Riot Fest 2015
Douglas Park; Chicago, IL
Amanda Athon: Since its inception in 2005, Riot Fest has moved from a modest, multiple-venue event, to an outdoor Chicago festival, to a multi-city “fest and carnival” with additional locations in Toronto and Denver. Having gotten the boot from Chicago’s Humboldt Park last year, this marks Riot Fest’s first-year at Douglas Park on the west side of the city.
I’d never been a huge fan of concert festivals, but then I had a baby. Two things happened: (1) My pain tolerance increased ten-fold, and (2) Any event where I could go away from my colicky infant for a while suddenly became fun, even if it was just a trip to the dentist.
Joe Hemmerling: I too had withdrawn from the festival circuit for a while, so Riot Fest — with its preponderance of legacy acts and heavy focus on classic punk, metal, and hip-hop — seemed like an ideal target for my wife and I to tag-team. In addition to having to contend with the newest, loudest addition to our family, I also came down with a wicked head-cold the day before, so things were guaranteed to be memorable…
AA: Death, still riding the feel-good waves from the documentary A Band Called Death, was one of Friday’s first performers. Singer Bobby Hackney gave a shout out to his late brother, and also to his son, who helped get their 70s-era recordings noticed by collectors and eventually released by Chicago-based label Drag City (seriously, see the documentary already.) Their set was peppered with gratitude, thanking fans who purchased the album, saw the documentary, or attended their set. It was unnecessary, but added to the band’s warm and fuzzy aura. During their 45-minute set, they stuck mostly to their debut, For all the World to See, with “Politicians In My Eyes” and “Keep on Knocking” standing out as particular crowd favorites.
JH: After Death, we were caught pleasantly off-guard by Living Colour (yes, the “Cult of Personality” guys!) and a reliably engrossing show from Riot Fest regulars Against Me!, who leaned heavily on last year’s Transgender Dysphoria Blues. From there, my day took a dark detour. Amanda had departed to pick up our daughter from day care. I tried to catch a breather on the astroturf (the only dry ground in the entire park), but the nasally eunuch from Coheed And Cambria proved too much for me to bear. My next idea was to camp out in front of the rebel stage to get a good spot for Anthrax, but I severely overestimated my tolerance for Thrice, who were taking an hour-long dump on neighboring stage.
By the time Faith No More went on, the band had taken on a kind of talismanic power in my fevered brain, the prize to some heroic odyssey that I had completed simply milling back and forth between a few stages for a couple hours. They delivered in spades. The Rock Stage was decked out in floral arrangements, and the band came out clad entirely in white (which made them a perfect blank canvas for their mesmerizing light show). With just their opening one-two punch of “Motherfucker” and “Be Aggressive” they had already established themselves as the best band of the night. Their set careened all across their discography, releasing the casually curious early by playing “Epic” mid-set, and leaving the rest of us with more elbow room and the ability to hear each other singing along. I’ll make myself the millionth person to point out that Mike Patton’s voice is a national treasure, equally suited to the sepulchral growls of “Midlife Crisis” and the melodiousness of Lionel Richie’s “Easy Like Sunday Morning.”
Though I badly wanted to stay for Motorhead, I was feeling pretty wiped, so I decided to head home and try to save a little for the rest of the weekend.
JH: My still-raging head-cold and our daughter’s increasingly avant-garde approach to sleeping through the night meant that I still felt like shit Saturday morning. We had no sitter planned, so I was striking out on my own. I resolved to make it a short day and leave after my interview with Gwar, even though this would mean missing my chance to see the Godfather of Punk, Mr. Iggy Pop, that night, and probably for the rest of my life.
(AA: Joe fears with utter certainty that karma will cause Iggy to die before next summer’s festival circuit.)
JH: By the time I got to the park, the heavy rains from that morning had passed, but they left the fairgrounds a swamp land. My socks were completely soaked through just crossing from the main entrance to the press tent. I caught an early set from former Crass frontman Steve Ignorant’s collaboration with Irish punks Paranoid Visions. The group ran a lazy Susan of lead singers with Ignorant, Deko, and Sarah Bellum rotating from lead, to back-up, to standing behind the equipment when they weren’t needed. Hooky punk rock was intercut with samples of people discussing at length why Bono’s charity work is all bullshit (apparently, a recurring theme with the band).
But the main event for me was Gwar. The scumdogs were scheduled for a measly half-hour at 1:40 in the afternoon, but there was still a sizeable crowd amassed around the Rise Stage in anticipation. It was a jam-packed 30 minutes, with the band ripping through fan favorites “Madness at the Core of Time,” “Meat Sandwich,” “A Brief History of the End of the World, Pt 1” and “Sick of You,” but still finding time to leave a trail of bodies in their wake. DJs were decapitated. Keytar players were maimed. internet trolls were ripped limb-from-limb. New lead singer Blothar did battle with Olderus Urungus (a supposed relative of their late frontman) for the right to maintain his position in the band. Blood, urine, and semen were sprayed in massive quantities. It was pure magic.
I saw The Dead Milkmen for the second time at a Riot Fest event. Rodney Anonymous remained as frenetic as ever, scrambling across the stage and photo pit to interact with fans and delivering his customary improv during the intro to “Bitchin’ Camero.” I had to leave just as the group was sinking its teeth into “Dean’s Dream” to go prostrate myself before the glory of Gwar in the press area, and by the time I returned The Thurston Moore Band was playing some motoric psych from their forthcoming album.
