Five facts about black midi
“We’d end up in a groove in the rehearsal room for 10 minutes, or an hour. We didn’t really notice time, or that we were supposed to be working.”
One. black midi are: Geordie Greep (guitar, vocals), Cameron Picton (bass, vocals), and Morgan Simpson (drums).
black midi’s studio albums are Schlagenheim (2019), Cavalcade (2021) and Hellfire (2022). Further recordings include standalone singles Cruising, 7-Eleven and track drops like ded sheeran (ed sheeran send). Other notable releases are Cavalcovers EP, black midi live in the USA and The black midi Anthology Volume 1 - Tales of Suspense and Revenge.
Two. Coincidentally, Morgan and Geordie both played in church bands growing up - Morgan in Hertfordshire; Geordie in Walthamstow.
Geordie discovered music through:
Franz Ferdinand’s Take Me Out on Guitar Hero
His dad’s prog rock, folk and hard rock albums
Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. “It’s hypnotic, like a car crash. You want to look away, but you can’t.”
The first Star Wars film
Three. The band met at the BRIT School. Fellow pupils were… not in black midi. Geordie and Matt borrowed the name from a Japanese music genre where a MIDI file is stuffed with so many musical notes that its visual representation looks solid black. MIDI files do not contain sound.
Four. After leaving school Cameron worked in the Wimbledon branch of stationery store Ryman. Geordie taught music. Morgan briefly toyed with the idea of becoming a professional footballer but eventually chose drumming, also teaching music.
Five. black midi got their first gig two weeks after leaving school, in June 2017, at south London’s renowned Windmill venue. It led to a Windmill residency, and a publishing contract, and a record deal, a Mercury nomination for Schlagenheim, and you reading this.
“They say, ‘what you’re doing should be bad, how come it’s not?!’”
Some myths about black midi
Six. black midi don’t expect, or want, you to take themselves or their music too seriously. black midi music can be exuberant, cathartic, theatrical, comic, absurdist, over-abundant, intense, cinematic, brutal, restlessly brilliant. It’s almost always fun.
Six. None of black midi’s released music is entirely improvised. They did spend a long time jamming at the start, but would record the jams and select the best bits to replay as part of structured recordings. “It didn’t take as much time to record Schlagenheim as it does to listen to it. We wish it were true! We also say we should swap and play each other’s instruments, but we never get round to it.”
Six. The BRIT School’s importance in the black midi story can also be overplayed. Yes, the school was where they met, and their generous facilities afforded the group time and space in their final year to experiment and rehearse until they had a better idea of what they could become. But the school didn’t force anyone to describe black midi as “the best new rock band in Britain”.
“Geordie had a dream that we called the album Hellfire, he kept saying it all the time”
‘Hellfire’ has long burned in black midi’s world. First, Geordie imagined it was the title of their debut album; Cavalcade was mostly recorded at Hellfire Studio, Dublin; then Cameron dreamed it should be the title of their third. The skeleton of the new album was assembled while Cavalcade was being made, with the meat put on the bones at London’s Hoxa HQ.
Making Cavalcade was a drawn-out process over 18 months thanks to extensive touring of Schlagenheim and the pandemic, while Hellfire took 6 months, starting in December 2020. It sprouted from a riff on one of the group’s oldest jams, which bloomed into the futuristic boxing drama Sugar/Tzu. Cavalcade surprised a lot of people with how different it was to their critically adored debut, but it gave the band increased confidence in their own ability to evolve, and made it much easier to get Hellfire done. They also played a few socially distanced shows in 2021 to roadtest their latest material, which wasn’t a luxury they had with Cavalcade. An endlessly restless band, black midi load their live sets with fresh music as well as warp the old songs into startling shapes, so they needed touring to return, to be able to breathe life into the new songs on stage.
After finishing Hellfire, they played late summer festivals Wide Awake (London) and Pitchfork (Chicago), sketched out some new songs and toured Europe, the UK and the US. “We loved hanging out in New York,” they say. “We played Webster Hall in October, that was an amazing show, then we were taken out for an insane meal and karaoke afterwards. That was the first night we experienced New York nightlife.” Morgan might not sing behind the sticks yet, but he’ll go toe to toe with Sean Kingston’s Beautiful Girls from the safety of a karaoke booth. You’ll find some more of their favourite songs to cover on 2022’s Cavalcovers EP where they rework Taylor Swift, King Crimson and Captain Beefheart. Hopefully two more Cavalcovers (or Hellcovers) will emerge - black midi versus both Prince and Talking Heads.
