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British prog-rock band black midi defies indie quo with unconventional synth-punk sound

black midi, comprised of Cameron Picton, Geordie Greep, Matt Kwasniewski-Kelvin and Morgan Simpson, is best known for challenging the indie scene status quo with a synth-punk spin on traditional rock music. – Photo by

black midi is a four-piece London experimental rock band, which has consistently upended the traditional tropes of rock music.

The band's blend of math rock, experimental rock and post-punk makes its music extremely varied, and they create some of the most unique music within their genre and the industry today.

Their two new singles, “Despair” and “John L,” continue to defy expectations and categorizations, signifying the band’s continued growth and expansion as artists.

black midi originally gained traction in 2018 with their live performance on KEXP, which was later released on YouTube.

Consisting of members Geordie Greep on vocals and guitar, Matt Kwasniewski-Kelvin on vocals and guitar, Cameron Picton on vocals and bass guitar and Morgan Simpson on drums, the video captured the attention of viewers everywhere. Not only did the members look like schoolchildren, but they were also playing music that had an intensity well beyond their years.

Their use of atonal call-and-response guitar chords and constantly shifting rhythms keeps their performances interesting and lively and reinforces their rapidly changing identity in their artistry.

Even though the band members' ages are all around 21 years old, they have years of experience playing in different church bands and easy access to rehearsal space. The members originally met at the BRIT School in London, which has crafted stars like Adele and Amy Winehouse.

“Despair” is one of their more traditional tracks, sounding more Radiohead-inspired than anything they've made up to this point, and this embrace of style makes “Despair” so striking and effective.

The simple electric guitar melody and verse-chorus-verse structure, combined with gospel-inspired background vocals, flips indie tropes on their heads and makes the track so melodically beautiful you'd never expect black midi would write a song so traditional.

Their previous categorization of post-punk falls away. To not hear dissonant chord progressions or constant rhythm changes makes this song a refreshing and important surprise. Its effectiveness of subverting expectations comes from its traditional format but still manages to create a melancholic atmosphere.

While “Despair” switches styles in an ambitiously melodic and emotional direction, “John L” reverses this ambition. Lyrically, the song tells the story of a society that succumbs to a deity, while a cult leader takes control of the population and strips them of their power and individuality.

Sonically, the lyrics are delivered in a spoken word format, while their style of dissonant progressive rock becomes even more distinctive. By the time lyricist Greep sings “Three encores of Oh Sonny Boy backed only by accordion,” the chaos of this song has already become unleashed. The looping chorus permeates throughout the song like an anthem, while multiple different musical sections add intense and purposeful variety.

The video for “John L” takes this chaos and personifies it into a visual format. The video combines absurdism with the visual iconography of shows like the "Teletubbies" and historical cult leaders. Meanwhile, the rapid camera movements and identically jarring outfits enlist both confusion and intrigue.

As the video progresses, it becomes only more absurdist and strange. The ensemble cast’s dancing provides more questions than answers, and overall, although the video is inherently absurdist, it is visually stunning. Its extensive use of the Eye of Providence — commonly associated with the Illuminati — is a bold artistic choice and helps structure the message of the song in a visual way.

black midi is one of the most unique bands of our time, and the members' ages and experiences, combined with their vision for songwriting, make them a fascinating sphere of the prog-rock scene.

They bring joy out of rock fans by making songs that traditionally upend the expectations of rock music, and they defy expectations for casual music listeners with their dissonant and distinctive sound. These two new songs add great variety to black midi's musical identity and certify the unique, musical minds of black midi.

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