Admittedly I was late to the Bicep train. The first time I heard “Glue” it came up on a random YouTube playlist. We were having a quarantine house party (a la party of three), my friend from London stood up to get closer to the TV and went into a kind of trance – “I’ve been to these places”. A memory of home washed over her. Here on the Canadian side of North America, we were slow to reopen live music and many of us lived vicariously through various YouTube sets set in places where things seemed ok. Only about a week ago, after a short flight and a long day, I found myself in a dark venue sitting on an amp case, directly behind Matt McBriar and Andy Ferguson (duo that is Bicep, Ninja Tune), waiting for them to walk up on stage, finally feeling as if I’m actually in one of those YouTube sets that brought so much priceless joy in isolation.
Bicep Isles tour was sold out in most cities nearly immediately and none of those dates were in Canada. There were a few options for destinations but New York is dear to my heart and the Knockdown Center seemed like a very cool venue to see the duo play. This 100-year-old building was originally a glass factory and has lived many lives since but today it is a rather unique event space. People came early for this one. The people, patiently waiting for the doors to open, seemed to be from all over the world, psyched for the concert, vibing on friendly energy.
JDH and Dave P began to play as soon as the crowd poured into the briefly empty space. Looking back you could see the dark room being illuminated by red spotlights crisscrossing the floor, it’s just the calm before the storm; the rave is about to begin, as soon as we all get hydrated. Dave Pianka and Josh Houtkin (aka JDH and Dave P) are two people behind NYC’s infamous FIXED parties and have been bringing some of the most credible DJs and live bands to local music-friendly environments for over fifteen years. Their skills and music choices naturally translated well with the audience tonight.
Bicep’s Matt and Andy have known each other for a long time. Bloggers turned producers put in sweat into establishing themselves in the industry and refining their sound (more on that in this interview). Bicep sound is unique in its vision – mixed influences, rigorous sampling and mixing, tedious self-editing – nothing is rushed and everything is thought through. The dynamic of that effort and the years of familiarity show on stage. Standing opposite one another Matt and Andy performed seamlessly with nearly no interaction, it’s like they’re reading each other’s minds, or more likely, have done this many, many times before.
For roughly an hour and a half Bicep worked their way through Isles. From “Rever” to “Atlas” to “Cazenove” and all the other tracks in between, naturally saving “Glue” and “Apricots” to the end. The record was written in a time when there was no live music, in a sense it was written to be listened at home, but seeing these tracks come to life in front of a massive digital screen making shapes behind a thick fog was an entirely different experience. The music, intentionally so of course, was produced for a live rave experience and this room full of 21+ starved ravers and friends of alike was ready to receive. It was an ethereal musical experience in an environment where everyone was ready to be everyone’s friend. It was perfect. “Perfect. Perfect. Perfect.” – yes, I am quoting a TikTok, IYKYK.