Making Noise With An Unabashed Sense Of Borrowed Nostalgia: Black Midi In Portland

Written by Sam Mondros – photos by Jeff Jacobus (IG: @lostversesphotography)

I talked with Geordie Greep (center), frontman for London’s most exciting new art rock quartet, Black Midi, at The Doug Fir Lounge in Portland, Oregon.

“Please stop all of this strange fantasy”

Matt Kwasniewski-Kelvin (center) and Morgan Simpson (right)

These are the words that open up Black Midi’s debut album “Schlagenheim”. An Ironic omen of what’s to come? Or just tongue in cheek? Black Midi are a four-piece from London, England who have gained popularity on the underground scene in the UK since 2017. All the band members are between the ages of 20-21 and have thus far released one album back in June prefaced by five singles. They gained most of their foreign popularity in the last 10 months after Seattle based radio station, KEXP, released a 26-minute video of them playing a hostel in Reykjavik, Iceland. To try and categorize Black Midi is not an easy task, and would seemingly go against the philosophy of their style. Post-punk, krautrock, math-rock–who knows? Their songs often implode before you can really understand what on earth is happening. To believe that they are in time with one another is simply a leap of faith. A leap that many might not mind taking after hearing their drummer, Morgan Simpson. Otherwise, the band consists of Geordie Greep on rhythm and vocals, Matt Kwasniewski-Kelvin on lead and vocals, and Cameron Picton on Bass, synthesizer, and vocals.

Interview w/ Geordie Greep of Black Midi:

Black Midi kind of represent a slice of the future in music, and on one hand it seems like radio is fading in some more digitally focused crowds as a medium of discovering new music. Yet you guys gained a lot of foreign popularity from the KEXP release of your performance.

Greep: Thank you very much. Well, [KEXP] have adapted to the digital age, videos on youtube and all that. They’ve worked their brand well and thanks to that bands like us can get through.

What do you see as the future of spreading and finding new music?

Greep: We’ve seen it with the internet, everything’s just so spread out and compartmentalized. Everyone can find their own specific type of music. Any record that’s been recorded you can find, you know? Which is unprecedented in history. In the future, I think people are going to be more specific about what they like. Someone could like one specific type of music that’s only existed for sixth months.

How does Black Midi find music? Spotify? Instagram

Greep: Well yeah just all that internet stuff but I still buy CDs ‘cause it keeps things interesting.

What have you been listening to recently?

Greep: Recently? A lot of [Olivier] Messiaen.

The name “Black Midi” is more or less an ode to the genre [Back MIDI] which is a clustered form of composition in which audio files (MIDI files) are used to create a song remix containing hundreds of millions of notes. Is there any irony and/or admiration in your decision to name your band after the genre?

Greep: Nah I just thought it was a cool name really. I think the concept of Black MIDI itself is really cool, it’s just a shame that it’s kind of only a joke. But the idea of having so many notes that the sound becomes unrecognizable and you can take a sound like a piano and make it sound like roaring engines and sirens, I think that’s really cool. Especially when they put so many notes on it that the computer starts to break down and destroy itself. That’s really cool. So it has potential but yeah, the songs they usually do with Black MIDI is always just like a joke–a waste of time, just stupid.

Geordie and I

Black Midi, much like the genre, is intense and eclectic. While it is hard to categorize your music you sometimes incorporate specific styles that are so distinguishable, it seems like tongue in cheek juxtaposed with your regular music. For instance, in your live performances, you often will play a blues riff in the middle of one of your more explosive and obscure songs where blues seemingly has no place. Or you played a Van Halen style solo in one of your jams. Are these developments meant to be an ironic play on the styles you’re replicating?

Greep: It keeps it interesting, pretty funny really. but no, no it’s not meant to be ironic. It’s just funny ‘cause it doesn’t really fit with the song. It’s not ironic in the sense that it’s me playing this riff saying ‘blues sucks look at me playing blues’, it’s just me saying ‘it’s just fun, let’s have a good time–not take it so seriously you know?

If you could make a supergroup who would be in it?

Greep: You’ve got to have Luther Vandross on the vocals, you’ve got to have Chet Atkins on guitar, Bach improvising on the pipe organ, on the bass you’ve got to get Flea, hmm I don’t know about the drummer…Mitch Mitchel?…nah nah…well yeah, fine Mitch Mitchell will do.

Any plans on an acoustic session or album?

Greep: Never say never.

