Sleigh Bells

It will be a while before the ringing stops, with the Brooklyn noise-pop duo pushing the limit at Winter Base  

A slew of quality acts have recently appeared out of the Brooklyn ether: Grizzly Bear, Yeasayer and Dirty Projectors are just a handful of artists that have commanded recent attention.

But it’s Sleigh Bells, the current darlings of New York’s most populous borough, who arrive at the Ulster Hall to headline the sold-out show at the annual Winter Base International Street Art and Music Festival.

Boy-girl duo Sleigh Bells formed through a chance meeting of Alexis Krauss, a former primary school teacher with a teen-pop past, and hardcore guitarist Derek Miller at the restaurant where he waited on tables.

With promising early demos garnering interest from every music blogger worth their weight in gold Nike high tops, their debut album Treats was released in 2010 through controversial rapper MIA’s own record label.

Sleigh Bells’ discordant sound is so distinctly large on the record it’s reassuring that their entrance is preceded by a gnarling Slayer-style track emitted from the stacked Marshall speakers. Bounding onto the stage with skull hoodie pulled over his head, Miller’s guitar riffs tear into the Ulster Hall vacuum like a Ginsu knife through a tin of tomatoes.

There’s no hard-sell infomercial necessary here though, with opener ‘Infinity Guitars’ spilling out the raw distorted beats that set the precedent for the rest of the show: fast, noisy and memorable.

The wailing guitar line and whip-crack beats on ‘A/B Machines’ has a Chemical Brothers feel to it, but when Miller goes off-stage and leaves Krasuss lit in an eerie green glow, her echoed vocals switch with killer horn stabs to deliver the MIA-flavour banger ‘Kids’.

Bathed in blinking strobes, Krauss moves between shouts and dulcet tones, but things get rougher as Miller rejoins for ‘Straight A's’ and ‘Holly’, both pushing the speaker levels into ‘up to 11’ territory with a pulverising low-end.

The tempo slows for a moment when the sassy vocalist stands alone once more for ‘Rill Rill’, a bubblegum-pop tune liberally sampling Funkadelic’s ‘Can You Get Into That’. With Miller’s buzzsaw guitar back into action on ‘Tell ‘Em’, the singer whips and flails about the stage and reaches out to the front row during incendiary machine-gun drums.

Sounding a lot like The Cure’s ‘Boys Don’t Cry’, closer ‘Crown On The Ground’ brings an end to the breakneck 35-minute performance and the last date of Sleigh Bells' European tour.

As a duo use of a backing track is a given, but here such heavy reliance in the mix is somewhat off-putting. However, it’s a burden the band seems willing to bear and honestly, most of the 500-strong fans don’t seem to care. The head-banging and body-popping continues regardless.

The spontaneous and often imperfect nature of live shows from bands like Sleigh Bells is in some ways part and parcel of the attraction. Whatever the case, with music videos featuring exploding mailboxes, cheerleaders and fast cars, Sleigh Bells aren’t taking themselves too seriously. Perhaps we shouldn’t either. 

Image of Sleigh Bells courtesy of Simon Mills Photography.