A weekend of the bizarre and the brutal. In France!
Whoa. What a crazy weekend. I danced, I grimaced, I laughed, I gaped. I
really, really should have had earplugs. Lieu Unique was one of my favorite
concert venues before, but after the weekend of bizarreness and brutality that
was I.D.E.A.L. Fest, it has entered my Pantheon of the Cool and now rubs
shoulders with breakdancing, suspenders, Louis Armstrong, Bjorn Borg, and my
high school English teacher with the awesome face whiskers. I'll try to
summarize the madness.
Friday, April 7
Pan Sonic + Hildoz Gundnadottir, Harry Merry, Jack the Rapper, Boy from
It all started on Friday night at about 9:15. Two serious-looking dudes with a
table of electronics equipment were stationed at the center of the huge, main
stage. An empty, wooden chair was at their right. Pan Sonic kicked things off
with a rumbling bombardment of drone and industrial beats. An AV display on a
screen behind them rested still and symmetrical as a black and white Barnett
Newman painting--until they started playing. Then the white zip down the
middle writhed and splintered, looking like a model of a tornado, or a
wobbling spinal column, or an epileptic python. Or something. It was hard to
focus on the spasmodic minimalism on the screen when Gudnadottir made her
appearance. The cellist occupied that empty chair in her stocking feet and
added an aspect to the performance that was at once malevolent and maternal.
She swayed and caressed her instrument, but the music coming from it
alternated from artful groaning to violent tablesaw screeches. Their songs
were smothered cataclysms that dwarfed the capacious stage. At times I felt
inclined to dance, but I was afraid of being crushed by the sounds if I made a
move. I tottered out of the room afterward, feeling like I had seen something
mythic and terrible and wondering how I could possibly make it through five
more hours of music.
Harry Merry quickly gave me the answer. This was my second Harry Merry
experience. The first came at Spellcaster's Lodge (aka Quintron's basement) in
New Orleans, and I am happy to report that almost nothing has changed in the
year between those two shows. Harry is still a very tall Dutch man in a sailor
suit who gives the strong impression that he is retarded or insane or both. He
plays impossibly sloppy keyboard and sings karaoke songs about postmen, bus
drivers, the daily paper, and unrequited love. Harry is one of those
performers who gets me all hyperanalytical and dumbfounded at the same time. I
could believe anything about him. Harry Merry has a Ph D in astrophysics? Of
course he does! Harry Merry is a naked roller derby star? Sure. Harry Merry is
just a Dutchman who likes making music and being silly? So hard to believe. He
bawks like a chicken, and he speaks like a six year old with Down syndrome. He
wears a sailor suit with a giant square collar! Who is this man! I don't know,
but somehow his awful, talentless music just makes people happy and becomes
catchy in spite of its clumsiness.
Harry was followed by a petite, Belgian man who goes by the name of Jack the
Rapper. Jack the Rapper likes costumes. He doesn't rap much. He just kind of
wiggles his hips and puts on funny hats. His lyrics include "Are you gay?," "I
like the pope, the pope smokes dope," and "Fuck the system." Sometimes he sits
on the ground and feels up a plastic Kawasaki saxophone made for children.
Sometimes I don't know what to think. He had on a homemade dress with giant
sewn-on lips and eyes. The lips looked kind of pouty because they were on his
little Belgian paunch.
After going from the sublime attack of Pan Sonic to the pathetically earnest
kitsch of Harry and Jack, Boy from Brazil got all nasty and over-the-top
erotic. He strutted on stage in platform shoes, skull and crossbone tights,
teeny tiny bike shorts, a leather jacket, and yes, an eyepatch. Those bike
shorts were stuffed with a banana, which he later threw into the audience.
