Arca & Jesse Kanda
Hollywood Forever Cemetery; Los Angeles, CA

[04-15-2015]

Venezuelan-born producer Arca and visual artist Jesse Kanda made a stop at L.A.’s famed Hollywood Forever Cemetery on their recent two-date US “tour.” The cemetery’s dark and tiny 150-capacity masonic lodge served as an ideal venue for Arca’s ominous and disorienting compositions, especially when wed with Kanda’s menagerie of visual grotesqueries. It was a visceral, sexually charged audio-visual spectacle that fed off the intimacy of the venue; while you wouldn’t necessarily want to look away, it sometimes felt like you couldn’t anyway.

As a “live” performer (he also books DJ sets), Arca is a refreshing change from similar artists who seem tethered to their laptop table. He rarely spent more than a song locked in one place, opting instead for playing live keyboards, rolling around on the stage, and at one point, jumping into the crowd for an uncharacteristically aggro vocal performance. In fact, I was surprised at the extent to which Arca’s live vocals peppered his entire set. He clearly demonstrated another aspect of his talent and lent a humanness to the music that is hard to discern when listening to the records themselves.

At this point, it’s hard to think of Arca without also picturing the visual work of long-time collaborator Jesse Kanda. The cover art, the videos, the promotional imagery — it all fits so well. Live, you see two artists who are fully in sync, from Arca’s fluid mimicry of the recently released “Sad Bitch” video or Kanda’s precise editing of fireworks to the percussion stabs of “Now You Know.” They are clearly different types of performers; Kanda prefers to remain behind the screen working by candlelight (he had to be forced out to even take a bow), and Arca is almost entirely on display. But these are two artists working to completely rewire their respective art forms, and to watch them do it together was thrilling.

[Photos: Erik Westra]

Godspeed You! Black Emperor
Les Docks; Lausanne, Switzerland

[04-12-2015]

Time Audio Visual
0.00 A tensed, sustained drone emanating from strings and wavering from one restive pitch to the next. Abstracted close-up of moving tire tread, sporadically blacking out to reveal the word “hope” in scrawled lettering; discreet entrances from side of stage.
5.00 The same drone, thickened with guitar feedback, interpenetrated by the rattling of drums. The same tire tread, transitioning into brightened sky, panning down to mountainous heap of garbage and industrial waste.
9.40 Resolute three-note bass line, capped by shimmering waves of guitar and violin, consummated by majestic detonation of heavy guitars. Black-and-white footage of lorries pushing along desolate bridge; a scrapheap receiving tribute from a magnetic crane; a Canadian nine-piece collective shrouded in equalizing obscurity.
14.15 Anticipatory chiming double stop, emergent violin breaths. Expanse of dirty water bordering industrial estate/wasteland, its surface misshaping rusted iron and smoldering concrete.
20.30 Rushing orchestra of syncopated guitars and sleepless drums, coalescing into a reprise of the earlier “majestic detonation” and then reducing to the poised “three-note bass line.” The same unrelenting cranes, diggers, scrapheaps, lorries, and bridges, occasionally reflected in the pool of rippling water, later erased by a blank sky.

Time Audio Visual
26.15 Ringing metallophone and Asiatic strings, crushed by gigantic frequencies of distortion. Scattered blueprints of machinery and industrial equipment, of the technological bases of particular economic systems and forms of human existence; the word “clamp” appearing and reappearing several times.
32.00 Irrational 4/4 guitar expletives, asymmetrically winding through non-Western scale, in defiance of symmetrical Western straitjackets. Flashes of rotated, inverted and illegible documents, intermittently layered with mugshots of the persecuted and the criminal; a prostrate corpse; foot-tapping and head-banging guitarists.
36.50 Doomed power chords, translucent violin notes evaporating into the air above submissive audience. Files burning slowly, circles of heat expanding to delete the records these files keep on the world; a dim stage in which the absence of light makes it difficult to see who’s doing what; a dim stage on which it’s difficult to determine roles, hierarchies, and power structures.
40.30 See-sawing bass has a premonition of martial percussion, oscillating violin wisps, and aggravated riff. More documents, letters, doodles, drawings, buildings, and abstract photographs, flitting from one to the next in excess of Reason.

