Ratatat … not especially magnifique

Review: Ratatat delivered one hell of a set in Sydney

I feel that when Ratatat formed, Mike Stroud and Evan Mast were sitting around in a Brooklyn flat, listening to Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. After a full singalong rendition, one of them turned to the other and said, “Hey Mike/Evan, you know that amazing climactic solo section with the huge harmonised guitars? Let’s make a band based off of that specific sound.” And thus, Ratatat were born.

The two-piece make a lot more noise than your usual two-piece. An incredibly unique blend of live  instrumentation with synths and pre-programmed beats, it’s hard to pin them down, identify or even properly describe them. Their fifth album Magnifique came out this year (read our review here), and its translation to the stage was phenomenal. I was lucky enough to catch the inimitable duo twice in one week (once at The Metro in Sydney, and again at Fairgrounds Festival on the weekend), and both will be remembered among my favourite sets of 2015.

Opening for Ratatat were Melbourne band Black Cab. As the sold-out crowd started filing in, their drawling, fuzzed-out sound began to fill the air  Each track started off really cool, with smooth rhythms and thick instrumentation. However, each track also eventually traipsed off into lengthy, uninteresting drone, losing momentum before the audience could really get into it. Basically, I feel like it could’ve been a really good set if every track had ended halfway through.

Ratatat finally took to the stage around 40 minutes late. The atmosphere immediately felt electrified as they were announced via enormous guitar riffs, bright lights and  screen projection announcing in fluorescent letters: RATATAT. Equal parts kooky producers and stadium-filler rock stars, the pair delivered an animated, incredibly enjoyable set from the very first moments of Pricks of Brightness. The stage was filled with drums, keyboards, synths and more, with Stroud and Mast utilising the entire space throughout the 90-minute set, where they delivered a career-spanning set as energetic as it was fun.

The setlist was perfectly crafted into peaks and troughs, from audience favourite and Magnifique centrepiece Cream On Chrome, to LP3’s coolest riffs courtesy of Mirando and Falcon Jab, to the bass-heavy Neckbrace (a personal favourite) off LP4  and beyond, the duo delivered a smorgasbord of blistering guitar riffs, power stances, thundering drums, synths that resembled video game sounds, distorted harmonies and explosive grooves.

The show featured so much more than just the music; while the men and their equipment take up a lot of space on stage, without a visual show nor a frontman, it might be hard to maintain audience attention. Cue ridiculous animations (mostly featuring birds of course, as well as statues, jewellery and more), immense light stacks, and rave-ready lasers. The entire experience was a complete sensory blitz.

A Ratatat show is all-encompassing. The music itself isn’t vastly different to what you might hear on record; but it’s louder, bigger, filled with energy and doused in colour (and lasers). It’s an experience more than a gig – and what an experience it is.

More: Read our recent interview with Ratatat’s Mike Stroud