Songs included "Pocket Rocket," "Rubber and Fur" and the mesmerizing
"America," in which his characteristically trashy lyrics and nasty gymnastics
accompanied projected photographs of handmade American flag crafts and women
in stars-and-stripes swimwear. Boy from Brazil stripped as the show
progressed, eventually wearing pretty much nothing more than leopard-print
bikini briefs and a gorilla mask. When the audience threw cups at him he
urged, "Not cups, bottles." He finished his set by looping the
microphone cord over a pipe and going about a quarter of the way toward
I finished the night by heading back downstairs to the big stage. Afrirampo.
At the scheduled show time, I saw a drum kit and a guitar on stage and nothing
else. A woman in a purple kimono emerged from backstage and proceeded to make
tea. She sat quietly and invited people from the audience to come up and drink
tea with her. They did. This little ceremony lasted for about 15 minutes
before Afrirampo came on. Their outfits: shredded, scarlet robes that looked
like kimonos, but a lot sexier. They shredded. They shrieked. They fell over.
And they did it all again. I thought I had seen a guitar solo before. I
thought wrong. Sentences seem overdone when talking about these two. Words! -
fury; scream; apocalypse; glee; legs! poetry; righteous; bounce; karate;
distortariffalickticalamitonipponastery! Girls got muscles, girls got chops!
Go see Afrirampo.
Saturday, April 8
Chaddom Blechborn Experience, King Prestige, Gonzales, Dick El Demasiado,
Alexander Hacke, zZz, Kunt
Saturday night also began at the big stage, this time with Chaddom Blechborn
Experience, a duo of banjo players who like to ham it up. Their show included
some virtuoso bluegrass fingerpicking, a cardboard boat they rowed across the
stage using a banjo as an oar, and a medley that included "It's a Hard Knock
Life" and that Kermit the Frog song, which they introduced by rolling up the
bottoms of their overalls and saying it was a song about pretty legs. Clever:
Frog song; legs; France. French eat frog legs – I get it! Although the jokes
were a little lame, their fleet fingers were impressive. Imagine Benjamin
Franklin in hexagonal hipster shades furiously wiggling his fingers across a
homemade banjo next to a woman in coveralls with a tomboy haircut and a tooth
blacked out, and you have gone a good way towards having the Chaddom Blechborn
It appeared that Saturday was the night for the kooky to be downstairs and the
serious to be upstairs as I headed back into the small second floor room to
see King Prestige, which is more or less the house band at Lieu Unique. It's a
five member techno group with an equine fixation and a black on black on black
aesthetic. They had a long table set up with five lap tops and a mic. Each of
the computers had a chess piece decal pasted on the back. Of course, plenty of
knights. Their proficient electronica ranged from assiduous minimal stuff to
spacey horse disco including samples of neighing and galloping.
After King Prestige finished up I went back downstairs to see Gonzales, a
former DJ turned pianist. He had the most friendly and well-received stage
banter of the weekend, thanks to the fact that he was one of the few musicians
who could speak both English and French. He played a variety of jazz standards
and original compositions, with a lot of winks and nods and congenial
showmanship. While he slapped at the keys his face looked like he just smelled
rancid cheese, and his sweaty forelock swung around, creating this kind of
tortured artist / cabaret vibe that offset his amiable chatter between songs.
He made jokes about the slippers he was wearing and even got the audience to
hold up an ostinato chant while he and drummer Mocky grooved on top of it. It
was a charming performance and a good chance to take a breath before diving
back into the bizarre and brutal.
Next up was Dick El Demasiado, who played a strange mix of reggaefied, Spanish
hip hop that included a whole lot of theremin and got the little room dancing
and sweaty. Clearly two of the most committed performers of the weekend.
Though I was running out of gas, I appreciated the tightness of their set. And
the stocky middle-aged guy in the skeleton costume had pretty good flow.