Time Audio Visual
44.29 Throbbing strums of clean six-string, a violin motif deepening/heightening their mood of nostalgia and reverie. Plants and their leaves trembling in the wind, ribbons of sunlight washing down on them.
48.44 Beautifully deceptive change of tone, inflecting the bass with a foreboding that’s conveyed to a fuzzy lead and glacial surroundings, and that’s converted into weighty stop-start punches of guitar. Yellow leaves in stark relief, supplanted by a batch of inviolable trees, then another unending body of water; undemonstrative band members commingling with three projectors and clotted hundreds to form sublime object.
58.32 Tireless keening, budding out of naturalistic tranquility and hurtling through swagger and drum-rolls into planet-sized coruscation. Passage through and outside of rail tunnels, in reverse.

Time Audio Visual
65.18 Lumbering double-drum attack, magnified by the über-blues of a colossal guitar-wall, which smooths from chord to chord with as much ire as grace. Scrolling tape reels, fluttering and fading out in a perpetual loop.
69.08 Elated chorus of guitar swoops and violin trills, its humble triumph pulling at darkened musicians on their seats, as well as the upright sardines before the stage. The same.
72.57 Calmed contemplation sliding along the fretboard in assurance of its own rectitude and propriety, finding weightless confirmation in the song of nearby fingerboard. Sideswiping exposures of a distant and isolated building, stranded in the middle of nowhere.
79.00 Ominous atmospheric hum, windy sheets flowing through each other without ever meeting. Static shot of same building in desolate prairie, doubled via twin projections and superimposed by ephemeral outlines of itself.
83.00 Hanging clouds suspended by three guitars and two basses, portentously condensing into a funereal procession, then releasing itself into euphoric affirmation of an undying spirit. A shoreline, on which a solitary middle-aged man walks toward the disappearing horizon; closeups of same man, looking tired and bemused.
89.38 Grave yet determined progression-escalation from fragile beginnings, aware of the predicament yet mulishly unfazed. Darkened highways, replete with telegraph poles and telephone cables, fracturing in a thousand directions.

Time Audio Visual
96.31 Delicate single-string melody, inflated by hovering guitar effects and falling symbols, recognized by select members of the Lausanne crowd. Out-of-focus police lights, coming into focus to reveal the intimidating uniformity of a police convoy.
102.56 Single-string melody accelerates and panics, before collapsing at the feet of mourning cello and violin, before returning in concert with the evening’s sole appearance of the human voice. Prices for commodities available on the world’s markets, including “hogs,” “soya beans,” and “ore.”
107.00 Agitated flourishes of loosened violin bow, whipping up an underlying turbulence into a full-on storm of churning guitar. Wall Street, people protesting on.

Time Audio Visual
0.00-113.51 Constancy, coherence. Inconstancy, incoherence.

Setlist:

01. Hope Drone/[new song]
02. Mladic
03. [new song]
04. Behemoth, aka Asunder, Sweet And Other Distress
05. East Hastings

Opal Tapes showcase: Basic House, Wanda Group
Mash House; Edinburgh, UK

[02-07-2015]