“The best songs emulate talking, or speech, or sounds of nature - that’s what music it is - it feels natural”
The main difference between Cavalcade and Hellfire is a switch from third-person to first-person storytelling. Cavalcade depicted everyone from cabaret singers to cult leaders, while Hellfire largely sticks to more morally suspect characters, given power by their direct dramatic monologues, their flamboyant appeals to our degraded sense of right and wrong. You’re never quite sure whether to laugh at or be horrified by the tales these people tell.
“They’re characters,” says Geordie. “Almost everyone depicted is a kind of scumbag.. almost everything I write is from a true thing, something I experienced and exaggerated and wrote down. I don’t believe in Hell, but all that old world folly is great for songs, I’ve always loved movies and anything else with a depiction of Hell. Dante’s inferno. When Homer goes to Hell in the Simpsons. There’s a robot Hell in Futurama. Isaac Bashevis Singer, a Jewish writer who portrays a Satan interfering in people’s lives. There’s loads!”
One connection between Cavalcade and Hellfire is that the mysterious military mining corporation behind the previous album’s Diamond Stuff reappears in Cameron’s new song Eat Men Eat. “I really enjoy the storytelling on Eat Men Eat, Welcome to Hell and 27 Questions,” says Morgan, who didn’t write any of Hellfire’s words. “I find myself laughing when we play them at gigs.” As on Cavalcade, most of the lyrics came from Geordie, but Cameron does some of his best-ever work on the forcefully sweet Still, the album’s least abstract, most lyrically personal song. “There’s a lot of love and things like that on Hellfire,” says Cameron. ”there’s a tender flipside to every song. The dark comes out strongly, there’s Hell and Satan and murder and unsavoury things, but every song has both light and dark.”
“When we play The Defence live, you see young lovers kissing during that one,” Geordie points out. “It’s wholesome!” nods Morgan. Geordie resists the idea that there’s much of himself in the songs, though. “Maybe on 27 Questions,” he shrugs. “But I’ve never killed anyone, or gone on war campaigns, or met Satan. Or run a brothel.”
Still, the range, power and potent production of black midi’s music has never been greater than on Hellfire, partly thanks to genius producer Marta Salogni, who’d worked on Cavalcade opener John L. But, as always, the type of music black midi play isn’t as important as its quality. And whatever you think about black midi’s music isn’t as important as how you feel about it.
You may recall, black midi is a band that’s been described as: Ambient; Avant Funk; Classical; Drone; EDM; Experimental; Experi-metal; Funk; Hip-hop; Indie Jazz; Jazz; Jazz Fusion; Jazz-punk; ‘Krautrock’; Math Rock; Metal Jazz; Noise Rock; Post Metal; Post-punk; Post Rock; Prog; Progressive Post Hardcore; Punk Jazz; Rock Fusion; Space Rock and Speed Prog. black midi is a band that has been compared to: Zed the gang leader from Police Academy; Wu-Lu; This Heat; Talk Talk; Talking Heads; System of a Down; Swans; Sunn O))); Squid; Sons of Kemet; Solange; Slowdive; Slint; Shirley Bassey; Shellac; Scalping; Seefeel; Public Image Limited; Primus; Pere Ubu; Parquet Courts meets the Darkness; Olivier Messiaen; Housewives; Kokoroko; King Crimson; Kamasi Washington; Miles Davis; Mark E Smith if he were a Bond villain; Frank Zappa; Death Grips; Crack Cloud; the Comet Is Coming; Captain Beefheart And His Magic Band; Can; Butthole Surfers; Boredoms; Blanck Mass; black midi tribute band “blank mini”; Black Country, New Road; Battles; Audiobooks; Aphex Twin; Anna Meredith; 100 gecs
No-one can be all these things, not even this extravagantly talented trio, so we must conclude that they are just one thing - black midi - and feel grateful that they exist.