19th February: Revolution was brewing and fist-pumping dictators were teetering just a few time zones away, when Sleigh Bells disrupted Ulster Hall with a rapid-fire barrage of pop-for-punks and a timely take-no-prisoners rendering of barbaric tunes from their debut album Treats.
Enter America’s pugnacious pop duo Sleigh Bells. Their every head-banging movement roboticized by industrial-strength strobe lights, Alexis Krauss and Derek Miller wreak havoc from the get-go, unloading savage drum beats with opener “Infinity Guitars.” Alexis dons her trademark ensemble: a T-shirt depicting Madonna’s iconic Time Magazine cover, a solitary black leather glove, and a menacingly fierce facial expression beneath furiously swinging fringe. Close by, Derek pelts the audience with thrashing death metal guitar, wearing a black hoodie and a grin as wide as a Humvee.
As if the heart-palpitating distortion and electronic explosions aren’t dramatic enough, the experience is enhanced by towering panels of graffiti art, which both flank the stage and outline the audience, so that concert-goers find themselves dancing next to spray-painted images of decapitated Roman guards.
In their ear-drum popping coup d’état of the Ulster Hall, Sleigh Bells fire through most of Treats, replete with their distinctive layering of Alexis’s breathy, childlike vocals over blitzkrieg guitar and synth riffs. The crowd erupts at the first screaming chords of “Crown on the Ground”, the duo’s most danceable song whose undulating phrases sound like Derek’s put a Fender in a bouncy castle.
When Alexis bends down to hiss the chorus of “Riot Rhythm” between the closely-packed heads in the front row, the fans latch onto her Madonna T-shirt, and refuse to release her until she acidly shrieks, “Let the f*** go!” With an air of frustration, she straightens to show that the torn shirt is now fully revealing an American-flag leotard underneath (arguably a wardrobe improvement).
Lasting just over thirty minutes, it has been a short but indisputably visceral set from Sleigh Bells, and well-worth the mere fiver ticket price. Post-show discussion concludes that the chaotic show has almost rivaled that of fellow co-ed noise-pop duo Crystal Castles (“If only Alexis had crowd-surfed and assaulted a fan…”). Still, the bellicose Sleigh Bells have successfully dominated Belfast with their ear-shattering weapons of sonic destruction. Ulster Hall is likely still recovering from what can best be described as the invasion of dance music for the punk crowd.