I CAN ONLY IMAGINE HOW MUCH MY DOG WHOSE NAME IS ZEUS WOULD HAVE LOVED THE COMPLEX TIMBRAL ETHER THAT LINGERED ON THE WALLS OF THE MASH HOUSE LIKE SLUG OOZE AFTER OPAL TAPES DECIMATED THE FLOOR. THE ONLY THING I REGRET AFTER THE SHOW WAS THAT I WASN’T BORN WITH MORE COMPLEX EAR STRUCTURES THAT COULD UNTANGLE THE UNDERLYING BEAUTY IN THE NOISE, ORCHESTRATED BY WANDA GROUP AND BASIC HOUSE. MY HANDS QUIVERED WITH NEUROTIC ENERGY. THE FLOOR SHOOK. SNAKES AND PHANTOM LIMBS SWAY WITHIN THE CEILING. I USED MY SMARTPHONE ANTENNAE DEVICE TO INATTENTIVELY NAVIGATE EDINBURGH’S LABYRINTH TO GET TO THE VENUE WHERE I WAS TOLD BASIC HOUSE, THE FOUNDER AND CHIEF OPERATOR OF OPAL TAPES, WOULD BE PLAYING WITH WANDA GROUP, AN ARTISAN OF URBAN SOUNDSCAPES AND FELLOW CAPS-LOCK ENTHUSIAST. I FELL FROM CONCRETE SLAB-ON-SLAB DOWN WEATHERED STEPS INTO THE UNDERGROUND, LITERALLY BENEATH SOME STREETS, FLOATING ABOVE OTHERS – LESSER STREETS, NEGLECTED ALL BUT FOR THUNDERING MIDNIGHT HUMAN HOOVES AND THE CLATTER OF BOTTLE ON BRICK.

CITY SOUNDS ARE OBSCENE, VULGAR, AND UNNATURAL. THE OPPOSITE OF MELODY, THE GRIM HUM OF A “CITY” HAS INFLUENCED MUSIC OF “INDUSTRIAL” TENDENCIES FOR DECADES – FROM KRAFTWERK, TO THROBBING GRISTLE, TO LOU REED AND JUDAS PRIEST. TODAY, THERE IS VATICAN SHADOW, GERMAN ARMY, AND CLOAKROOM. THE ONGOING MUSICAL TRAGEDY THAT IS LIFE PLAYS OUT TO A SOUNDTRACK OF BURNT TIRE RUBBER AND CONCRETE GRUNTING UNDER SEISMIC PRESSURE. THE UNNATURALNESS OF PAPER SCRAPING, LAWNS MOWING, VOICES CHATTERING, SEAGULLS DIVING, ALL IS PRESENTED BY WANDA GROUP AS A VISCERAL OBJECT THAT CAN BE FELT WITH EAR-FINGERS, TRACED, AND RECONCILED WITH. SOME OF US FEEL CLOSER TO THE CONCRETE THAN TO THE DIRT.

I WAS CURIOS AS TO HOW LOU JOHNSON A.K.A WANDA GROUP WOULD ADAPT HIS ORIGINAL APPROACH TO MUSIQUE CONCRÈTE TO A LIVE SETTING. IN INTERVIEWS, HIS MASH HOUSE IS ACCUSTOMED TO DJS THAT HOST NIGHTS CALLED “SOUL CITY.” WE STOOD AT A DISTANCE. WANDA GROUP CREATED A SONIC BARRIER BETWEEN HIMSELF AND THE AUDIENCE AND THE PHYSICALITY OF THE BASS MADE MY DRINK TREMBLE AND I THOUGHT ABOUT ALL OF THE TRAIN STATIONS AND FACTORY GUTS THAT WERE CRAMMED INTO THE RECORDED TRACKS LAYERED LIKE FISTFULS OF CLAY AND “WEIRD SPACE.” OUT OF THE NOISE WALL CAME CLEANSING AND CLARITY. I WENT OUT INTO THE NIGHT AND MY EARS WERE RENEWED AND EXCITED AND MY EYES WERE WATERY AND THE SOUND HAD NOT BEEN HARSH BUT SOOTHINGLY LOUD.

