Over the past two decades, Black Dice have maintained a perverse dedication to uneasy, deeply vivid sound that touches upon conventions of hardcore punk, electronic dance, and noise music, but remains entirely their own. First encounters with the band are contentious, deliberately unstable, leading Dan Fox to describe it as “a music of acclimatization” in a 2003 Frieze Magazine profile, going on to say, “Black Dice are not a band you would choose to listen to if you were feeling even remotely fragile.” Listeners that push through this challenge find themselves deeply rewarded, and the band’s visionary structure and presence has affected countless artists. Noah Lennox of Animal Collective once stated, “I modeled the way I approach everything with the band watching the way Black Dice did it.”
The germ of Black Dice was formed at the Rhode Island School of Design in 1997, by students Sebastian Blanck and Bjorn Copeland. Joined by Brian Gibson on drums and Bjorn’s younger brother Eric, they played their first shows in 1997 under the name Spit On Your Corpse. After local shows, a demo tape, and a name change to The Clutters, the band decided that Gibson wasn’t the right fit and invited fellow RISD student Hisham Bharoocha to play drums, finally changing their name to Black Dice. Sebastian quit in early 1999 and was replaced by Aaron Warren. Hisham left the band in 2004. The trio of Bjorn, Eric, and Aaron continues to play as Black Dice today.
For this review, Know Wave takes a close look at the very beginnings of Black Dice, spanning 1997-2000. This chapter of the band is best remembered for their furious, barely controlled live performances, which sent members of the band and the audience to emergency rooms. Their squalling, thrash-influenced sound will come as a surprise to listeners only acquainted with their more recent records, and critical discussion of this era often associate the screaming and feedback with adolescent rage. A present-day reflection on this era reveals the foundation of the antagonistic brilliance that has served the band for twenty years. Told through new interviews, archival footage, show posters, photographs, and the band’s own notebooks, we reconsider the impact of the deeply creative and deeply divisive beginnings of Black Dice.
“I think sometimes you just have to take pride in whatever cards you’re dealt, like the fact that we could put on a show where people wanted their money back. We did try to do stuff to make people question their involvement in being at a show, and we certainly did stuff that I would find offensive if it was done to me. I don’t want to be punched at a show, or have someone throw something at me, or have someone wrap a mic cord around my neck and drag me across the ground. Eric would do that kind of crap all the time. His go to move, eventually, was he bought a really long mic cable, a 30 foot one or something. And he would crawl around on the ground, around people’s legs and then stand up and run in the opposite direction so a bunch of people lost their balance and fell down. But you know, eventually people started expecting a certain sort of bad behavior, and that didn’t seem exciting anymore. Especially because you started getting hurt, really hurt.
I think having a reputation of being sort of scary, that was a new feeling for us because we were all slight, pretty androgynous little kids who were still light years away from shaving and stuff like that. That actually felt like, being acknowledged as like an adult man or something. That’s probably problematic to talk about now, but there were certain models that you grew up with about what a band is, and what a band dude is, and so it just seemed better to have a reputation as being kind of dangerous.” - Bjorn Copeland in a 2019 interview with Know Wave
Black Dice performing in Chapel Hill, NC, 1998 (excerpt)
“In the beginning we were playing shows where we're still booked with like, you know, hardcore-ish bands and they’d have their arms crossed as we always assumed they would. And we just played like the loudest thing ever and nobody would say anything to us, but we'd be like, 'that was a pretty good show!' I remember certain shows where we were really trying to push the boundaries. You know, what could make people uncomfortable and kind of keep people on their toes. They couldn't just stand back and expect like a nice little show.” - Hisham Bharoocha in a 2019 interview with Know Wave
Black Dice performing in Greensboro, NC, 1998 (excerpt)
“As far as San Francisco, they showed up here at the right time, like people were hungry for that shit. You know what I mean? People were sick of indie rock and sick of, like, sitting down and staring at the floor. So when Black Dice came, and then like a month later Lightning Bolt hit town for like a week, and I feel like the city wasn't the same for a couple of years. And then there were all the bands that were popping up here too, like all the ones who ended up playing this show.
That was the first time I met Paul (Costuros). Years later, we were watching the video of the show and we were like, ‘oh my god, there’s so-and-so, there’s Ed, and there’s Sally. All these people were in the room together that didn’t really know each other yet. They were going to end up hanging out a lot, you know, within a few months.” - Chris Dixon in a 2019 interview with Know Wave
Black Dice performing live in San Francisco at Cocodrie, 2000 (excerpt). Courtesy Paul Costuros
Chris Dixon attended the Black Dice concert in San Francisco, California, in May 2000
“When we played the Chain Reaction show, the house sound engineer was this fellow Rusty. He had recorded a T Tauri 7” and so, you know, I considered him a friend and a colleague. I thought that was a cool dude. But in that situation, he was like a square, and an enemy of us, and he was trying to stop us from doing what we needed to do. That created some conflict for me where, you know, I felt bad, I felt bad for him because I knew him to be a cool dude, and he was on the right side. But in that moment, like, you know, we’re just a fucking gang.” - Aaron Warren in a 2019 interview with Know Wave
Black Dice performing live in Anaheim at Chain Reaction, 2000 (excerpt)
“Hisham called me, I think he left a message saying, 'Mat Brinkman gave me your number, we're looking for a show in Detroit or Ann Arbor.' For some reason I can remember standing in the bedroom in my parents house when I got the call. I was pretty outside of the hardcore scene, I was more into tracking down old no wave records, and the only modern bands I listened to were like Scissor Girls and God Is My Co-Pilot, stuff like that. I didn't know Black Dice were a band that anyone even knew about, all I know was the story of Eric attacking you. I'm like, you know, I don't know anyone into this band. The only people who are going to come to this show are gonna be my friends, and I don't want some band beating up my friends, so, fuck that. So I think I just didn't reply or something, or told them I couldn't help them. Then that 10" on Troubleman came out, and I just remember hearing the track with that buzz that goes through the whole track, just like, oh my god this fucking rules. This is amazing!” - Aaron Dilloway in a 2019 interview with Know Wave
Black Dice performing live in Los Angeles at The Smell, 2000 (excerpt)
Aaron Dilloway was a member of Wolf Eyes, who made a collaborative record with Black Dice in 2001
“I feel like the instruments were trying to find like a different set of melodies. I don’t know how successful it was, but I used to think that shit was catchy.” - Eric Copeland in a 2019 interview with Know Wave
Black Dice performing live in San Diego at the Che Café, 2000 (excerpt)