Since we received two opposing reviews for last weekend’s divisive Dirty Beaches in Seoul gig we decided to publish them both. To see another opinion on the event read Ben Linares’ piece.
Dirty Beaches played Saturday at Art Space Mun in Mullae to an audience whose interests had been piqued by the band’s 2011 release, Badlands, which received critical acclaim and created a buzz around the previously little-known act. The album’s merits as well as compelling video content have cast artist Alex Hungtai, who croons, howls, and hollers through a heavily distorted and reverberated mic, in a mysterious and provocative light. The same elements that make the music interesting, however, create some challenges for live performance.
Dirty Beaches relies heavily on pre-recorded loops that drone on through the entirety of each song. The nature of the music creates a dilemma for the performers. At its best it puts the listener in a surreal trance with its machine-like rhythms and lo-fi buzzing and hissing. However, Hungtai’s intense vocal performances give the music a much more aggressive bent, at times channeling a psychotic character like Dennis Hopper’s Frank Booth in Blue Velvet, except milder. It’s like the sedative qualities of an opiate mixed with the jolting rush of an amphetamine. This combination makes for great moments on the record, but during the live performance the singer tried in vain to elicit a more energetic reaction from an audience who seemed unsure of the appropriate response to the set.
Initially, the crowd fed into the energy of the show. Dirty Beaches can hypnotize with Hungtai’s wild persona and a musical vibe that could fit nicely in a neo-noir film, accompanying a scene depicting a criminal drug addict’s nighttime drive down a woods-surrounded highway. The performance of “Horses” from Badlands best exemplified the artist’s musical strengths. Although the live performance represented the sounds on the album quite well, the audience did not have the attention span to remain entranced. The band combated their waning attention with some more up-tempo songs that incorporated some electronic drum pads and added more of a backbeat to the looping undercurrent of sound. In what seemed like an attempt to invigorate the gathering, Hungtai jumped off the stage to dance among the crowd. Aside from the spectators in close proximity to the cavorting singer, most of the crowd remained underwhelmed. Throughout the show the front man was wavering between a dark, tough confidence and hubris. Early in the show he was cordial to audience, but towards the end of the set he was speaking unintelligibly through his gain saturated microphone, as well as shouting, “I don’t give a fuck.” It’s unclear exactly what he was referring to.
While much of the crowd became increasingly disengaged, some stayed attentive throughout the performance, urging Dirty Beaches to play an encore after their initial departure from the stage. This should have been Hungtai’s time to finally win over the audience with a performance of one of his best songs like, “A Hundred Highways,” or “Lord Knows Best.” Conversely, in a strange and disappointing turn of events, the volatile crooner took offense to an audience member’s comment, and asked, “Who said that?! Who’s the guy with British accent?” When the brazen singer realized who made the comment he threatened, “I’ll make you swallow your teeth,” which was a little comical. He proceeded to jump off the stage, lurching forward in an attempt to punch the showgoer. He was restrained and easily subdued by a few bystanders before he could land any blows, while the bewildered offender was kicked out of the show. It’s not clear why he became so embroiled, but there didn’t seem to be any overt heckling taking place. In conclusion, a seemingly unwarranted, violent outburst deprived an unsatisfied audience of an encore that might have made them fans. One of the show’s attendees made an astute observation in saying that it seemed like a pretty extreme reaction from a guy who doesn’t “give a fuck.”
Did you go to the show? What did you think?
For upcoming live music shows check out our Seoul events article.
Words by Grey Watson, images by Ben Linares.