SOME PEOPLE CALL OPAL TAPES “OUTSIDER HOUSE.” AFTER BEING OUTSIDE, I FELT “WOMB HOUSE,” OR “CHRYSALIS HOUSE” WERE MORE APT. BOTH OF THOSE NAMES ARE STUPID. I WENT BACK INSIDE AND BASIC HOUSE, WHICH IS A MUCH BETTER NAME AND IS NOT BASIC IN ANY WAY, WAS A SINGLE MAN AND HIS CONTROLLER AND A VOCODER THAT DANGLED FROM HIS LIPS AND GAVE HIM THE ALLURE OF A HUMAN MIDI CONTROLLER. CHANTING HEAVILY PROCESSED VOCALS, BASIC HOUSE PLAYED THE MOST RHYTHMIC SET, BRINGING TO THE FOREFRONT THE PULSING KICK THAT WANDA GROUP LEFT SPECTERS OF IN HIS STRUCTURALLY SIMPLISTIC ASSAULT. BASIC HOUSE GAVE THE BEAT MORE TIME TO BUILD. PEOPLE EVEN DANCED. THEY DANCED A LITTLE, AND WOULD STOP WHEN THE BEAT DISAPPEARED AND THE GRINDING OF FIELD RECORDING VERSUS OSCILLATOR DOMINATED. PULLED TAUT THE CROWD’S EARS. WE WERE ALL STRUNG UP BY OUR ANKLES BY THE END OF IT. LEATHER FLAILS OF FEEDBACK MASHED THROUGH THE HOUSE WALLS WITH ACIDIC ENERGY. EVIL URGES CRUSHED THE MILES OF CASSETTE FERRITE USED TO CRAFT BASIC HOUSE’S ICY TECHNO.

BOTH SETS WERE EXPLOSIVE AND CAPTIVATING, LIKE WATCHING A MASSIVE BEAST HAUL A SHIPPING CONTAINER ACROSS THE DESERT, THE SOLITARY PRODUCERS DEMONSTRATING THE FEROCITY AND SINGULAR VISION OF OPAL TAPES, WHILE CATERING TO DIFFERENT AUDIENCES. THOSE WHO CAME TO DANCE TO BASIC HOUSE WERE ESPECIALLY RECEPTIVE TO WANDA GROUP’S LEAD-MAUSOLEUM DRONESCAPES, WHICH STOOD OUT AS EXQUISITELY DENSE AND RELAXING.

EMA: I Wanna Destroy
MoMA PS1; Long Island City, NY

[02-15-2015]

February 15 landed on a Sunday, so I went to see EMA: I Wanna Destroy at MoMA with friends. We snooped around the museum before the VW Dome opened, and the only three things we discussed were: (1) How virtually real EMA’s Oculus Rift will feel and if we should use the bathroom first, (2) Will there be Oculus Rift stations inside the dome for people to experience personally and others can watch, and (3) Does EMA play an entirely new set, as this performance would be happening for about four hours? A few of us (separately) took a fear tinkle in the unisex bathroom filled with children, and then the four of us entered the WV Dome where EMA was hosting the entire exhibit.

When we entered, there were scattered attendees amongst us, and EMA on a platform in the middle just feet above the mingling audience, sitting on a couch reading from a white paper into a microphone. The couch was red, framed by philodendron, and in front of her was a table with a PC monitor where she was manipulating sounds, her recordings, and had notes pinned to the back. Water bottles, coffee mugs, energy drinks, and syrup medicine containers strewn a halo of garbage around EMA as she read letters from her mother about success in college or to her friends about huffing in college, [etc.] — in college. She’d occasionally sing a new song, or at least one our group wasn’t familiar with, and it’d compete with lingering loops of letters being read earlier, fading with each introduction, “Dear…”

The virtual reality experience was being held Behind EMA, as a line formed there for people to sit in front of a camera with the Oculus Rift on. Cast upon the dome were projections of a blond woman sitting on a couch in a dimly lit room, and you saw what the attendee saw in the Oculus Rift. Eventually, snakes would crawl along the wall, there were beer cans and water bottles on the floor, a table between the viewer and the couch, and the Unibomber in a framed picture to the right on a cocktail table. Then a long, headless snake slithered through a door, along the floor, and through the viewer’s legs; the blond on the couch turns into a lizard person, and the room fades — minus the lizard person — into a clouded sky. Angels and starts and twinkles and blue roses floated toward the viewer, around the lizard person, and in about five minutes, the experience was passed along to the next person in line.

