Algiers take the stage to the wizened voice of T. S. Elliot reciting The Hollow Men, ‘shape without form, shade without colour’, over a similarly gnarly industrial ambience, setting a rather ominous, hauntological tone for their performance in the basement of The Magnet, Liverpool. The Atlanta punk-soul-electronic-hodgepodge provide an interesting presence. They all have an eerie lankiness about them, like proxies of Slenderman, but with more erratic movements; they are not, as Donald Trump would say, low-energy.
As they drive into an interlinking series of subtly rhythmic tunes, the hips around me start to hesitantly move, but my mind is fixed on Elliot’s poem, and how it relates to the band’s music and the current political climate they seem to be responding to with their last album, The Underside of Power. To me, Elliot’s The Hollow Men is a poem of defeat, almost apathetic in the wake of meaningless destruction, whereas the aggression and lyrical content of The Underside of Power seems to be concerned with the societal conditions that could lead to such a state of affairs, namely, the disparities of wealth and power within society.
I gather the feeling that the middling crowd is not exactly sure what to make of this strange band, as they phase from pummelling beats, to gentle piano melodies, laden with the soulful, somewhat affected croon of frontman, Franklin James Fisher, who conjures an amalgamation of vocal influences. The electronic auras that background the instrumentation provide fullness to the tracks, like soundscapes of the digital world, a context that feels less tangible on the recordings. The samples are abrasive but incitingly intricate, and the way the drumming of Matt Tong (formerly of Bloc Party) interweaves with the stuttering loops creates a powerful resonance to the percussion. This is definitely a band you need to see live to gain the full picture of their sound.
I am surprised to see such a moderate turn out for what is actually quite an exciting band, and I am unsure why Algiers aren’t causing more of a stir. Maybe it has something to do with the overtly political nature of their songs. It seems that music has become a less and less popular outlet for political comment. Outside of rap, the majority of music, from the charts to the underground, could generally be seen as more trivial as regards theme or message, if there is any message at all. In a recent BBC Radio 6 Music interview, Algiers spoke of their appreciation of British bands like Sleaford Mods, who tackle similar issues in their work, but on the whole, politically conscious bands are few and far between, which I think is a shame, especially considering music is one of the most accessible artforms there is.
So, at a time when politics is so chaotic, and audiences are looking to music as an escape, rather than as an extension of the political world, I think bands like Algiers are important, and they just happen to be writing some pretty dynamic tunes, such as the Northern Soul-esque title track to The Underside of Power, with which they conclude their set. It is probably their most poppy song, and the dancing of the crowd is a lot more decisive, a jaunty, carefree way to end the night.