At about this point, I was worried I would have to make some snarky comment
about I.D.E.A.L. Fest really being more like P.R.E.T.T.Y. G.O.O.D. Fest
because Alexander Hacke's metal dirges left me feeling a little cold and
tuckered out. zZz saved the day. A drummer and organ / synth player from
Germany, these guys go at their set with everything they've got, barely
pausing between songs. Their stuff is dancy, noisy, and sweaty. The drummer
had my attention most of the show (when my head wasn't banging). His hair was
a curtain of wet strings hanging over his face by about the third song, and he
seemed ready for a breather after he and his partner had capped off each
corrosive blast of dancepunk, but the organ player would have none of it. He
ripped right into the next song after about a three second pause and only left
his table to pick up the monitors and swing them at the audience as if he were
pouring the scratchy distortion from a big bucket. They ended abruptly, the
drummer threw his sticks at the wall, and that was that. An awesome pickmeup.
Saturday night ended with Kunt, two Australian ladies who apparently got high
marks at the Peaches School of Etiquette for Aspiring Provocateurs. Fishnets,
halter tops, armpit hair, and a drum machine are about all they bring on
stage. They set scratchy dance music to playing and wrestle each other, bump
and grind the monitors and generally gross out / seduce the audience. Someone
threw a yogurt on the stage, and one of the girls opened it, took a mouthful
and spat it on the people in the front rows. The concert program had promised
a grand finale to their act. The backing music for the last dance routine was
about the same as all the others – nondescript bootynoise – but the props beat
all. The yogurt-spitting one strapped on an awful, mangled, homemade, metal
dildo and then took a handheld belt sander and started grinding into the spike
protruding from her pelvis, sending sparks flying into the audience. She did
this a lot with a look of sheer masochistic glee contorting her lipsticked
face. Again: hyperanalytical or simply dumbfounded? Reclaiming female agency
through the dislocation of gender roles and an autonomous expression of
aggressive femininity or, "Holy shit!" Somewhere, Carolee Schnemann cheers. "Kunt"
is pronounced exactly the way you would think.
Sunday, April 9
OM, Six Organs of Admittance, Current 93
Sunday night started and ended earlier than the first two but still packed an
impressive amount of the bizarre and brutal into three hours. OM opened with a
handful of slowcore drones that had me questioning if I was listening to the
music they were playing, the left over distortion from five minutes before, or
the ringing in my own ears. I think they swallowed up their forty five minutes
of stage time with only three songs.
After yet another performance that carved out my insides and left me wobbling,
I was looking forward to Ben Chasny's set as a chance enjoy some creative
melody and good guitar playing. I expected to be comforted. Wrong. His first
piece was the most painful, evil thing I had heard all weekend. Don't let the
cute moonface fool you – he has a nasty side, and it hurts. He swung his
electric guitar around as if he were grappling with an evil android and
losing. Piercing feedback, distortion like gravel in a blender, pained
crouching on the ground. Yikes. Later, fingerpicking. The melodies and
viruosity I had been hoping for. But all with the knowledge that he was
capable of doing us significant sonic harm if he so chose. The set lasted a
short 30 minutes.
I knew Chasny was a frequent collaborator and an avid proponent of other
people's stuff, but I was truly surprised when I saw him join Current 93. This
incarnation (and I use the word on purpose) of the band included Chasny on
electric guitar alongside an acoustic guitarist, a cellist, a violinist, and
accordion and piano players. And then, David Tibet, the singer. His heartfelt
delivery of songs like "Whilst the Night," "Judas as Black Moth" and
"Tortoise" compensated for music that seemed alternately out of touch, over
the top, or maybe just right. Tibet's songs have lots of animals in them
(seahorse, raven, tortoise, butterfly, etc), and he likes to prance around and
imitate the movements of his creatures as he unveils their apocalyptic
significance in trippy, spoken word sermons. I could easily see this guy on a
corner in New Orleans handing out pamphlets next to sandwich boards with
misspelled Psalms taped to them. Apparently, we are all headed to a bad place,
and the flowers know about it, and Jesus does too, and so does David Tibet.
Here's to Christian music that ditches three chord Jesus-treacle and
underscores the weirdness and danger of it all.
A month later, my ears continue to ring, I'm dealing with a lot of castration
anxiety, and I can say that I have seen Afrirampo. Thank you, I.D.E.A.L. Fest.