It’s a big world. I can’t even hazard a guess as to how many bands there are in it, but it must be one of those “if you laid them end-to-end they’d circle the globe 500 times” types of things. If that’s a reasonable assumption, there’s an astronomical amount of music happening across the planet at any given moment, which, besides giving me that “Kumbaya” feeling, makes me realize how much of it I’ve been missing. If you want to find more music from all over, where do you start? Well, with some help from FILTER Magazine, you can start at the Culture Collide festival in Echo Park, which just had its second annual run this October.
I’ve been to a few festivals in my day and this one was an unexpected favorite for a few reasons, not least of which being the wide selection of countries to choose from. In five days, it offered performers from two-dozen nations. The interesting thing about the international scope of the festival is it’s not at all focused on “world” music. That is, there’s no traditional music to be found — this is all contemporary rock/pop/indie/electronic fare, albeit with different seasonings. Plus, there were free collectible buttons from each country represented and country-sponsored happy hours almost every night — very welcoming. They were also smart about the location — Echo Park is one of the least annoying neighborhoods in L.A. I hope they do this again next year.
My Bubba & Mi (Denmark)
This was two (one member was missing, odd) cute Scandinavian girls (one from Sweden and one from Iceland, whom met in Denmark) evoking Appalachia in the Echo Park United Methodist church, complete with acoustic guitar, banjo, hammer dulcimer (not a mountain dulcimer, interestingly enough), and sweet West Virginia harmonies. It was an early set, so not many people were there (unless you count super obnoxious photographers — TMT’s Ben Pearson, who went with me, looked like his face was going to explode), but that lent it an air of intimacy fitting with Bubba’s demur stylings. The ladies were charming with their dulcet tones, subtle joke-cracking, and occasional sing-cursing. The highlight of the set was the “commercial break,” during which they performed a handful of classic-radio-era-style jingles to promote such things as skincare products and their new album How They Do It In Italy. You’ve probably missed your chance to see them in the US because their stint here was shorter than short, but if you like pretty mountain folk, the record is certainly recommended (especially if you’d enjoy the added novelty of mountain folk done by the descendants of Vikings). B+
Side Note: They were eating “lasagna muffins” from one of those fancy L.A. food trucks when we saw them later.
Hypernova (Iran) I was excited to see my first Persian band, and Hypernova didn’t disappoint, but maybe that’s because I had no idea what to expect, besides that they might be a little silly with a name like “Hypernova.” They actually weren’t that silly, unless you count toasting the audience a lot. Then again, I’d probably give a lot of toasts, too, if I were visiting from a country that gives out lashes for openly drinking a G&T. They were dressed way cooler than I would have thought, kind of like an understated, classy motorcycle gang. It also seemed cool that they weren’t teenagers, which for some reason is what I’d pictured when I listened to parts of 2 songs on their Myspace page. In any case, I liked this band even though — or maybe because — they were derivative as hell. The trick was that they were derivative of good things — straightforward disco-tinged rock à la Interpol and sometimes Joy Division/New Order — while also not writing the most predictable tunes ever. Definitely a live band, and pretty fun. B
Y∆CHT I had no idea how awesome Y∆CHT would be live. I wasn’t expecting the theatrics, or mic-chord antics, or how loud and catchy they’d sound, or how hot and queer Claire Evans would be (yes, I mean that kind of queer). I guess walking into shows near-blind isn’t the greatest idea but sometimes it works out well. I wasn’t that excited to see Y∆CHT and so, of course, I was blown away. There aren’t many things I’ll dance to without reservation; this turned out to be one of them. A
De Staat (Netherlands)
I liked this band instantly, and since few attended their set, we got to stand in the front. I’m not sure exactly what to say about them, save that they are hard rock with just a hint of irony, with moments wherein they sound like a collision of Primus and Janet Jackson with David Byrne as front man. Watch this video. B+
