Black Dice D2
By Nick Sylvester
There is a song by LCD Soundsystem called “Losing My Edge” which, if you’re reading this website, I imagine you’ve heard before. Tucked between “The Trojans” and “Todd Terry”, a band called “the Black Dice”(they still had the “the” then) was namechecked in James Murphy’s laundry list of personal records, proof of his cool. Other bands included PiL, Scott Walker, Juan Atkins, the Sonics, the Sonics–point being, a lot of old, hip, influential big deal type acts, and Daft Punk of course, and then this aforementioned “The Black Dice” entity. Who were what exactly? Shortly after “Losing My Edge” came out, I remember finding some Black Dice seven-inch at Twisted Village in Cambridge, buying it, playing it, etc. This was an ornery time in my writing life, when I handed out my “gorilla taking a shit into a microphone” metaphor with considerable frequency, so chances are high that “The” Black Dice got the Sylvester treatment. I remember being confused–not by the music but the suggestion that it was at all important.
All this was before *Beaches and Canyons* came in the fall, of course, a record that, to put things mildly, changed everything for me and you and everybody. (In retrospect, you can’t fault James for some light DFA cross-promoting, knowing the bomb his young label was about to drop on the world.) Here was an exercise in sonic contradictions: scripted improvisations, beautiful noises, formless rhythms, unmusical music. The album was five hellish songs long and somehow it all shimmered, skipped to the lou. At one particularly tense moment, there is the sound of a baby crying–it can’t stop crying, in fact. I have four younger brothers and sisters and they all could wail, but this kid, whoever he was, was on another level.
Not that Black Dice don’t have a Quelle document somewhere in their drawers, but *Beaches and Canyons* seemed entirely without reference too. This made the record all the more unnerving. It really sounded like nothing I had ever heard before. Was this actually new? Could that actually happen? I must have listened to the record twice a day for six months, and can’t think of any other time in my life when I more wanted people to ask me for recommendations.
When I moved to New York–I didn’t realize this until I sat down to write this piece for (((unartig))), and I’m not sure how I feel about this realization, which is why it’s here–Black Dice was a ‘first date’ band. Some people have restaurants like that, I’ve heard, a place where he goes and has a table waiting for him, or a bartender who knows his name. It’s supposed to impress the date, how established you are, from what I understand. I really do promise this wasn’t any kind of ‘move’ on my part, the way my one friend Danny used to take his first-dates to shooting ranges. It just happened this way; there was always a Black Dice concert to go to, so we went. One first date was at Irving Plaza, during the *Broken Ear Record* tour. (Black Dice *headlined* Irving Plaza, by the way, just in case you forgot how bizarre 2005 could get.) “Smiling Off” was the single–dollops of bitcrushed bass, with a heavily delayed synth line that skittered like a seismograph needle. The sky was slowly cracking open and Eric, Bjorn, and Aaron stood on stage as if this was just business as usual. It’s a top five concert moment for me–would be top three if my date hadn’t reached her breaking point.
This past weekend I was walking across the Williamsburg Bridge into Manhattan. It was only the second time I had done so, and aside from it being beautiful outside, I don’t have much to report except the intense deja-vu I felt for the first time I had walked across the bridge, again, back in 2005, the year of the *Broken Ear Record*. This time it was December. The MTA was on strike, so no trains were running. I was visiting a woman for whom, only days before, I had played Tim Goldsworthy’s remix of “Smiling Off” as it appeared on the DFA Holiday Mix. (DFA label head Jon Galkin’s theory, that Black Dice were secretly a pop band, made a lot of sense after those remixes.) The woman and her roommate were wasted and the song set them into a dancing frenzy. All this seemed like something, from a personal standpoint, worth following up on, which is why I walked down from East Village, over the bridge into Williamsburg through some seriously unromantic weather, hoping to see where things might go.
Right as I was touching down on Brooklyn, I saw Eric Copeland, from Black Dice, about to make the same hellacious journey across the bridge I had just finished. He was bundled up and you could barely see his face underneath the hood of his jacket, or sweatshirt, whatever it was. I had never talked to Eric, and still haven’t. But that night, for a solid minute, I thought about ditching the girl I’d eventually date for two years (and several Black Dice concerts), and following him back over into Manhattan. It felt like the whole world was falling apart–some real desperate “The Road” type conditions out there. Wherever Eric Copeland was going that night, I thought to myself, that was where the bad people couldn’t get you.
Nick Sylvester | New York City, April 2010