It was interesting how involved everyone was on ONE person’s experience, rather than a collective experience there; CUT TO: some dude behind us bragging to a girl, “This is nothing compared to the Apple 6 line.” In a way, EMA: I Wanna Destroy was an art exhibit of itself, as EMA was flagrantly displaying herself as both the artist and the “Piece of work” you’re experiencing. She was the only thing traversing both reality and virtuality too, as there was no sound to the 3D imaging. So as I ascended behind EMA, and my companion just finished with the Oculus Rift, I sat in the chair, faced the camera, and the virtual visor was placed upon my crown.

The inner-world of this was MUCH brighter than it was cast upon the VW Dome. I could hear her music, and the wind picking up outside, slightly terrified the dome would be blown to shreds. I noticed Jim Morrison’s framed picture on the wall behind me. Realized this was totally a Lizard King motif, and felt like the whole experience was the programmer’s acid flashback listening to The Doors, which I can accept, personally. I also tried to focus a little longer on what other people didn’t, and would shake my head quickly in attempt to blur the vision, but it only gridded the images’ smoothness. Once the images began floating toward me in the clouds, I stared straight down and saw 2D (paper-thin) images float past where my feet were IRL, but no ground. I fear-tinkled a little. Then a tap on my shoulder from the Oculus Rift administrator, I got down, and the four of us watched EMA for about 20 more minutes and split, as she did for a cigarette break.

• EMA: http://www.iwannadestroy.com

New Forms Presents: D/P/I, Durban, Lord SMS, Zona
Palisades; Brooklyn, NY

[02-17-2015]

Co-Pilot: Prior to picking up Papaya, I had to snag LORD SMS, D/P/I, and Zona, grip the CD turntable kit down the road, including all their equipment, and packed ‘em/it all into a sports SUV (two-door) with little elbow room. We barely made it to the venue for the 8 PM start-time so BADMAN BRAD could PROPERLY lay out a bit of jockey. Got to a fairly lit Papaya a bit after the run-around, took his ass to the bodega next to Palisades so he could cheaply purchase the same beer this venue provides, and he continued drinking during ZONA b2b ENGINE b2b REGENT STREET.]

Pilot: My TMT writing only pays me $80k annually (before commission), so I’m ballin’ on a budget. Thus I did most of my drinking before, feeling pretty drunken after only one beer, but then drinking several more, which didn’t seem to cause any significant change in mental state. Just so you know!

My co-pilot and I rolled in and surveyed the scene. The crowd was a solid 80 percent dudes, and on stage that percentage jumped sharply — to 100 percent. Three such dudes going as ZONA b2b ENGINE b2b REGENT STREET sounded good, and what stuck out from that set is a sample of the Rescue Rangers theme song, normally the sort of Nickelodeon nostalgia I loathe, but this was nice, just a short clip of the theme’s admittedly catchy melody without any fanfare surrounding it.

Co-Pilot: There were a lot of handguns and hair at this point on stage just getting down with just about ALL OF the dancing within the venue, minus a handful of people up front, but just the constantly rattling thought of WHY people don’t dance; I didn’t dance because nobody was dancing and didn’t want to be the only one acting a fool outside Papaya doing some Texas strut on occasion, slowly.

Pilot: Following ZONA b2b ENGINE b2b REGENT STREET was D/P/I, the touring act of the night (as Dark Twaine (a.k.a. OHBLIV) had travel trouble due to a blizzard). D/P/I’s source material was much less clubby and more diverse, but with the same trappy triplets and warped glitches.

Co-Pilot: D/P/I taunted the crowd with a full X/Y 360-degrees of pure HIGH DEFINITION sound that not only encompassed the knob board from which he conjured this magic, but while playing in the foreground of Jono Mi Lo’s digital-wobble visioned projections — to the left of the stage, old 80s workout videos flickering in a grime of VHS wipes — the music shut down the visuals being cascaded, and kept digging into elements of psyche only concocted through the pure grace of sound.