You Say France & I Whistle (Sweden) This band had a great sense of humor. Even though a song with a title like “OMG” raises a red flag, it — and other songs — were funny and relevant, with the bonus of being catchy. Their sound was pretty generic indie-rockish, but that’s not always a bad thing. Based on the Swedish Sampler CD they were passing out, that’s about 50 times better than the rest of the music their country sees fit to export. (Sorry, Sweden!) They were high-energy and upbeat and fun, their keyboardist was a cute girl, and one of them looked like a young Werner Herzog, so overall I’d say they’re worth seeing. B+
CSS (Brazil) This was the second time I was totally blown away by a “Mystery Band.” I guess CSS were pretty hyped-up a couple years ago, but it wasn’t on my radar at all. (I mean, I saw the iPOD commercial using that one song, but c’mon.) It’s probably better that way, because this is a band that’s 100-times better live than recorded. That’s not to say that they’re bad recorded, but you definitely don’t get the exuberance, the hot chicks, or the stage diving listening to them in your car. The best thing about seeing CSS was probably that they distilled everything about rock that makes me proud to be American while avoiding cliché. A+
Rainbow Arabia (USA) Speaking of bands who are unexpectedly awesome live: Rainbow Arabia is not one of those bands. Sorry, that sounded mean. It’s true, though. Being that Culture Collide was made up of bands I’d mostly never heard of before, this was a group I was looking forward to seeing. Unfortunately, the vocals were weak, they seemed to be missing a significant amount of keyboard layers, and they had the energy of the jetlagged — even though they’re local Eagle Rockers. Not terrible, but underwhelming. C
The Analog Girl (Singapore)
This was a very cute, very soft-spoken, very polite girl with a sexy voice making mellow beats and melodies on some of the coolest-looking toys ever. There were glowing cubes, a drum machine with a display that mimicked an arcade game, and another structure that looked like a piece of medical equipment. Combined with her weird-cool, smock-like dress, I began thinking of her as a time traveler from the 80s who got stuck in the future and used modern technology to make awesome stuff that reminded her of home. Her performance was quiet and mesmerizing without being soporific, and she’s from a city-state made up of 63 islands, so she was fun to see and research later. As for the toys, all I was able to find on the internets was this. Pretty rad, huh? B+
The Asteroids Galaxy Tour (Denmark) Given the name, it’s not surprising this band turned out to be very 60s. It was in a good way, though, like Petula Clark meets Love, with catchy melodies and horns and a cute, waifish blonde girl in a red dress and pink tights. They were not as silly live as I expected after watching this video. B
Datarock (Norway) I was excited when I saw Datarock were wearing matching red tracksuits, but that was sidetracked by a delay in the set starting, apparently due to an ill-timed promotional game put on by Toyota that we all had to stop and pay attention to. When the set finally started it was slow and I worried that disappointment lurked. Luckily it picked up in the second half and they played that one song with Gerald Casale of Devo adding backup vocals. B+
Side Note: The drummer threw a set of sticks into the air that didn’t make it back onto the stage but are instead in Pearson’s car somewhere. That was pretty cool.
Gang Gang Dance (USA)
This was the second time we’d seen Gang Gang Dance, and even though they made me dance like a Burning Man weirdo when we saw them three years ago, this time they were even better — but I didn’t feel like flailing all over the place. They seem to have reached a sort of serenity that is beyond the embarrassment of pretentious Burner culture while reaching what that culture wishes it were, like the difference between transcendence and being really, really stoned. Recently, a friend of mine compared them to Rainbow Arabia, as though the latter had come first, which is especially hilarious given the two performances at this festival. Both were mellow and desert-y, but one band seemed bored while the other had a shaman on stage with them who blessed the proceedings and danced around with a tree headdress. It’s true Lizzi Bougatsos doesn’t always have the strongest voice in live performances (that, or her vocals weren’t turned up enough, which I think was the case anyway), but in her case the “vibe” is enough to balance things out. Also, did I mention they had a shaman? A