A2B2's Night of Fire 2 Brought Anarchic Art To The Knockdown Center
Updated: Dec 16, 2021
A review of the greatest concert event of 2021 and what it means for the future of independent media in an uncertain world
Andy Morin at A2B2 Night of Fire 2
Part 1: Background
It’s no secret that the past two years have been extremely precarious; all that was guaranteed got thrown out the window as soon as the pandemic hit. Stocks that were once valued in the hundreds plummeted to double or even single digits when the lockdown was put in place, and simple visits to friends and relatives suddenly became (and still are) extremely dangerous. The term “essential” became the most ubiquitous term of early 2020, reaching its peak relevancy as a search term on Google Trends. Medical professionals like doctors or nurses, and other frontline workers like grocery store cashiers became “essential workers”, meaning that our society would completely topple if they stopped working. As social distancing became law, large gatherings became unlawful. Then, unprecedented shit started happening. The economy shut down, sports like basketball were put on indefinite hiatus in the middle of games; for a brief moment in the history of the ceaseless, capitalistic American Empire, public safety was put above profits if for only for just a month. Through the lens of AntiArt, which started in October of 2020, we saw pop culture and mainstream music as an emperor with no clothes for the first time in our lives. “Art” was reduced to “entertainment” as “artists” were deemed “non-essential workers”.
While it was quite easy for major label musicians like Cardi B, Billie Eilish and even more elusive figures like Frank Ocean to rest on their laurels and wait it out comfortably, independent artists were essentially (pun intended), fucked. What would be the purpose of releasing a new album that couldn’t be properly toured or promoted? It was an extremely trying time for the creative space in general, and to make matters worse, a great deal of indie venues that were second homes to these artists were forced to shutter completely.
Maybe it is just a strange cosmic coincidence that this all occurred at the peak of the “extremely online” era, a time where the displaced have the ability to huddle for warmth in their respective forums, Discord servers, comments sections and Twitch streams. Our goal at AntiArt has always been to not just review the classics or talk about “what’s hot”, but to give fans and newer artists a platform to show the world why they are “essential”, that is where the power of curation lies. This leads me to what I consider to be the most innovative curative force thriving in the “post-pandemic” era, one that understands that chaos paradoxically provides stability in our upside world. I’m speaking of course about Andy Morin’s creative outlet A2B2.
When I interviewed Andy (co-producer of my all-time favorite band, Death Grips) this past summer, it was in the context of the forum-heavy website and online radio show linked to the brand. Episode 1 featured musicians I’d never heard of before, including Starity, XO-sama, and Charter Ghost. The way that Andy and the host of the show, known as “Bort” were able to corner a very cutting edge yet non-homogenous aesthetic felt extremely purposeful. It didn’t just feel like rap or rock with charged up, Money Store-type production; there was a range of emotions and genres with headbanging screeds shoulder to shoulder with somber covers of ‘80s music. “Honestly, it’s just feelings. It’s just music. We’ve got a lot of talented musicians in our community. It’s stuff that makes us want to go out and destroy the world because it’s not a sustainable world.” Andy said about the show’s main thrust. It is the deep trust between Andy and Bort that has made each subsequent episode better and more fine-tuned to that mission statement of destroying the unstable.
While Bort (@come.along.bort on Instagram) admitted in our part of the interview that he was a massive fan of Death Grips’ The Powers That B in college, it was actually Andy that reached out to him as a fan of his show on Firelane Radio. This mutual fandom between “boss” (Andy) and his increasingly growing team of collaborators in music, graphic design, photography, coding and web design inside of and adjacent to the A2B2 brand is the concrete foundation of the greatest live event of the 2020s thus far, Night of Fire 2.
A still from Andy Morin's set on the virtual Night of Fire 1 event in November 2020 (via YouTube)
Part 2: The Event
The spirit of the original, online Night of Fire back in November of 2020 feels honored by it's live, in person counterpart. The genius of Night of Fire 2 is the community aspect, as well as the focus on what sounds good rather than what sells tickets, is the driver of everything. Each artist on the lineup, from newcomers like Domino or QRTR, to the experimental veteran and Vogue model headliner Arca felt like they were all there as equals. While A2B2 and its behind-the-scenes workers provided all the technical and creative aspects that made this event so special, it was the Knockdown Center that really perfectly accommodated such a unique event.
