by Ari Roth
Ratking’s Monday show at the Barbary was a showcase for the breadth of New York underground music. Despite their internet-heavy fanbase, the experimental hip hop trio repeatedly and explicitly referenced their Bronx background during the show, an identity which is clearly central to their music. The two other acts were also deeply linked to this weird-NYC heritage, although only one of them was actually from New York. Despite the apparent stylistic divergences between the three sets, a clear commitment to avant-garde grime and a claustrophobic sensibility that evoked their urban environs drew them all together.
First opener NAH, a PA-born, Brussels-based drummer and producer, performed an astonishing set with incredibly bare means. The setup consisted of little more than a sampler and a drum set, as NAH unleashed a titanic percussive wallop over rhythmic shards of minimal noise and intermittent samples. Despite the austerity of his tools, the resulting sonic assault was hugely physical, folding in heavily swung half-time hip hop grooves, hyperactive footwork cross-rhythms, and industrial power-funk into an off-kilter brew. The sheer bodily energy that he put into his set was incredible as he sweated and pummeled his kit, his eyes glazed and far off, breaking several drumsticks in the process.
Next was Show Me The Body, a young NYC trio who create grotty noise-punk-folk out of drums, bass, and electric banjo. Their set was the closest to traditional rock music, but their noise-influenced dynamics, dead-eyed vocals, and that distorted, stark, trebly banjo sound set them apart from their more traditional contemporaries. Show Me The Body are definitely a band to watch.
Finally, Ratking took the stage. The recent Fader cover stars traded verses back and forth while a third member triggered drum samples with a drumstick, processed the backing tracks, and filtered them in realtime by waving his hand over the front of the sampler. Despite the subtle beats, abstract lyrics and comparative lack of conventional hooks, I was impressed by the command that Ratking have over their audience, as the crowd rapped along to lines without prompting, and even launched into a slightly ill-advised mosh pit during a few of the songs. Their set was tight and concise, although the somewhat muddy sound occasionally got in the way of the vocals, with their nasal and heavily accented delivery. Nonetheless, their set was a powerful demonstration of their dark, bleak, punk-adjacent sound, one that is both refreshingly unique and wholly of their city. Touring behind their recently released sophomore album, So It Goes, Ratking are already developing a rabid cult fanbase, and this show did a brilliant job of contextualizing their sound and demonstrating a way forward.