Experimental jazz freakout kings Black Midi have returned to drop one final preview single off their upcoming LP Hellfire with the on-brand craziness of ‘Sugar/Tzu’.
‘Sugar/Tzu’ actually starts off in a relatively calm place: no mind-bending time signatures, no frenetic rhythms, and no insane acid jazz. Just a calm arrangement punctuated by a soulful saxophone line. Of course, this being Black Midi, that calmness doesn’t last very long, and in no time we’re launched straight into one of the busiest tracks that the band have ever composed.
In case you’ve missed it, the stories behind each of the singles released from Hellfire so far have come with beyond elaborate backstories that may or may not just be the members of Black Midi taking the piss. The following is either a completely serious and thorough description or an elaborately detailed joke. Choose your own adventure.
“‘Sugar/Tzu’ imagines that in 2163 it’s possible to see a championship fight between two 600 lb men. Albeit in a so-called ‘Leadweight’ division,” guitarist Geordie Greep explains. “The fight is between Sun Sugar and Sun Tzu; the latter being a fan of the Chinese general, hoping to channel his strength; and the former looking to continue the lineage of Sugar Ray Robinson, Leonard etc.”
“Present at their battle is a young boy who stands just over three feet tall,” he continues. “At ringside, he briefly exchanges a glance with Sun Sugar, who, in perhaps an attempt to inspire, comes over to the boy and shakes his hand. It is then revealed, as the contender walks back to the action, that the boy is in fact a killer”.
Adding: “He takes a small pistol from his little jacket and shoots the man in the back, honour be damned. The boy believes this not to be a cruel act, but a virtuous one, with his interference giving the audience an ultimate, rare entertainment. As Sun Sugar hits the deck, the crowd cheer and scream, believing this only to be the result of a particularly vicious shot from Sun Tzu.”
“There is a little joke here. It is regular for a boxing audience to bemoan an early stoppage, the official stepping in to save a fighter who could’ve gone on. And while there is the surface agreement of most that ‘it was the right thing to do,’ there seems to be often left unsaid the fact that we actually do want to see a brutal knockout. And in the split second where these one-shot, punch-perfect, coma-inducing blows do occur, there is an undeniable rush. The boy in this story feels he is a hero for giving the crowd what they all really want. This is not to say the song is a critique of boxing or anything of the like – I love the sport – but it is an interesting and rare phenomenon worth exploring.”
So there’s that. If you’re willing to get that deep into the track in order to dissect every single minute detail that that band are putting into it, then more power to you. If you’re just letting the frantic jazz wash over you, I don’t blame you in the slightest. Black Midi are one of the few bands today that can provoke a visceral response from listeners, whether positive or negative, but that power is something they never wield lightly. This is music that slaps you in the face and commands your full attention.
Check out the video for ‘Sugar/Tzu’ down below. Hellfire is set for a July 15th release.