JH: Our childcare situation fell through Sunday, so — in a move that made us either the most awesome or most negligent parents in the world — we scraped together some supplies and brought the baby along with us. It wasn’t an ideal way to experience the fest, as we had to stay at a greater distance from performances we wanted to see than I would have liked, and we could only stay a few hours before little Avery started getting cranky from lack of sleep.
AA: But we go a lot of vocal support for bringing our baby to a festival, and we’re sure a lot of silent judgment as well. De La Soul’s set was the top act of the festival for me. The group didn’t even need their hit “Me, Myself, and I” to get the audience pumped, but it sure didn’t hurt. The trio interacted a lot with the crowd, each other, and even the pit photographers, challenging each side to prove who was more hip-hop and drawing out the interludes to build excitement.
Our second non-negotiable for the day was Andrew WK. While Steve Buscemi reigns as my eternal celebrity crush, I have an on-going fantasy of renting a summer share in the Hamptons with Ina Garten and Andrew WK. Riot Fest did nothing for the former, but it helped flesh out the latter a bit more, thanks to Mr. WK’s happy-go-lucky performance.
Although a longtime fan of his column in the Village Voice, this was my first time seeing him live. The last time Joe saw him in 2004, he was headlining a high school battle-of-the-bands, a tidbit that reinforces my image of the performer as the grown up high school kid who just wants to play rock & roll.
JH: Seeing him again was an emotional experience, even standing from what felt like 100,000 feet away. His setlist was principally unchanged since 04: heavily bookended with tracks from I Get Wet and padded out with a couple from The Wolf, with only “You Will Remember Tonight” from Close Calls with Brick Walls, an instrumental cover of “Adeste Fideles” (played on a pizza-shaped guitar), and a lengthier track that I didn’t recognize to mark the passage of time. It was “Long Live the Party,” from his oft-dismissed sophomore album that hit me the hardest. That part at the song’s climax where he sings “All we ever wanted was a thing to believe/And now that we have found it we have all that we need” took me immediately back to being 20 years old and a time when the essential truth of that statement felt irrefutable.
We managed to stave off an Avery meltdown just long enough to see him close with “Party Hard,” and then we brought the curtain down on our great festival adventure.
AA: While Riot Fest’s line-up is definitely meant for an older crowd, there’s something especially (and unintentionally) dated about some of the bands we saw, particularly some of the ones tossing out rape jokes and threatening to fuck our mom as a way to appear edgy. A festival that heralds bands whose hey-day was long ago (whether or not we wish that was the case), reveals what can at times feel like easy shtick. Bands like The Dwarves may have seemed revolutionary 20+ years ago for putting such raw violence and sexuality on stage, but so many bands have threatened to fuck my mom in the meantime that it doesn’t have much of an impact today. (And if you’ve met my mother, you’d know she could probably horrify even The Dwarves with her stories of how she spent the 70s.)
Still, we’re not really sure how many attend Riot Fest to be challenged; we want to see No Doubt play “Spiderwebs” and listen to Andrew WK party hard. We all know what we’re here for: hearing our favorite bands from high school and, dare we say it, thinking that kids today don’t know good music.
Joe and Amanda’s random observation round-up:
• Dos Equis was providing free beer to the journos at the press tent, instantly making this the greatest festival either of us have ever attended.
• Even 20 minutes after the festival begins, the port-o-potties were gross, which did not bode well for the restroom situation on Day 3.
• The map listed a taxi stand outside the fest, although at no point did we ever see any taxis there. Finding the cab stand became our own personal Moby-Dick.
• The guy with a 12-inch Mohawk getting excited about a funnel cake made us feel that everything was going to be OK with the world.
• Likewise for the white-haired man in his 50s who was bellowing “FAITH NO MOOOOOOOOOORE!” at the top of his lungs in anticipation of the band taking the stage.
Basilica Soundscape 2015
Basilica; Hudson, NY
After dumping a 24-hour Drone fest on our heads (featuring Prurient, Greg Fox, Patrick Higgins and other greats) earlier in the summer, Basilica (not to mention EMPAC in Troy) is practically spoiling a region of upstate NY that has seemed perpetually fledgling in supported subculture. Year after year they’ve brought in the choicest heavy-hitters of experimental/dark music, and I hope they keep it up. A lot of times reading reviews and streaming can suffice, but getting to see a performer — particularly one of the more challenging variety — is almost always the best way in. Country mice with adventurous tastes have that opportunity thanks to places like this.
Friday (Best Act: Actress)
Now that’s out of the way, I can talk We Won’t Bow Down: a grainy, rough-hewn doc following many different Mardis Gras Indians and their progeny as they meticulously construct their costumes and reflect on their tradition. After having viewed the great, but flawed, Treme, it was cool to immerse in the bizarre (the strutting and standing-off has an outsized, pro wrestling-like quality) and visually dazzling costume displays without any gloss or that Doonesbury goober of a character that Steve Zahn plays. It does repeat itself a bit, but there’s a lot of virtue in its unfussy presentation that makes it feel more completist (showing how stridently aligned the community is in their devotion) than messy. While the idea of starting a fest with a film is intriguing, the clear messages of hard work and self-empowerment in this one were slightly decelerated by the doleful Weyes Blood. It was a poised and stately set, but I had a difficult time switching moods between the film and her music.