Concert Review:

As the band walked on stage Morgan Simpson sat down in front of his kit and proceeded to lay a beat down. The group of long-haired metal-heads in the front row fitted head to toe in black denim already knew what they were there for and their eyes widened as they stood entranced on Simpson’s work. I looked up and saw two security workers of the Doug Fir completely lose their focus and stare at Simpson’s effortlessly fast polyrhythms and syncopations. 

Their proceeding set was a mixture of their recorded songs, jams performed with precision, and overall theatrics. Black Midi refused to just start one of their songs like they did on the album. A mess of feedback and distortion would morph into a snippet of a riff that belongs to one of their tracks, which would eventually lead to the intro of the song. Sounds of human screams often erupted in the middle of the performance with no apparent origin since all the musicians were busy with their instruments. The idea of some kind of method to this madness seems ridiculous, but pay close enough attention and you soon realize that every moment in the show has its deeply calculated place. From Greeps avant-garde jazz-rock solo to Cameron Picton completely detuning the highest string on his bass and pulling it out before tossing it on the ground, nothing is accidental. Just when you begin to understand the rhythm and feel your foot begin to tap to it, Black Midi destroys it through synthesized dissonance and starts a new groove twice as complicated. 

Cameron Picton

It’s often hard to distinguish whether the band has started jamming or whether they are showcasing a new song. Their riffs are so concise and angular that it would be hard to believe that it’s all improvised. Black Midi played a setlist just under 45 minutes and in that time continued their trend of redefining contemporary music and entertainment. They have been praised by music icons like David Byrne of Talking Heads and Damo Suzuki of Can. If you have not yet listened to their latest album, “Schlagenheim” it is available on all streaming platforms as well as their latest single, “Sweater”. Head to to watch their legendary live set in Reykjavik. To hear more music like Black Midi, tune into KWVA 88.1 on Tuesdays 2-4 pm PST.

DJ Spotlight: Karl Benedek (DJ Kranky Kowboy)

This week’s DJ Spotlight highlights Karl, AKA The Kranky Kowboy! He hosts “Blood On the Saddle,” Mondays, 8-10 pm.

KWVA: When did you get involved with KWVA and why?

K: Around 2000, my friend who was already a DJ talked me into becoming one, too. I started doing a show called “Radio Unfriendly” from 3-7 am Saturday mornings. After a year, I had enough of an interest in Country music (the “insurgent country” thing was going into full swing at that time) that I decided to take the leap and apply for a “Specialty Show,” which was a distinction we had then for shows with specific themes, usually genre-based. That show became “Blood on the Saddle.” It started as a 7-9 pm show on Mondays, then when the news hour blocks became a thing, it settled in its forever home: 8-10 pm Monday nights.

Soon after, I also started engineering for John Zerzan’s show “Anarchy Radio” and I’ve been doing that since at least 2001, first on Sunday nights from 11-midnight, and now during the news block, Tuesdays at 7 pm. That show is perhaps most infamous for having Adam Lanza as a call-in guest about a year before he went on to commit the massacre at Sandy Hook. As he had called in with an alias, the connection wasn’t uncovered until 2014.

I also do an occasional (I call it “ephemeral”) show called “Transcendent Phase,” which features space music, drone, new age and meditation music. This is the show I do when I am filling in for someone.

KWVA: Do you have a favorite KWVA memory?

Karl: I remember when we first got a computer in the on-air room! It was not clear what we were supposed to do with it at the time, but I guess we figured it out.

KWVA: Have you been or are you currently involved in other music-related projects/hobbies outside of KWVA?

K: My current musical project is called Woke-Ass Messiah. It’s a solo act based around the modular synthesizer I’ve been building for a couple of years now. Modular music is really diverse, from all-out noise assault to hard techno to floaty clouds of ambience. Mine is sort of in the middle, leaning closer to the techno side of things.

KWVA: Best concert you’ve attended?

K: I love live music! The first concert I remember is Marty Robbins in 1982. The next concert I have tickets to is Stereolab in Portland this October.

KWVA: On-air catch phrase if you have one?

K: Never thought about it much but I guess I say, “Good evening cowboys and cowgirls” at the beginning of every show, so that counts, right?

KWVA: Fave album for the summer?

K: Right now I’m in the middle of my annual June-July Grateful Dead marathon. This year, I’m focusing on the new Jerry Garcia Band box set, “Electric on the Eel.” I’m also really looking forward to “Weather,” the new Tycho album, out in July.