Pilot: When it’s one dude on stage with a laptop, there should be no obligation to look at the stage. The audience would be much better off dancing, talking, enjoying themselves however they pleased; here, however, everyone was faced squarely at the stage the entire night. Fair enough, it’s natural to look at the stage, nothing really wrong with it, but in this case it became somewhat painful to look at the stage as dude’s who didn’t need to be there piled onto it, each of whom made finger-guns which they threw liberally in the air to the beat-of whatever track was playing. So I bought Pop Chips with my co-pilot around the block and ate em up for the last set.

Co-Pilot: As a trusty side-kick, I had no reason to fret against Papaya’s hate on the hair and handguns going OFF on stage, but deep down, I think he just wanted to BE one of those hype-guys. (Important digression, please do not omit.)

Pilot: LORD SMS had the headlining slot (and played for as late as I wanted to stay on a Tuesday night) and looked as though he’d very much appreciate these ‘other dudes’ to exit stage left, but they didn’t and he politely acknowleded them as they boosted up his set, which he was at that very moment trying to concentrate on completing. Saying LORD SMS was typical fare for his set would be apt, but entirely underselling his mixing style, sounds, and hype, only this time he included whistles and some heavier WEIRD noises, atop of a bass pounding so hard my co-pilot apparently heard it around the corner with his pal Barnaby. His set was dynamic and fresh, highlighting the moment-to-moment diversity between footwork and hip-hop that makes his work interesting.

Co-Pilot: My boii Barnaby flew in from Calgary for this event, was delayed 37 hours, and didn’t get a hit of green until LORD SMS’ set, so he and I dipped mid-set, and walked around a heavily policed neighborhood trying, but failing to smoke out, thus we gave up, went inside, watched the rest of LORD SMS’ set crumble the core of Palisades, and walked backstage to meet up with a slightly soused Papaya and D/P/I, and congratulate LORD SMS.

Pilot: After SMS finished, I smoked weed in the bathroom with my co-pilot, D/P/I and Barnaby, which turned out to be one of my favorite parts of the evening. Barnaby and D/P/I were talking about going to a music museum in Calgary a few months back, and being able to play instruments they could only describe. Then they began making the noises of these instruments louder than the music being played in the stage area, which helped reinforced my positive stereotype that everyone from Canada is super-chill and friendly, including LA’s D/P/I. But we quickly packed it all up and split, as my co-pilot was working at 8AM the next day.

• Jono Mi Lo: http://jonomilo.flavors.me
• ZONA: http://zonatapes.bandcamp.com
• D/P/I: http://chanceimag.es
• LORD SMS: https://soundcloud.com/LORD SMS

Guts Club
The Rock Shop; Brooklyn, NY

[02-10-2015]

Coming from Long Island, I arrived at The Rock Shop just toward the end of Laser Background’s set, which was amusingly falsetto with an earnest twitch of reality. And as he destaged and Guts Club ascended, I ordered water, a beer, and a shot at the bar, intermittently smoking away anxiety outside, waiting for the show to start. Coming back in, the lights in the back of this (legit) venue illuminate a well-stocked audience ready to hear the bravery of The Arm Wrestling Tournament.

Behind Guts Club, as she began in (mostly, I think) order of her newest album, was a projection of an actual arm-wrestling tournament, set with tables, referees, two [people] fist-locked, and pads everywhere. Atop this image are flickering drawn hearts and other smaller boxes depicting professional wrestling and muscle competitions. Occasionally, the screen also would flash “FINISH HIM” or “FLAWLESS VICTORY.” All this, paired with her lightly strummed acoustic guitar and crackling voice; the juxtaposition levels were insane. However, this dichotomy was turned into something pleasant, as Guts Club was noticeably nervous as she cracked jokes, which made people applaud and “woo” after each song. The irony of this is people making a big deal about dreary topics, to which Guts Club would giggle at their audible admiration, then transition songs with, “This one is about Marine Biology,” or “That involved aliens.” Then, just before renaming her set the “Acoustic Cafe,” she tossed out a tooth-whitening kit, encouraging the winner to use it immediately.