Perhaps sitar/tabla duo Indrajit Banerjee & Gourisankar would’ve made a better transition. In addition to directly playing into a tradition, the two displayed a virtuoso series of melodic and rhythmic leaps piqued to make you gasp in awe. Classical Indian music can bring one to a place of great lucidity, despite western ears and our psychedelic context with it. Theirs was one of a handful of sets that I sensed could’ve gone on another hour or so were it not for time constraints. After a nice dinner (pricey but well worth it) at the venue’s impressively run Alimentary Kitchen, I braced myself for some contrapuntal, math rock-Interpol boogie via Viet Cong. Very into this band, despite their nagging familiarity, and after streaming their set at P-fork fest this summer I was ready to be blown away. Unfortunately the sound was kind of a mess. They were well on point, with props particular to drummer Mike Wallace, but it all kinda bled together. Plus, no “Death,” which was easily the best part of their Pitchfork set. So while the dude behind me was hollering “Continental Drift!” and duh-duh-duh-ing the opening riff of that song, I kept praying for crisscrossing guitar chimes and a machine gun martial beat. Not that “Continental Drift” wasn’t great, it’s just that the “How Soon Is Now”-esque guitar moan right before the aforementioned riff was barely audible when it oughta be the thing springin’ those neck hairs to attention. As a side note, I found myself wondering about the band’s T-shirt sales. Can’t imagine anyone would want to get into that conversation for a band they like, however greatly.
Actress was massive. His set was somewhat eclipsed by festival closer Haxan Cloak’s last blasts the following night, but I still remember my mind being blown enough that I wanted to hear the whole thing over again from the beginning immediately after the final thrums. Though they were masterful and had tacit moments of noisey brilliance, HEALTH was a bit of a deceleration. Going in with no expectations and only a passing fancy, Actress threw down such a mind-bending and densely thicketed gauntlet that I am now scrambling to imbibe Ghettoville and R.I.P. The audience around me was either waiting for HEALTH or failing to engage, cause I felt myself moving to alien constructs/deconstructions of rhythm with textures both vast and pinholed, as if possessed by a horde of comp chassis dustmites.
Actress was one of those performances you relish not just because the artist is not easy to see but because it truly takes you to the borderlands instead of that economically essential hedged bet that is the established pop trope — which HEALTH excels at more than most. I was easily reminded of the fact they toured with NIN, because they’ve basically taken Reznor’s pulverizing pop industrial formula and improved on it (particularly with regard to lyrics). It was a thrilling set, even if Actress was lightyears ahead in terms of intrigue, and brought a largely solid night of disparate sounds to a brisk yet exhaustive close.
Saturday (Best Act: The Haxan Cloak)
Full disclosure: I’ve failed y’all a bit here. Missed out on Bunnybrains’ fest within the fest. Missed both after parties (one featuring a DJ set by The Haxan Cloak). Only just discovered that, at the off-site campgrounds, there was someone administering sound therapy in the wee hours on Saturday. I would love tell all about Circuit des Yeux and Holly Anderson/Chris Brokaw, but I assumed they’d start late and got there after they’d finished. I even screwed up on Jenny Hval (pictured), which I’ll get into, but first — some thoughts on Sannhet’s performance. Being firmly in both the post-hardcore and black metal camps, they are an irresistible confection for those who are similarly aesthetically oriented. And with no vocals, one gets the sense they are able to make more immaculate workouts to lose oneself in. The trio brought that same bravura that Banerjee & Gourisankar did the day before. But I can’t deny that when you set aside the high-flying rhythmic feats, Sannhet does not resonate all that deeply. It’s the same scorched-earth vainglory song Mogwai and Explosions In The Sky were playing, and countless cinematic RPG trailers have rendered these once-undeniable minor chord progressions a little tepid.
Jenny Hval, like Meg Remy before her (on 8/5 @ Half Moon up the street), thoroughly blessed Hudson with her distempered torch singer presence, sounding out with startling, staring-at-the-sun level star power. I was caught in the rain peering into Basilica’s overstuffed screening room for her set, and felt like a peeper at a music video shoot. Had I known she was playing in there I might’ve stolen a seat, but what I did see/hear was compelling enough (replete with human centipede dancers in blonde wigs) that it’d be well worth taking another shot at seeing her properly. Back in from the wet, Chris Corsano, Otto Hauser, and Ryan Sawyer’s Triangle Trio drummed to a surrounding circle of 100 or so intent listeners on the venue floor. A dense outer ring of babbling, laughing, yelling, and plastic cup-scrunching pressed in. If you let it mesh, the interplay was quite uncanny, kinda like being waylaid at the world’s coolest train station. Lots of surprising, spine-tingly textures from Corsano and his cohorts (from Espers and Tall Firs, respectively), with next to no audible snarky drummer jokes from the crowd. It was a solidly enveloping, if soggy, set, despite (or maybe even because of) its lack of melody.
The best sound at most shows (and certainly for Basilica) is toward the back of the room. Unfortunately, that’s also where people like to converse about what they’re hearing (or whatever). So you move up front even though the sound gets a bit blaring and inarticulate, and there often ain’t much to look at when you get there. Not so for Wolf Eyes (pictured), who have a magnificent visual sweep that rivals Hval’s prim absurdist tableau. Front and center, they are that band. Star Wars has their Cantina band (original, non-cg version please!), Naked Lunch (the director’s cut from the outer-dimensional planet Tryglon) has Wolf Eyes. Especially in this current brokedick blues/Interzone jazz-like phase of theirs; of all the road-tested, veteran rock n’ roll warriors out there, Wolf Eyes make it look the most fun. And their nihilistic, RTX-level abandon is well contagious. New album should be a skin peeler for sure. “So this is noise?” I overheard somebody say behind me. Really wanted to say, “No Ma’am. This is Wolf Eyes.” but only if it could’ve been punctuated by a rancid peal from Olson’s belt modulator.
