Halloween. An evening during which children and larger children – adults who haven’t grown up – engage in acts of scaring one another in the search of sugary treats. However, tonight’s entertainment is altogether more sinister than the “spooky” day usually allows. Where Halloween is a festive and upbeat occasion celebrating all things terrifying, tonight the Islington Assembly Hall plays host to something genuinely unsettling. Something truly dark.
“It means a lot to be able to do this” drawls frontperson Alexis S.F. Marshall into a microphone that has been battered against his chest, forehead and the stage. There’s a sincerity to his contemptuously sneering and languid delivery, you can tell the band cherish what they do. What they do is inflict pain through some of the most brutal, cacophonous art ever created. In the art deco building packed to the rafters with adoring fans, Daughters play their sanguine, sadistic noise and do so without restraint.
Opening with The Reason They Hate Me, the audience leaps in time with the beat in desperation, as if trying to escape the void-like abyss of Daughters’ angular sounds. Enveloping the venue in a black mass, the soundscapes and frantically played instruments wash over the crowd like a sandpaper sea. Caustic, acerbic and filled with bile, the words are spat out by Marshall into the faces of a crowd very much ready to receive his unholy blessing.
Spending much of his time off stage being ferried around the venue by the hands of the masses, Marshall is an extraordinary performer. Part Nick Cave, part Michael Gira, his low slung vocal style of semi-spoken word poetry captivates and perturbs, especially in the sleaze-laden Less Sex, a song built on a seething, pornographic sensibility. All the while he leaps around and off the stage, dancing a kind of lithe, fractured ballet as he moves, as if he learned the movements looking through a shattered lens. As he cracks the microphone against his forehead, blood begins to run from a wound. It looks as though it is a baptism from the antichrist, and the messianic reception from the crowd grasping at his person for even the briefest of touches only enhances this biblical imagery.
Racing through the likes of Our Queens (One Is Many, Many Are One) and The Hit from their self titled LP, the band perform as a dangerous spectacle, hurling themselves into the music. Beguiling guitar phrases lacking conventional melody make up the musicianship on display, with Nicholas Sadler in particular assaulting his guitar with incendiary intensity. It is an absolute wonder to watch them work, and to have them lay down these melodic oddities before us. The ingenuity of instrumentation is astounding and makes Daughters a unique entity in noise rock.
By the time finale, Ocean Song comes around, Marshall has stripped to his bare chest and begins to whip himself harshly with his belt. It is something of a surprise that he does not turn his ire towards the crowd, instead remaining solely insular. It is a frightening and unnerving sight, but one that is morbidly fascinating, watching a man endure such self inflicted pain can only pique the interest of the dark half of the human mind. The sold out crowd stands divided between those unsure of how to react, and those worshipping Marshall’s every beat of his back, but all in that venue are sure of the horrors they have witnessed in this set. It is not just a musical performance, it is bold, uncompromising, challenging and integral art. Daughters are one of the very best bands that exist in 2019, and to see them is to uniquely gaze into an abyssal heart of darkness.