It’s a hot and muggy June night in Dublin and the Workman’s is close to capacity for Boy Harsher’s first Irish show. The sweat is heavy in the air of the darkened venue and the condensation is dripping from the much needed glasses of cooling beer. Its a late start for a midweek show but the turnout is remarkable. Even for support act, Gross Net, the main room is tightly packed. It’s the first I’ve heard of Philip Quinn’s solo project but he was a good choice for this show. The Girls Names’ guitarist plays a series of atmospheric instrumentals that could be mistaken for Boy Harsher’s own work.
Jae Matthews and Augustus Muller take the stage without ceremony and the drones begin. With Muller whispering into a walkie talkie and Matthews doing her Alison Moyet-in-an-echo-chamber thing, there’s a distinctly German vibe from the Massachusetts outfit. There’s no between song banter or audience interaction but the pair seem to be enjoying themselves in an ubercool, stand-offish way. The whoops and holler that greet ‘Yr Body Is Nothing’ seem at odds with the detached aesthetic until Matthews starts jumping around. Mullers head bobs in time with the beat as the crowd screams and latecomers push their way to the unadorned stage.
After four songs, we finally hear from the band. But Matthews chat is lost to the excited din of the crowd. I step outside to cool down a little and take in the sunset. When I re-enter my glasses immediately fog up in the thick, moist atmosphere as Boy Harsher turn the tempo up. At this point we’re a long way from the arthouse. This set is more at home at 3am on a festival stage. The sparse, moody textures of Careful are eschewed in this milieu for an industrial tinged, electro crusade. Their minimalist techno comes off like like the poppier end of the noise scene. Outside the studio environment, where the music is about textures andsoundscapes, Boy Harsher have a new life on stage. The beats are heavy, thebass is relentless and, though the vibe is arty, the feel is of a party band. But it’s a party for the cool kids who don’t want to be seen to try too hard.
Boy Harsher’s stage presence is strong. It appears that the music is being generated by their bodies through an effort of will rather than by instruments. It’s the type of performance that would benefit from a spectacular light show. They make a token but striking gesture of acknowledgement towards this when Matthews shines a handheld array of green spots on Muller. She swings its beam over the audience and the mirrorballs in the venue feel their first light of the evening.
It’s short, barely 45 minutes, but not a moment has been wasted and the cries for an encore begin immediately when the duo exit the stage. There’s little doubt that they’ll do more songs. The crowd has not moved. Everyone is afraid of missing another killer tune. ‘The Look You Gave (Jerry)’ is one of the more intense songs from Careful but it seems tame compared to what has preceded it, though you’d never guess from the reaction of the now-devoted fans. As a recent convert to Boy Harsher, I went in to the show with expectations of a decent gig. The band not only exceeded those expectations, they stomped all over them and gave us more than we had any reason to suspect.