Perfume Genius did a rare (almost) solo set with impeccably crisp, resonant synth ribbons and that heartrendingly gorgeous voice. It peaked a bit early, with a flawed but still shattering take on “Song To The Siren,” and he intimated he was a bit freaked out being bandless (though you wouldn’t guess it when he was singing). Intimacy was really the sticking point here. He didn’t have much melodic variation from song to song, but if you focused on his voice there was a lot of emotion to get lost in. I know I wasn’t the only sad song addict out there getting misty. As much as I may’ve preferred a full band set, it was certainly a privilege to hear him doing his thing unadorned.
Thanks to the event’s expediency I rarely got into that awkward, guy-alone-at-a-music-festival aimless roomba darting for very long. Having had my heart neatly perfoed by Perfume Genius, I was ready for some end-timey, fissure splorge zombience courtesy of England’s The Haxan Cloak. While it has its moments of overwhelm, Excavation did nothing to prepare me for the room-decimating magnitude of his live act. With the strobes and smoke machines on full bore (not sure if lavender was an appropriate scent, but that’s for the smoke machine people to figure out) Haxan made like an aural a-bomb and left nothing but a fine powder.
Despite the gloriously bludgeoning nature of much of the offering, there were moments of great subtlety and intrigue. Before he’d started, I found myself getting groggy and more than a little tired of milling. By the time Haxan’s set had settled into its sneakily jolting (that bass nearly knocked my teeth out) dynamic narrative, I was so adroitly riveted it was as if all that billowing incense was freebased white pony. I haven’t been on a really intense coaster or anything like that in years, so it was especially delightful to have my poor skull split by one of the towering figures of post-2k edm/industrial music.
When the lights came up I had an epic stretch and yawn, tried to find my friend, then went to my car to decompress a bit before taking the hour drive home. The rain never let up.
[Photos: Patrick Stephenson]
Warm Up: Andrés, Kyle Hall, Laaraji, Pender Street Steppers b2b Hashman Deejay
MoMA PS1; Long Island City, NY
MoMA PS1’s Warm Up series is a weekly, summer-long string of electronic music concerts taking place in the museum’s sunny courtyard area every Saturday afternoon. This summer such acts as Moritz von Oswald, Veronica Vasicka, Derrick May, A.G. Cook, Boys Noize, and more have been on the roster. I was especially psyched for this lineup, funkier than most of the techno fare: Andrés, Kyle Hall, Pender Street Steppers b2b Hashman Deejay, and Laaraji.
This review almost didn’t happen, as I was nearly turned away at the door for trying to sneak in food — had I been kicked out, I would not have been the first TMT writer this summer to earn that distinction. I looked all around the building for a way to sneak in, or at least sneak my sandwich in — impossible. Having neither the palate nor the budget for the horse meat dinners PS1 was recently in the news for, I set my sights on a Canadian delicacy of an altogether different sort — the Mood Hut crew.
Mood Hut, based in Vancouver on the Canadian Riviera, is to my mind one of the sickest groups of musicians doing it right now. Some of its heavier hitters (Pender Street Steppers [of which one half is Jack J], Hashman Deejay) were booked for this event, and for a chance to see them I was more than willing to make quick amends with the security guards, entering with my head high and my stomach full.
As I walked in to the PS1 courtyard, some delightfully dreamy, delayed-out dulcimer droplets dripped down on me, sounding almost like Laaraji… wait, it is Laaraji! Laaraji’s on this fuckin’ bill? Stacked!! Had no idea. He sounded stellar, but the crowd seemed largely oblivious to the fact that a set was taking place at all. It was a bit strange seeing this massively revered figure as an ignored opening act in his home city — his presence on the bill made a lot of sense in curatorial terms, but he evoked a sense of disquieting beauty, like an ornate, unique prewar building stuck on a block of new condos; a remnant of a bygone era that, since I grew up in a different one, I can only sense but not describe.
Up next was Hashman Deejay b2b Pender Street Steppers. The music lived up to my already sky-high expectations, and then some. I love L.I.E.S.-style hardware techno as much as anyone, but it does sorta dominate the Brooklyn scene at present, and seeing some DJs go equally hard on some groovy shit was refreshing. Unfortunately, the overall atmosphere made that all but impossible to enjoy.
It’s a music particularly suited to dark, humid rooms, intimate spaces wherein one can get lost in the music, connecting with it on both a personal and communal level, feeling comfortable to respond to the music however you like without having to worry about looking or moving in a certain way, or being scrutinized. PS1 Warm-Ups are pretty much the exact opposite of this — a bright, outdoor space filled with young professionals who have way more financial and social capital than you, and where seeing and being seen are the two primary activities (drinking third, music somewhere further down the list).
I’m generally uncomfortable here. I miss my squad. I see someone I worked with four years ago, neither of us say anything to the other. Why can’t I make the most of my free time? In 10 years I’ll be middle aged. I have no concept of how attractive or unattractive I might be. I didn’t have any of these unwelcome thoughts before I came to this concert.
The outstanding Mood Hut set was capped on an even higher note, with the addition of some live vocals (by a woman whose name either wasn’t mentioned or I didn’t catch) to the funky, mellow beats that had been going on since the opening track. By the end of their set I was mentally filling out my Canadian visa paperwork and applying for residency in Vancouver.
Up next was Kyle Hall, who kept the sounds right DJing some of the night-time deep house he’s known for as a producer. But even that solid set was overshadowed by a feeling of uneasiness regarding my surroundings. I wish I didn’t take music so personally — if I hear music I really love, it’s like that music is my friend, and if I were to see someone treating my friend like a commodity to be treated as cheap amusement rather than faced as a person with a heart and soul, I’d be deeply hurt, and that’s how I felt from Laaraji’s gorgeous opening notes through my early departure from the Warm Up.