From my perspective, the friendliness towards independent press and their attention to details regarding security at Knockdown was key. This allowed me to simultaneously capture the chaoticness of the event without ever feeling in danger. In regards to independent media, Knockdown's curator and talent buyer Jeff Klingman said "It's so self-sabotaging in the long run to try to ice out the little guy. Not just on a personal level, out of empathy for remembering when we were freelance music bloggers or whatever, but because it's a small world and motivated people who bust their ass to cover a show for little money are often those who stick around. You want the venue to be a magnet for talent and for passion"
On another note, the lighting was perfect for me to get all these wonderful shots that I am about to present you all with, and the seemingly endless supply of water bottles from security kept my head straight so that I could continue to mosh and cover the artists from 8pm to nearly 3am. In addition to that, the secondary "A2B2 Stage" was a perfect little industrial sweatbox for all the A2B2 community artists to provide more intimate and intense sets for those seeking a more DIY experience. Let’s get into my coverage, starting with the headliners…
Having listened to their cult classic Wlfgrl extensively over the past year or so, I assumed I was in for a raucous and ravey but relatively stoic DJ set. Nope! As I stepped out of the second stage room, I was pleasantly surprised to see vocalist and founder Matt Stephenson tearing it up on bass guitar and screaming his larynx out into the mic. “A live set! What the fuck!” I thought, and immediately bolted into the crowd and pulled a red ski mask over my face. Considering that I am familiar with their electronic-driven music, I didn’t recognize what songs they were performing, but the playing was so well done that it didn’t matter at all. The highlight of the set was when Matt started doing his signature crazy shit, including putting the mic in his mouth and also stage-diving, which he says is something he “Still enjoys” but is “scarier than before because of COVID”.
“It’s a great event that showcases and encourages smaller artists [to perform] along with many of their own heroes and inspirations. I think the stream and show the other night were really special” he said. It’s not too late to see this spectacle for yourself, the duo just announced a slew of tour dates across the country, I highly recommend it! Also shoutout to drummer Sean Kelly too for holding the rhythms down, all the pictures I got of him were too fucking blurry :/
In strong juxtaposition to the corrosiveness that Machine Girl provided with their raw punk energy, Eartheater came up next with a little more “poise” if you will. A real feminine aura radiated from her, complemented perfectly by deep blue, purple and pink lighting, I wouldn’t expect anything less from a literal supermodel. She skipped nearly all of her material from her most well-known body of work, the acoustic guitar and harp-laden Phoenix, in favor of more club-ready hits like “Supersoaker” and the delightfully sexual, GTA-referencing “Joyride” with Tony Seltzer. She was adorned in this fuzzy bunny outfit, though she didn’t need to wear anything specific to convey an otherworldly presence. Her frequent vocalizations and screeches left many of the audience members shook in the best way possible, and she was able to back up her quirks with more traditionally beautiful singing and sultry rap bars. Our podcast interview with her made it abundantly clear that she would’ve been on the second stage years ago, emphasizing the importance of “working and waiting underground like lava, ready to burst.” in reference to her popular track “Volcano”. It’s like the second stage was the tectonic plates, and her set was the eruption. You can’t have one without the other, they are part of the same throughline.
KERO KERO BONITO
Kero Kero Bonito was the biggest outlier of main stage. Andy and Machine Girl pair up in their love for everything belonging to the Venn Diagram of hardcore and rave, meanwhile, Arca and Eartheater are both models who have very abstract art pop tendencies. Also, I didn't see how much a seemingly cutesy band could embrace the festival's themes of destruction. Not only did Sarah and Gus fit seamlessly into sonic aesthetics by playing to the rave with UK garage and drum ‘n’ bass, but many will forget that their most recent album, Civilisation is all about the world ending. I do not exaggerate when I say the crowd was as rowdy as the one for Machine Girl, at the most unexpected moments. People were jumping up and down, moshing to “Lipslap”, and that’s when I remembered a quote from the great Bort, who said “I think there’s this persisting idea that everything Andy and A2B2 does has to be as brutal and hardcore as possible, but really what we look for is if the song makes us feel something.” When KKB was playing, the pervading "feeling" was pure joy, even during lyrically dark tracks like "Well Rested". It turns out in order to tear it all down and restart, you don’t need to have “Get Got” or “Hacker” blasting in your ear, however…
HE PLAYED “GET GOT” AND “HACKER” (two of Death Grips most well-known tracks). It’s honestly really funny because when I conducted my interview with him a while back, I made it a point not punish him with my Death Grips fanboyism, I said to myself “alright, A2B2 exists in a world where The Money Store is not a factor, try and approach it that way”, and because Andy is nothing if not subversive, he played a bunch of insane remixes of that material. This was the moment in the night when I decided that this was my favorite DJ set that I’ve ever seen, it was like he was playing right to my crusty millennial sensibilities with these tracks.
