I really liked the first couple of Battles EPs, as they were totally weird, chilly alien post-rock music of a kind I had never heard before. As the band signed to Warp and started introducing vocals to their instrumentation, I began to find them slightly less compellingly odd. I didn’t not understand them any more and so there wasn’t as much to hold my attention. However, this changed when I saw the band performing on Later With Jools Holland (of all things) and could see the bizarre way that those squeaky Chipmunks vocals were being manipulated in real time, alongside the already complex and fiercely controlled musicianship that was going on. That re-ignited my sense of wonder in what they were doing. Good for them. Jools Holland is still a tool, though, and I am very, very, very glad that he didn’t feel the need to pitch in with some boogie-woogie piano during their performance, like he often does.
You need to experience Battles live, but you need to do so in the right environment. For example, I saw them at Oxford’s Zodiac (as it was then called), supported by Foals, and they were extraordinarily good, with exactly the right audience (enthusiastic but attentive) and sonics (clear and defined). Some time after that I saw them at the Truck Festival, and they were no good at all from my vantage point. I admit that I was at the back of the crowd, but that meant that the audience wasn’t right (I was surrounded by chatter) and the sonics were terrible (gig in a barn; the aforementioned chatter; muddy and messy sound mix). More so than a lot of other bands, this is a real ‘set and setting’ band – to appropriate a phrase from Timothy Leary.
A Battles track (‘Race:In’ I think?) has been recently used on a set of Audi ads on television and in the cinema. I was reminded of this most recently when I saw it prior to watching Avatar recently. There’s a long-standing argument that goes on amongst indie kids about whether a hip+cool artist like Battles is selling out by having their music featured on advertising. My standpoint on this is that as long as the company/brand being promoted is one that the artist doesn’t have any personal problems with, it’s up to them. More than ever, in today’s world of downloads and the immediate exchange of digital files making it easier than ever to transfer music without commerce being involved, perhaps it’s one of the few ways that a band can actually support themselves with music? My main, over-riding feeling on the subject is who really cares. So a band has their music on an ad. So what. They’re not killing babies or injecting drugs into grandmothers. They’re furnishing themselves with the means to create more music – and in the case of a band you like, can that be a bad thing?