If you’re looking to have craft beer splashed all over you by a day-drinking weekend warrior ironically dancing to music you really care about, it’s not too late — there will be a fresh round of opportunities in 2016.
Warm Up: Tiga / Bob Moses / Gavin Russom / Via App / Frank & Tony
MoMA PS1; Long Island City, NY
There is some confusion about my wristband. A security guard is unsure that it has received the stamp required for admission. A MoMA PS1 Warm Up official meets with the security guard to confirm the authenticity of the wristband, and the confusion is amicably settled. I enter the PS1 courtyard, which features a giant water filtration machine designed by Andrés Jaque, the winner of this year’s Young Architects Program. I would run up a $20 Poland Spring™ drinking water tab over the next few hours as Jaque’s water trickled above me, taunting.
Frank and Tony play disciplined house music that, at times, screeches to immobility for maximum effect. As such, they are the most criminally underappreciated act on the evening’s bill. For most of their set, people are still trickling in, and those who showed in time for the beginning of the set have worked up a decent beer buzz by its end. I enjoy the beats while I sip my Poland Spring™ and look at art. I peek outside for Via App, whose set is strange, confident, and markedly less beat-oriented than her recent 1080p release.
Gavin Russom plays the hardest, dumbest, most consistently gratifying techno set I’ve seen since Portland’s U.S. Hard. At some point during the kick-drum avalanche, crowd control becomes a problem, and security guards become aggressive. In the line to buy a drink ticket in order to then wait in line for another bottle of Poland Spring™, a drunken person comments on my press pass. “Can I be in your article?” they ask. I ask them if they like this shit, and they respond “sure.” A nearby listener adds that the Warm Up festival is the “greatest place to get day-drunk.” I go outside for a moment of respite from the mass of bodies and I’m pretty sure I see Jason Schwartzman smoking a cigarette.
Bob Moses has some sound problems (I think), but his set has moments of clarity. His captivating presence onstage evokes Autre Ne Veut and Baths. The set is bassy and “serious,” satisfying my humble expectation of what an internationally touring DJ ought to sound like. As the final drink tickets are sold and the courtyard begins to clear out, I am reasonably content, though I sort of wish Gavin Russom had just played a six-hour set. Earlier, a drunk stranger had lamented to a friend, “I’m way too hot to be here.” Remembering this, I smile on the way to the subway station, surrounded by throngs of young and beautiful people.
Tiga / Turbo Recordings / Montreal, Canada
Bob Moses (Live) / Domino / Brooklyn, NY
Gavin Russom (Live) / Ecstatic + DFA Records / New York, NY
Via App / 1080p / New York, NY
Frank & Tony / Scissor & Thread / Brooklyn, NY
Waterfront Park; Portland, OR
When I woke up on Saturday morning, I thought to myself “Why is someone BBQing this early?!” It wasn’t until later when I went outside and saw the sky that I realized it was definitely not someone BBQing… The world was on fire.
Portland isn’t a place that’s usually affected by fire, so generally you don’t have to worry about fire threatening a music festival. Don’t worry, Portland didn’t burn to the ground — you can still come visit and get VooDoo Donughts — but we did get rogue air currents that brought in smoke from the massive fires happening not too far away. Sadly, that made the air really awful to both breathe and be in. Not shockingly, it kept a bunch of people away. The bands weren’t really into the whole smoke thing, either. So, attendance was down and so was morale, which was not great for business. But… it was gross. I went home covered in grime, only grotesquely fascinated by being able to literally wipe black gunk off my body.
I have to be honest. I was most excited about Modest Mouse and Belle and Sebastian, because I’m old. I wanted to hear the entirety of Good New For People Who Love Bad News and If You’re Feeling Sinister to take me back to a simpler time when I didn’t have real bills to pay and waking up at 9 AM was EARLY. Both put on spectacular shows. Stuart Murdoch of Belle and Sebastian was curious to know if Portland is still weird and inquired about our Sex Toy bandit who made (inter)national news recently for hanging dildos from power lines. Later in the show, he started a dance party on stage with people from the crowd. Meanwhile, Modest Mouse’s Isaac Brock had made some statements about Portland recently while he was in Poland, and I was interested to see if the crowd would boo or bring it up. They did not. Portland still loves Modest Mouse, and Isaac is still a masterful showman.
I was also excited to see The Tallest Man on Earth. This was the third time I’ve seen him in concert, and it was my favorite of all three. I am in love with Kristian Matsson, and I’m pretty sure he is the musical lovechild of Bob Dylan and Paul Simon. While he’s relatively short, his personality and presence are large. Some other things to point out: Danny Brown was really proud of his tongue and showed it off, a lot; Foster The People had an incredible light show; The Best Sweater award has to go to Beirut; tallest cymbal in a drum kit goes to Battles; and best ska number goes to MisterWives. Yeah. Ska. We’re still in 2015, right?
Belle and Sebastian
Foster The People
Talk In Tongues
Tallest Man on Earth
Warm Up: Ninos Du Brasil, Cut Hands, Veronica Vasicka
MoMA PS1; Long Island City, NY
Upon arrival to PS1, I immediately met up with SCVSCV and Deforrest. Phew. The MoMA Warm Up homepage focuses on the fashion and social atmosphere of the event, all the beer-lines and activities and cafe menus — rarely showing musicians/producers working/performing — and here I was, looking like Vincent Vega from Pulp Fiction wearing a Craigslist hat, though, it was good to look swag next to two pretty/stylish fellows, standing outside the cement wall (that Jeff Ravioli and I had installed a few years back), smoking cigarettes and whatever else that’d get you kicked outta MoMA PS1, listening to a trashy Vessel faux-trap meets minimal UK garage set, eye-rolling its inevitable predictability to gear up the crowd, totally demographed for the consumerist in all of our radio-play, dance move-bombing highs.
