In Depth: Lightning Bolt

Author: JB Mellin

Prior to this year, I had never heard of the band Lightning Bolt. It was only after watching countless videos created by Australian group Tropical F*** Storm that I encountered a video in my recommended video section titled ‘Lightning Bolt – Dead Cowboy @TAICOCLUB’14’. 

I said to myself: ‘Now that’s an interesting mix of words,’ and proceeded to watch 10 minutes of absolute insanity. If you haven’t seen the video, I highly suggest you watch it.

 

 

Comprised of Brian Gibson and Brian Chippendale (affectionately known as ‘the Brians’), Lightning Bolt is a bass and drums duo hailing from Providence, Rhode Island. After meeting at the Rhode Island School of Design, they started Lightning Bolt in 1994.

Photos Courtesy of Shawn Greenlee

The first thing you might think of when I say ‘bass and drum’ is some long-dead dubstep compilation from 2010-2013, but what I really mean is that it is just a bass player and a drummer. If you have watched the video above, nothing in it sounds remotely like noise a bassist or drummer could create on their own, and that is true to some extent. Brian Chippendale, the drummer, runs a contact microphone through a multitude of reverb, delay and distortion pedals before eventually going into his homemade luchador-esque mask. Brian Gibson, the bassist, runs his instrument through a series of distortion, fuzz, reverb and overdrive pedals to create the mind-melting, ear-plugging noise that would have affectionately been called ‘garbage’ by the JB from a year ago. 

But I’m a changed man. 

What Lightning Bolt delivers is loud and unadulterated energy. Harmony takes the backseat, and pure adrenaline takes over. Chippendale plays at such a fast pace that it’s often hard to distinguish what exactly he’s doing on the drums, and when you see him live he looks like a maniac. Gibson almost looks out of place – he’s very calm, but if you look down at his hands you can see him plucking away at his bass impossibly quick. 

But  it should also be noted that the brilliance of the Brians goes far beyond just Lightning Bolt. Gibson recently released the game Thumper, described as a “rhythm violence” game. Thumper is mesmerizing and though I’ve only played it a little bit, it reminds me of that one scene from Dr. Strange where Benedict Cumberbatch’s character is being thrown through different dimensions and galaxies. If any of that sounds interesting to you, check out this gameplay video.

 

For Chippendale, much of his focus outside of Lightning Bolt lies in painting, screenprinting, and sculpting. He’s also responsible for creating and designing much of Lightning Bolt’s insane album covers. Through busy, collage-like pieces of art, Chippendale is able to convey the same energy and noise of the music he and Gibson created. This is the cover of their most recent album, Sonic Citadel, which came out just a few months ago via Thrill Jockey Records.  

Photo Courtesy of Brian Chippendale & Thrill Jockey Records

One of my favorite parts about Lightning Bolt is that they’re almost completely unique in the kind of music they make. So when I was telling one of my good friends they should listen to them, I found myself in a really difficult situation after they asked a question I’m sure we’ve all heard at one point or another. 

“What kind of music is it?” 

I didn’t really know what to say. You could maybe compare their sound to the Swans record Filth or even The Velvet Underground’s White Light/White Heat, but you still wouldn’t be anywhere near the mark. So, I responded through making a series of noises that mimicked their song “Horsepower”. I eventually convinced him to listen to a song off their 2005 record, Hypermagic Mountain. The song was “2 Morro Morro Land”, and it wasn’t until the next day when he texted me saying that the song was what got him through a workout. I thought it was funny, because the more I thought about it the more I found out that it described their music perfectly. It’s fast, exhilarating, fun, loud, and after listening to an entire album or even a few songs, you have to cool off. 

Photo Courtesy of Lightning Bolt

Lightning Bolt’s music grabs, then aggressively shakes you until you don’t quite know what’s happening. It demands the listener’s attention, but it’s still fun and energetic. So next time you need to hype yourself up for a presentation or work out or motivate yourself, give them a try. 

JB Mellin | fort thunder forever | KXSU Music Reporter

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