Live Review: Death From Above 1979 at The Garage, 02/12/2023

Death From Above 1979’s bass and drum one-two punch combination pummelled The Garage into submission

“I don’t wanna know your problems,” joked Sebastien Grainger, singer and drummer of dance-punk two-piece Death From Above 1979, after some back-and-forth with the front-row jammed into The Garage. “We had to practise for 20 years to sell out three shows”. Of course, Grainger’s tongue was firmly in his cheek despite the droll delivery, but there’s an element of truth in what’s been a mixed few years for a band who are arguably deserving of more credit. 

Not that you’d know it from the volume of the crowd at their third and final sell-out residency show at The Garage, a real gem of a venue tucked away in the heart of Islington, London. But Death From Above 1979 seemed destined for a cult-ish sort of fandom from the start of their career. 

Crashing into their setlist with the two opening tracks ‘Modern Guy’ and ‘One + One’ from their most recent album, 2021’s Is 4 Lovers, the two-piece gradually upped the ante throughout their 90-minute show, pulverising the PA with the crunching, thunderous basslines that define their sound. “You give a lot of energy,” Grainger puffed once ‘Turn It Out’ came to a conclusion, “but you command a lot of energy”, whilst various legs from crowd-surfers were still flailing and floating around.

A unique and scant make-up of just a bassist in Jesse F. Keeler and drummer in Grainger, the duo made a much louder racket than the sum of their parts. They weren’t the first band to pursue the purely bass-and-drum aesthetic. Lightning Bolt preceded them, but Death From Above 1979 stuck out like a bloodied and bandaged thumb, introducing their electronica-infused punk rock to a greater audience with 2004 debut album You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine, no doubt inspiring the swathe of nu-rave acts that were ten-a-penny in the UK only a few years later. But then they broke up.

In the decade until their reunion album, 2014’s The Physical World, this cult fandom only fortified, though there was pressure from the industry figures to utilise their enduring support and push them towards stadium success, a notion which they rejected, operating as a labeless entity these days and self-producing their records. Though bands like Royal Blood have emulated their minimal template, Death From Above 1979 function better in sweaty club shows that hark back to their DIY roots. They exhibited this in typically thrashing fashion at The Garage. 

Veering away from a pristine, polished approach – despite the venue’s superb sound quality – the two-piece’s spiky energy was raw and right in-your-face. Keeler’s sludgy bass intro to ‘Little Girl’ raised the roof, as did big-hitters in ‘Trainwreck 1979’, ‘Freeze Me’, and the perennial dance-punk anthem ‘Romantic Rights’, seeing Grainger leave his drum stool to goad the crowd into losing their sh*t, which took little persuasion. 

Whether it’s something in the Canadian water, Grainger’s stage persona mirrored fellow countryman Ryan Reynolds, quipping effortlessly in an uncannily similar tone of voice throughout. Though, as they readied their clobbering finale in ‘Pull Out’, audibly irked by the fact their set was being squeezed by the club night which followed, the Toronto two-piece made a point of it by playing Darude’s ‘Sandstorm’ as they left the stage. 

Pummelling senses for over two decades now, there’s still plenty of dancing (or moshing) for Death From Above 1979’s one-two punch combination to soundtrack, based on the evidence from the final night of three shows. Hopefully it’s not as long until London gets another pummelling.