Inside, the three of us were curious how this crowd of [generally] (personally) terrifying people who are super-clean/scrubbed, accessorized, and claiming to be Brooklynites with a variety of American accents, mostly Midwest and Northwest, would take to Cut Hands, the Hospital Productions duo (Ninos Du Brasil), and the Minimal Wave goddess, Veronica Vasicka. DeForrest gave me the first piece of gum I’ve chewed on in three years. As Vessel finished cleaning up his equipment, Ninos Du Brasil took the stage, introduced themselves briefly, began a sparse-but-head-nodding beat, and took that fucking crowd HARD with an ULTRA level of enthusiasm. Like, I had been to two or three other events prior at PS1 MoMA so far this summer, and no other act (PC Music or Night Slugs or Janus artists) could match the level of intensity Ninos Du Brasil brought/dropped. If you weren’t dancing, you were the prick (me) yelling into a dancing DeForrest ear, “This is definitely the next Animal Collective side-project.” The live drumming mixed with samples, paired with vocals and just enough ego to keep the crowd going, made their set an experience that demanded participation.
As the duo finished up, DeForrest asked (holding his giddy for Cut Hands), “When do you think Ninos Du Brasil will be signed to Warp?” To which I <_<’d to, but was too stoked for Cut Hands to feel them lawlz. I was expecting a WHITEHOUSE-punishing dance treatment by Cut Hands, but it turned out two ways: (1) the sound was such a decrease in volume from Ninos Du Brasil to Cut Hands that I was worried people in back of this prison-style courtyard (by the hydroponic installation SCVSCV helped create) wouldn’t hear him, and, (2) people were still so turn’t from the duo before that half the crowd was still with whatever the fuck was firing out them speakers, continuing to build a storm cloud of sweat evaporating into the air.
I think we went out for another smoke as Veronica Vasicka began. And even though I’m more of a water drinker than SCVSCV is a Pepsi guy, I’d never heard Veronica Vasicka prior to DeForrest asking if I liked minimal wave, which is a label I’m unfamiliar with, but can still pretend to enjoy. When we re-entered, the sound was immediately conducive to every bit of movement I could muster in my body, and then ALL the smiley-face balloons ever were released and freed upon the crowd, with begrudging looks from the patio jutting in the middle of the courtyard. But Veronica Vasicka played that old-old and some new-new jams (she was fronting work on a DJ set), and I nearly got us into a lawsuit after sweating so much it nearly drowned all attendees.
Project Pabst 2015
South Waterfront District; Portland, OR
What do you get when you put a bunch of pasty Portlanders in a gravel field, with 100 degree weather, and no seating? Project Pabst.
Heat can reduce a sauce down to its tasty essence; it can also reduce a crowd down to its extreme core. Fueled on Pabst Tall Boys (at only $4 a can!), the crowd at this year’s fest — held July 17-19 in Portland, OR — were baked in an unfiltered sun, stood on the uncomfortable gravel pit/festival grounds, and trudged back and forth from stage to stage, and yet still they endured! I have seen the future, kids, and when the earth heats up and we face mass extinction, these are the people who will survive.
The bands, of course, did their part too, playing to the smaller-than-expected crowds in the extreme heat, with little complaining. There was a retro video game arcade, housed in a tent, that offered some respite from the heat. And there were volunteers who went around misting people with hoses. For a bunch of Northwest music-lovers, it was a tough go of it. Obviously it wasn’t perfect, but, hey… it was Project Pabst. What did you expect?
Hustle and Drone
Run the Jewels
Thee Oh Sees
The Both (Aimee Mann and Ted Leo)
TV on the Radio
The Velvet Teen
Lightning In A Bottle 2015
San Antonio Recreation Area; Bradley, CA
It is impossible to summarize a festival like Lightning in a Bottle with only a thousand words and some photographs. Over 20,000 people descended on the San Antonio Recreation Area in Bradley, Calif., on 2015’s Memorial Day weekend, a myriad of Burner hippies, old-school ravers, and young clubbers, all of whom had dramatically different experiences. The sprawling festival grounds featured the three main stages, the frontier town of Grand Artique, Amori’s Casino & Burlesque, the Pagoda and Favela bars, and tons of workshops, lectures, and sessions at the Village and the Lucent Temple of Consciousness, the latter with yoga, a learning kitchen, and meditation temple. No one could have seen everything; everyone saw something completely different. Yet, the attention to detail in making every space distinct and immersive meant that, while there was always something happening, you never felt like you were missing anything. You were always in the place to be.
Bradley is a long drive from Vancouver, BC. A few friends had convinced me to go, having had a blissful experience the year before. Some things definitely changed this year. This has been a festival in flux since its humble beginning as private birthday party in 2000. It has bounced around a few locations since going public in 2005, skipping 2009 entirely, and losing their Temecula venue after a severe crackdown by law enforcement. They’ve only been at Lake San Antonio since last year. Clearly, every year is a learning experience. The festival added more shade to its stages after the record breaking heatwave last year, but that meant stages were more confined this year. Combined with the fest’s first ever ticket sell-out, there were bigger lines at vendors and washrooms, and tighter crowds at stages. Yet, the vibe survived with a generally respectful and friendly crowd.