Just judging by the Jokeresque grin on his face and the rapidness of the knob turning, it was clear that Andy was in his happy place. In the few correspondences I’ve had with him, what I believe we have in common is our uncompromising sprint towards our respective visions. I don’t want to speak for him, but I could imagine being deeply proud of starting a cultural movement through internet collaboration and it taking off. In the background was a continuous feed of the A2B2 Discord server, which just felt deeply symbolic of all the hard work and dedication on the part of him and his team to get to that moment. In addition, all the warped visuals were reminiscent of Flying Lotus, a multi-screened experience could be utilized to great effect at Night of Fire 3 (Props to Jovoscript / @jovoscript on Insta for these visuals and many more at Night of Fire). Congrats Andy, you deserve it man.
ARCA (a.k.a "LA DOÑA)
Andy wasn’t the only one harvesting the fruits of their labor, though. I think it’s safe to say at this point that Arca is the queen of the current day artpop niche, and for good reason. KiCK i was incredible enough with features from Björk, Shygirl and Rosalía, but that wasn’t enough for world domination. No, she saw fit to drop four additional records of reggaeton, deconstructed pop, chaotic Yeezuscore, synthscapes and ambient music, in the week leading up to this event. Night of Fire 2 was a victory lap for her, so she performed Latin dance and reggaeton music almost exclusively, with brief but sharp turns towards her usual xenomorph experiments, as well as some piano playing and gorgeous chamber vocalization.
Seeing her in the flesh left two impressions on me. The first and most obvious is that she is a beautiful woman who looks like she’s striking a pose with each small adjustment of her hair or glance at the crowd. The second is that she felt deeply comfortable with her position. She was once a mainly faceless producer known for her avant-garde sound, someone who would’ve been on the secondary A2B2 Stage many years ago. The art that she produced was always uncompromising, only becoming more popular as people got out of their own way and paid attention. Standing in front of a packed house of people who she’s directly inspired to live their truths was poetic. I was smitten with her from start to finish, and as she went over her time by what felt like an hour, I was continuing to vibe and capture more rare Arca photos as a result. Arca popping champagne? I got it. Arca with glasses upside down? You know I snapped it. I must’ve taken 300 pictures of her, no subject has had me this glued to my camera since Caroline Polachek earlier this year.
Part 3: The Community
The camera that I used was purchased with the expressed purpose of never needing a press pass, it is the most expensive and dynamic point-and-shoot camera you can buy (shoutout Sony CyberShot RXVII you are my rock). Like a good right hook with brass knuckles, the camera is devastatingly effective at close range, especially when zoomed, but this meant my one goal was maintaining and advancing my spot at the main stage. As a result, I missed out on physically seeing and covering a lot of my favorite newer artists like LustSickPuppy and Domino. Considering that they are the backbone of A2B2 and its respective community, I reached out to a few of them to get their perspective on the night.
Opening up the entire event was one of the more straightforward rock artists I remembered hearing on Episode 1 of A2B2 Radio. His track "TRICK" will get a Standout Track distinction from us tomorrow on our Instagram, keep an eye out. Speaking of his experience, he said “These things are really important for people like me. I even spoke with Matt Stephenson from Machine Girl, who told me that if they were playing a show in the venue when they were twenty, they would freak out.” His set was the only one I was physically present for, nice to meet you!
I was deeply disappointed that I could not participate in the utter madness of this particular set, especially after listening to his brand new record nadir on repeat for the past few days. Tracks like “ghost” sound like a Hellish combo between Ministry and Deftones, while “what_its_worth” switches it up to industrial cloud rap. “The album is called nadir, which essentially means the lowest point. It represents my struggle with the effects of my mental health issues, illness, delusions, unrequited love, homelessness, substance habits…” he said of the record, emphasizing how he wants his music’s lyrical honesty to connect with fans going through similar situations. On the event, he said “It was my first ever performance and it was an awesome opportunity, especially since I came up out of the community itself.”
