Squid subverts expectations at August Hall

Photo of Squid
Justin Wang/Staff

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During Squid’s performance March 12 at August Hall, the drummer in the middle, Ollie Judge, looked to his left. One of two guitarists flanking him there, Anton Pearson, had been having trouble with his guitar all night. Then he locked eyes with Louis Borlase, the guitarist on his right, who was sandwiched between him and keyboardist-cellist-percussionist Arthur Leadbetter. This moment sometimes surfaced at the beginning of a song or, as often, arrived part way through.

Remember that clip of the 2018 Phoenix Suns that took the internet by storm? Eric Bledsoe intercepts a pass and the entire team, in lockstep, turns, dips and takes off for the other basket. For Squid, a small no-wave, post-punk band from Brighton, this is the turnover. 

Judge clapped his sticks, the band lurched forward all together and a song jettisoned from the noise. They played live with a spiky antagonism to the idea of plain and simple music, with songwriting that swerves in and out of styles and ambience, a heightened sense of the way the band’s debut album, Bright Green Field, denies easy categorization or listening. 

In interviews, the band’s members have explained that their approach to songwriting is cohesive, with the group working together to generate the sounds behind an album that denies expectation. It’s a concept that translates well to their live performances. At August Hall, they came together and put their guitar troubles on pause for moments of melodic bliss before fading back into obscurity. 

Indeed, their crowd pleasing tracks are what buy them a crowd, but their obscurity has earned them a following. They made a point of slam dunking when Judge, who pulls double duty as drummer and vocalist, hollered on “G.S.K.” Yet, large portions of their show were devoted to the craft of ambient sounds. The guitarists tuned down mid-song and took moments to kneel down to the pedals at their feet, warping strums into distortion. They veered off into their own sects of sound, bringing the exploratory mood of jazz to punk. On tracks such as “Houseplants,” they invoked horns. 

Squid has made itself into a band with a shape shifting sound. They’ve received praise for Bright Green Field as a punk album that eludes the simple categorization of punk; it’s an album of hardcore concrete and noise like sand, where spires of melodies twist up, then deconstitute and fall back to earth, or in reverse, as on “Paddling.” Their latest album is, to punk, Caroline Polachek’s Pang. Squid manipulates genre with a loosely structured sense of form. The band appears, and they disappear into a postmodernist’s warped daze of grayscale and motor haze. 

It’s perhaps why Squid let their stage performance flatline into noise. An astute commentator might not describe the show as flatlining, but that’s what happened. The crowd, which had moshed its way through three quarters of the set, went still. Yet, the crowd wasn’t a lost cause; at the close of this wedge of noise (a good 10 minutes) when things seemed to be beginning again and the inklings of “DFM” chimed in, they rediscovered their energy. 

Squid is a band with a little bit of everything. It’s a testament to their sound that they had to pause every few songs to readjust. They mixed meditative finger picking with angry synths — the switchboard kind that LCD Soundsystem kept popular. On tracks such as “Narrator,” one of the guitarists speeded up the neck, smooth as slime, before the song cascaded back into the void. Squid may not be as overt as, say, The Avalanches, but their sound has a way of spilling out onto the audience, as if from an open window. 

The band — live and on the record — makes a point of undermining audiences’ expectations. The group’s divergences into noise are more than a reminder that they can pull off pure noise; it’s a way to underline their commitment to an array of sounds that defy one, answerable sentiment. In the end, they left the stage without an encore. Squid doesn’t quite play for your vibe.

Dominic Marziali covers television. Contact him at [email protected].