There was an element of restraint and personal responsibility at this festival that I hadn’t seen in my six years attending the high energy Shambhala and litter-laden Sasquatch. Having won many awards for its green initiatives, LIB lives by its motto as a “leave it better; leave it beautiful” event. Attendees pack out the garbage they bring in, so they’re more conscious of the MOOP generation. All the main stages shut down at 2 a.m., a couple bars and smaller stages open a little past that, with the Silent Disco greeting the sunrise with listeners picking from two channels for headphone rock-outs, so you never heard a tired, overworked system frapping out, and the timing of the camps were naturally regulating (in other words, people slept).
LIB also is a family-friendly event, with stages dedicated to both teen and child entertainment, a no-nudity policy, and visible law enforcement. DanceSafe, Zendo Project, and other harm-reduction strategies were in effect, and the Lightning without a Bottle tent for those seeking help with sobriety was centrally located.
Generally speaking, the entertainment was top notch, going well beyond the typical club DJ set. Thursday was 80s prom night at the Pagoda bar, rocking out to the likes of the Beastie Boys and Indeep as people donned their best Cosby sweaters, neon leggings, and trucker hats. Thanks to a Pez tablet a friendly random gave me while waiting in line for pizza, my Friday became a blur of seeing someone eaten by a sandworm at Bubble Gutter and the twerking weirdness of La Sirens, with a dash of Odesza’s sublimely tweaked downtempo in between, the evening capped off by a rousing singalong of “We Are The Champions” at the tail-end of Griz’s set.
Saturday’s highlights included the Lucent Dossier Experience, which was like seeing a traveling Cirque show, with intense costumes, choreographed dancing, aerial routines, and fire-spinning. Lantz Lazwell and the Vibe Tribe followed up their birthday bash at Amori’s on Friday with some more funky rock ‘n’ soul jams at the Grand Artique, again accentuated by the belly-dancing of scimitar sorceress Jayna Manoushe. Opiuo expanded his funky glitch-hop sound with a full band, playing everything live. Flume delivered a fairly straightforward presentation of his poptronic beats, though he was assuredly cute. Bristol duo KOAN Sound closed the night with their impressive exploration of bass, from trip-hop and funk to dubstep and IDM.
Sunday was all about the Fungineers at the Grand Artique, their intergalactic beatboxing puppet show featuring a dance battle and rapping triceratops dropping rhymes about shoes and mops. They’re always a trip, but you couldn’t pick a better setting in which to see them than right there, with a bowl of the finest borscht in your hands. Hermitude dropped one of the festival’s best sets, the duo actively tweaking their hip-hop laced downtempo to keep it fresh. Sending most campers to bed for the last time, RL Grime mostly hyped himself onstage rather than performing, but the crowd was super into his decent, varied trap/hip-hop pieces, belting out the hook for “No Type” by Rae Sremmurd, so it must speak to a Los Angeles experience with which I’m not familiar.
The Herbert Bail Orchestra
One of the most impactful experiences I had came Saturday morning. Media folks were invited to a press conference and mimosa mixer wherein a festival organizer laid down a kind of mindset for our jobs, that all the love and care the organizers put into this festivals creation we should pay forward to our readers. He related the story of Woodstock, how few living people there are who actually attended the festival, and what remains are the stories: the press clippings, documentaries, and interviews. Left to stew on this as the Herbert Bail Orchestra performed a few tracks as a duo with only accordion, acoustic guitar, and vocals in a red tent with a couple hanging paintings and a chandelier (yup, even the press area was fabulously appointed), the responsibility to tell this festival’s story to my little piece of the world felt heavy, but in a good way.
Certainly, heaviness surrounded you here. The lake itself was made by man in 1965, but dried up in 2013 in the wake of the ongoing California drought. To get to the world’s smallest Ferris wheel or the giant skiball game, you had to walk up an old boat launch, which still has the boating rules and mussel warning signs up slanting down into the pile of dust and weeds. It’s hard not to contemplate our natural resource management, and the general un-sustainability of the human race in such a setting.
Yet, it was difficult to stew on inevitable extinction with so much perfection around you. There was a good flow throughout the grounds, no line to get in at the gate around noon Thursday and no line to get out Monday morning. The addition of bridges became a high-five conveyer belt, while the Funn Machine and its residual renegade stage resting between the Woogie and Grand Artique and the Kazbah rewarded dusty hikes. People howled at the sunset, every night louder than the last, yet it was quiet enough to hear Tycho finishing up from a tent in the camping area.
While the festival program had something for everyone, some of the best music I heard came from other camps, people dancing in their own space to everything from Ratatat and Phantogram to Flying Lotus and Venetian Snares. The food and shopping was the best I’ve seen at a festival, with mind-blowing interactive installations and a fantastic art walk to boot. Lightning in a Bottle has achieved a kind of balance that few other festivals have even attempted. It is a pinnacle of electronic music culture.
Lucent Dossier Experience
[Photos by Caily DiPuma]
Sonic Research: Psychoacoustics Session I
ALLGOLD MoMA PS1 Print Shop; Long Island City, NY
There’s often a presumed interrelation between DIY scenes, academia, and even the world of institutional art personified by places such as NYC’s MoMA PS1, in the sense that social and artistic theory has long provided models and inspiration for those outré musical art forms and that cultural institutions have long taken to draping their positions of culture and economic power with the authenticity and radical energy of sounds and images derived from the DIY. It’s clearly a mutually productive endeavor, but what NYC theory-heavy arts mag Avant’s pyschoacoustic round-table-round-robin at ALLGOLD — a venue adjacent to and with definite but unclear associations to PS1 — brought to light was perhaps how tenuous and tense these associations are, despite mutually requiring one another.
