I was introduced to Three Trapped Tigers about six years ago, when my head would usually be stuck in a bass bin somewhere and I had no concept of what ‘mathrock’ was. When I saw them for the first time at a now-defunct venue in East London, I had my head blown off by their manic creativity.
Back then, part of their appeal was the fact that they strayed so far from the conventional boundaries of what could be done with a guitar, drums and a few synths. Their splicing of noise, post-rock, and glitchy rhythms made them equally popular among fans of Warp Records’ electronica of such as Squarepusher as well as more conventional guitar-band aficionados.
After an initial moment of technical trouble, their set at The Lantern on Monday night began explosively with Silent Earthling, the title track of their new album. The spluttering drum fills that punctuate the piece are a reminder of why the outfit garner such high praise at the geekier end of the mathrock spectrum: their technical proficiency is truly intimidating, to the extent that you could chuck a whole dictionary of superlatives at them and still not do them justice.
You could even argue that there’s an elitism to their style of music, far removed from the democratising forces that spawned so many punk bands back in the day. But in an era where cheap music technology has made it easier than ever to reproduce formulaic copies of whatever dominates the charts, it’s a pleasure to witness musicians retaining a ferocious level of dedication to their craft.
I was curious to hear how their sound had evolved in the intervening years since I’d last seen them. All the elements that define their sound are still there: the fast, tumbling arpeggio lines, the complex time signature shifts and the insane percussive displays that are manifested on tracks like Cramm and Noise Trade, from their Route One or Die album. Overall their sound is a bit more polished, less drenched in distortion than when I’d seen them previously. But alongside the restless, angular components of their music, there is an anthemic quality to many of their tunes.
Having built their reputation on such a unique combination of influences, it would be easy to get stuck repeating old formulas. But watching the video for their single Engrams recently, it feels as though there is a craving for new horizons in their work. If their music were a literary genre, it might be something like Space Opera, that branch of sci-fi set three thousand years in the future among incomprehensibly advanced civilizations, where the emphasis is on the majesty of far-off planets. That’s what sprang to mind as I bathed in the soundscapes.
While a trio of drunk guys next to me leapt around ecstatically, many of those around me just nodded in awe. Both reactions are understandable when experiencing this most talented of bands.
Top photograph by Elena Renken