Atlanta Worships at the Altar of BTSM
An enormous crowd turned out at Terminal West Friday night for the sold out appearance of Black Tiger Sex Machine on their “Music is Our Religion” tour. Even when sold out, there’s always room to move at Terminal West, and the crowd definitely moved from start to finish. Scanning the space, I saw everything from festival-inspired outfits with shiny hot pants and fishnets to subdued black-clad house heads and college students who just looked thrilled to be there.
BTSM are touring with the support of Kannibalen Records labelmates Dabin and Kai Wachi. Unfortunately I missed Kai Wachi, who opened first, but several people stopped me shortly after I arrived to ask if I had seen his excellent performance. Dabin, a skilled multi-instrumentalist, built a set that showcased his ability to multitask musically: he moved seamlessly from his DJ controller and laptop to keyboards and an electric guitar, augmenting and complementing a variety of well-known tracks with his live solos and adding a rock element that is often absent from DJ-only shows. Dabin’s sets are never just drop after drop; he includes tracks with melodic vocals and wide variations in tempo. He incorporated quite a few Kannibalen tracks as well as others, including San Holo remixes, and the majority of his set was future bass and trap, with a strong representation by female vocalists. I find this approach refreshingly musical, but a few people in the audience were not into his style, including the drunk guy directly in front of me. He spent part of the set yelling “He’s a fake! His music is prerecorded!” to anyone who would listen, clearly missing the irony that BTSM was about to put on a highly coordinated stage show that’s choreographed in advance, due to the constraints of their trademark tiger helmets.
Speaking of the tiger helmets, when Bullet last caught up with BTSM before their Terminal West show in April of 2016, Patrick, Marc-André, and Julien were thrilled about the still-under-development tiger helmets 2.0, which were scheduled to debut later in the year. This show was my first opportunity to see the Tiger Helmets 2.0 up close, as well as BTSM’s new coordinated club stage setup, which has been edged with matching LEDs: they do not disappoint. Both the helmets and the stage lights changed color simultaneously with chasing and flashing patterns. These appeared to be carefully matched with individual tracks in the set list. The guys in BTSM have also developed increasingly complex choreography to go with the helmet and stage lights, and this, combined with their new visuals—a sort of Blade Runner meets Catholicism meets Post-Apocalyptic superheroes aesthetic—made for a show that was visually overwhelming in the best possible sense.
The sonic and visual influences of BTSM’s 2016 album Welcome To Our Church were clearly on display throughout their performance, which featured a relentless mix of electro house, dubstep, and industrial-style electro remixes. At the end of the show, they took off their helmets to engage with the crowd and immediately encouraged a fan in a wheelchair to come up on stage and rage out for their encore. Once the music ended, they gave out free merch and invited everyone to a meet-and-greet afterward in Stationside, Terminal West’s restaurant space, chatting with fans and posing for photos as security tried valiantly but somewhat ineffectually to shoo everyone out.
The best part about seeing BTSM—and all the artists from Kannibalen, really—is the sheer delight they take in performing. They clearly love what they’re doing, and this enthusiasm is contagious, bringing a wide variety of dance music lovers together to worship in a dark, but never too foreboding church of the beat.
Photos by Sarah Htun for Bullet Music.