With a full day of speakers and performances centered around drawing out pyschoaucoustics as a fraught transitory process from the neurological to linguistic, the event placed a wide variety of approaches in close proximity to one another — in addition to composer/theorists such as Ron Kuivila, Avant also invited guests such as Suzanne Dikker, a neuroscience who has developed a brain scan machine that models and projects the degree of neurological synchronicity between them on luminous orbs. It was this emphasis on hard sciences along side soft and artistic investigations that set this event apart — organizer and Avant editor Sam Hart is a neuroscientist and artist himself — and it was perhaps this strangely rare direct injection of hard sciences into the artistic model that pushed a sense of arts practices in terms of their location between academic and (extra-)institutional models.
This writer unfortunately missed the first part of the day due to that most extra-institutional and compelling model of all — being broke and needing to earn some cash — but the event’s last few hours seemed a decent model of what came prior, with the event divided into two stages, a darkened backroom hosting most of the musical performances and a bright-lit area hosting talks. I arrived to an an ultra-minimalist synth and amplified metronome piece by Seth Cluett, followed by Dikker’s talk and another traipse into the backroom for C. Lavender’s queasy and inconsistent meditative drone.
What was interesting was the degree to which dialogue seemed besides the point, even when speakers directly engaged with previous performances. The round-robin setting emphasized divisions over smoothness, with performances deviating from and unsettling the theoretical discussions prior — in this case, Lavender’s drone set echoed concepts of rhythmic anticipation models mentioned in Dikker’s talk, but carried with it swirls of affect tied to her specific production decisions, the purity of the original concepts breaking down in light of a music that evaded its theoretical frame. Here, the possibility of works to “fail” in the sense of overflowing or under-fulfilling the theoretic ground they have been tasked to embody acts as a safety valve, allowing currents of investigation to spill out and over into new models and areas, avoiding the abject summation that stands at the endpoint of many works that attempt to cross from one mode on inquiry to another under strict terms. In this light, I was particularly disappointed to have missed a talk between A.K. Burns and Jules Gimbrone on queer sound, what with the destabilizing and overflowing tendencies built into queer analysis from the beginning.
It was strange, then, when Ron Kuivila emphasized this crucial element of failure in works which aim toward research or experimentation in light of a piece that took its own place in an artistic/theoretic firmament as its basis, presenting a reworking of a Robert Ashley piece that folded layers of citation, temporality, and incommunicability into a work that seemed too easily summed up by its theoretical laying out, with his talk preceding it rendering the work itself — a Supercollider-manipulated vocal reading of a rewritten text that lists famous folks compulsively — relatively besides-the-point. (It also reminded me that I can’t stand Ashley for exactly this reason.)
At the same time, however, the failure of the piece’s built-in failure perhaps pointed to the relevance and necessity of an event like this in the first place — as a staging ground with an added vector of physical proximity upon which the fraught battles between cultural and research modes of production can be played out as a performance unto themselves. Hegemony hovers in the wings of all institutional productive processes, the DIY included, but in their liminal spaces new trajectories lurk.
Colin Stetson and Sarah Neufeld
Temple de Cully; Cully, Switzerland
On the evening before they entered a small Protestant church in the lakeside village of Cully, Colin Stetson & Sarah Neufeld played at The Twisted Pepper, a “tiny, rowdy, drunk box in Dublin” (Neufeld). On paper, these two venues couldn’t be more different, yet it’s a testament to the depth of the pair’s music that it was equally at home with the sacred and profane. As soloists and now in collaboration with each other for their Never Were the Way She Was album, their music conflates the primal and transcendental into a single movement, and it was this paradoxical dichotomy that took center stage for much of their performance on the fourth night of the Cully Jazz festival in Switzerland.
Especially in the case of Stetson, the primordial half of this improbable dyad flows from the raw physicality of his music, from its copious exploitation of circular breathing, contact mics, and reed vocalizations. These techniques and strategies combine to transform his horns into invisible extensions and amplifiers of his own straining body, which reveals itself in a new, elevated light at the very moment when it plunges deepest into its own wildness. It therefore only intensified the contradictory experience of his art to simultaneously witness him perform in the flesh and within the holy walls of le Temple de Cully, where he and Arcade Fire/Bell Orchestre bandmate Neufeld spent an hour previewing their album as well as playing a couple of solo numbers for a very diverse audience. While their performance didn’t mark radical stylistic departure on either side of the equation, they proved that the best collaborations magnify and catalyze the qualities that make the work of each individual collaborator so absorbing and enthralling.
Neufeld’s sustained rapidity in particular seemed to be goading Stetson into reaching higher plateaus of feverishness. During “In the Vespers” her violin’s quickened rallying drew his tenor sax out of its hermetic coils and into several overpowering shrieks, howls that wanted to discharge previously unknown energies and emotions into the staleness of the mundane world. It was exactly this kind of preternatural climaxing that imbued their duets with its tinge of the supernatural and spiritual, even if such abnormal peaks were massaged out of what, technically and melodically speaking, are very primitive repetitions, phrases, and loops. Compositions like “The Rest of Us,” “Never Were the Way She Was,” and Stetson’s “Judges” were fascinating in how they merged the brutish and exalted into a unified expression of what it means to be human, and even more so because they seemed to imply that it’s precisely the brutish elements of ourselves that are the most exalted.
Of course, this impression may have been a product of the hallowed venue, wherein roughly 300 parishioners sat on pews in awe at the rapture unfolding before them. Nonetheless, when the set began with “The Sun Roars into View” and closed out with “Never Were the Way She Was,” there was the same feeling of exposure to something that’s not heard everyday, and as prosaic as that may sound, it was enough to inspire the suspicion that Neufeld and Stetson were coaxing each other into some whole other place.