I listen to any of their manic, 2-minute, masterpieces I vividly remember the excitement of the surging crowd being encouraged by the three lunatics who happened to be holding instruments.

In nearly a thousand words of trying my hardest to describe what this gig was like, I feel as though I’ve failed miserably. Normal rules didn’t apply at this gig. Any adjective I use to describe them that under normal circumstances would be pejorative for a live band, simply made The Death Set even better.

In my relatively short life, I’ve seen some of the gigs that many others would describe as being the finest show they’ve ever seen, from Oasis at Knebworth to Morrissey in Manchester and many more.

Nothing, however has filled me with as much excitement, given me such an adrenaline rush or left me as exhausted as the Brooklyn/Australian electro-punks did on that night.

Sadly, since their popularity has grown many of the band’s gigs are now subject to health and safety procedures which stop the band from doing their level best to injure fans, but I still firmly believe that your life will be enhanced by going to see a show that the band describe as ““A lot of high energy spazzing for a really short period of time”.

They are playing a show in London in just a few days time, on April 12th at The Old Blue Last. As it stands this is the only scheduled show in the UK this year, so please, do yourself a favour and go along.

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