Video Credit: Dome of Doom Records
I’ve been in close correspondence with Wylie Cable, founder of QRTR's record label Dome of Doom for a while, and spoke to him again in regards to his history with A2B2, for which he said “I found out about A2B2 through Bort when he started working on the [A2B2] radio project” going on to say that Bort had been the first official intern for the Dome of Doom after he “cold call emailed [him] with encyclopedic knowledge of [their] releases”. He went on to say “We have given A2B2 an exclusive unreleased single to premiere for every radio episode” since Episode 1.
Describing her performance, QRTR stated "Playing the A2B2 stage for Night of Fire 2 NY is easily in my top 3 favorite gigs of all time. The energy was absolutely incredible, everyone in that room was dancing and present in the moment. I think it speaks volumes about the kind of people who came out to such an eclectic night - it was completely immersive and everyone was there to share an experience with each other. It was also SO queer and beautiful and everyone was dressed to the nines and so HOT? I’ll never forget it and I’m wildly grateful I had the opportunity to participate in something so pure and fucking fun. (Can I swear, idk??)" Yes, you can.
LustSickPuppy had the toughest job of all in my personal opinion. Not only did she have to headline the A2B2 Stage and stand out in that regard, but her set was at the exact same time as Arca's. From the looks of it, she had absolutely no problem proving exactly what makes her such an alluring figure in the underground scene, thrashing the crowd with her wonderfully weird flurry of gabber music and rapped verses, as on one of 2021’s best tracks “EGO BRUISER”. Of her closing performance, she said “There was nothing but love in that room. I felt this divine connection between me and everyone who was there…Having Andy on stage with me felt very confirming that I am doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing. It’s such an honor for an artist that I look up to and am inspired by to recognize my talent, give me the opportunity to showcase it, and want to share in that moment with me. Definitely a night I will never forget.” Continuing about the event as a whole, she said “These shows emphasize good music, regardless of who you are and I think that that's what's special about A2B2. It's about the music, no ego. Just art.” Couldn’t have put it better myself. (Photo Credit: Matt’s Music Mine / Matthew Ryan Miramontes)
(SHOUTOUT TO: Evanora Unlimited & Death Insurance, who also performed on the A2B2 Stage)
I wanted to dedicate the end of this monstrous, chaotic article to some of the support staff who made this event -- and the one in Los Angeles a week
previous -- possible. Roundy, also known as @a2b2roundy on Instagram, was like the jack-of-all-trades for Night of Fire 2. He not only made posters, filmed the event and moved merch, but he also played a crucial role in making sure that everything ran smoothly. Regardless, even he was able to view the sets in his own way which seems justified.
Giving his perspective on Night of Fire 2, Andy's right hand man Bort said "Going from a fully online presence to the real world actually felt like a perfect transition." adding that the brand had some pretty lofty goals for expansion in the coming years "More live events, bigger lineups, different cities, this is literally just the beginning".
Shoutout again to Jeff Klingman, talent buyer and curator for the Knockdown Center, who worked directly with A2B2 and the headliners to put together such a well-oiled machine of an event at what is quickly becoming the go-to venue for these types of shows. Speaking on how him and his team put together shows, he said "To be able to present the strangest, most exciting things happening in music right now, in a context where their artistic impact can be communally appreciated by a few thousand people rather than a few hundred? There's something that's so affirming about that, which often makes for the very best shows. That surprise feeling of 'wow, this thing I personally love is both so for me, but not just for me at all.' And the people who work here, who book and produce shows here, are in and of these niches ourselves. This is the music that excites us too."
Matt (@matt.d.s) is head of marketing and is an A2B2 system admin. I really like the way he described his job as not “advertising” the event, but more so creating a lineup, visuals, etc. that is so enticing that it spreads organically. It reminds me of the way that we use memes or sharp graphic design to get people to download our podcast or come to our website. He told me a funny anecdote that I think is appropriate to end on. “While Andy was working on what was to be a2b2.org a while ago, I did some poking around and managed to break into the site. I emailed him about how I did it”. I asked him, “did this piss him off?” He responded, "No he was super chill about it, and that landed me the position that I’m in right now”. A2B2 is a limitless platform that treats the outcasts as assets. Whether they are hosting dazzling live events, or heading back underground if live events cease to exist, they are always up to something. In this confounding, post-COVID digital era, it is organizations like A2B2 that will make sense of the madness with its focus on anarchic art. One rave at a time, they are creating the blueprints for a whole new world.