I began to admire her packaged aesthetics. I don’t mean packaged in a consumerist way, but in the coalescence of lightly stroked guitar, vocals of uneasy confidence, and the humor of school-lined notebook cartoons. Her writing is akin to Xiu Xiu (in terms of heavy personalized metaphor) sung with the same dry poise of Jana Hunter, backed by the sort of humor Gnar Tapes hits on the sly.

As The Arm Wrestling Tournament release show was coming to a close, a lot of the emotions Guts Club was building up to bubbled-up inside me, and as the video behind her was coming to the final contenders, there were stagnant ties that kept going. But this is arm wrestling, so I’m standing there with this emotion of “BEAT HIM BEAT HIM!” as she sang “I wish my dad could beat everyone’s ass every year” from the track “Down in Daytona,” and my mind was just going through TONS of emotions, joyously. Typically, I’m not one to focus on lyrics unless something is repeated and twerked with digitally via sampling, OR if they sound like inside jokes and I can interpret them how I like; the latter is the case with Guts Club. Thus, this climax sent me into a head-space that was equal parts nostalgic, sad, and fearless, walking out as she said “Goodbye,” leaving a smile on my face.

• Guts Club: http://www.iamgutsclub.com

Saint Ghetto Festival: Dean Blunt, Triptykon, Ben Frost, Sudden Infant
Dampfzentrale; Bern, Switzerland

[November 20-2 2014]

In case you aren’t familiar with the Saint Ghetto festival, it’s in Bern. In case you aren’t familiar with Bern, it’s the capital of Switzerland. Privy to this revelatory information, you might not be surprised to hear that the festival in question, despite its modest size, boasts the most diverse and diverting bill you’re likely to find in any part of the French-, German-, or Italian-speaking world that’s neither France, Germany, nor Italy.

Beginning with Laetitia Sadier and Atom™ on Thursday, which I missed because I had to complete an application form to purchase some socks, it moved on to accommodate Sudden Infant, Wildbirds & Peacedrums, and Ben Frost on Friday. First on was Sudden Infant, a three-piece headquartered in Berlin that might conceivably be a distant relative of Zu, Xiu Xiu, and Throbbing Gristle. I’d never listened to them before, but given their acerbic rush of devious stop-start rhythms, pummeling bass riffs, and Joke Lanz’s bilious yet faintly comedic vocal trickery, they made me wish I got out a little more.

Their successors, Wildbirds & Peacedrums, filled their hour-long set with material taken chiefly from their new album, Rhythm. And while their minimal drums-and-voice setup can arguably be a little sparse and repetitive from time to time (at least for me), they found a healthy number of converts in the audience, who took their kinetic syncopation and Mariam Wallentin’s expressive-yet-acrobatic larynx as the perfect opportunity to flaunt their own brand of drunken acrobatics.

And fair play to the intoxicated dancers who outnumbered me, because even with Ben Frost’s savage run through A U R O R A, they managed to lurch and sway themselves from one side to another like lovesick teens. Frost, for his part, extended and intensified the über-dance sounds of his latest to “A Single Point of Blinding Light,” transforming them into torrents of unstoppable processed noise and inhuman wails of guitar. Introducing himself and his six strings with his own take on metal machine music, he then crept into an elongated version of “No Sorrowing,” teasing and stretching out every second of its bottomless imminence, which quivered, undulated, and expanded as it swallowed the crowd in its promise of who-knows-what. Similar treatments and magnifications were in store for “Sola Fide,” “Venter,” and “Nolan,” all of which unraveled and fissioned as part of a seamless, uninterrupted whole, brutalizing and mesmerizing. In the midst of this tumult, Frost stood behind his equipment in sparse, inconspicuous clothing, his bare feet and simple manner emphasizing the primordial nature of his music. And when he ended with the numinous “The Teeth Behind the Kisses,” he simply took a bow and departed, leaving us all slightly dazed, but cleansed.

Fortunately, Saturday was on hand to dirty us all over again, since the closing night of the festival heralded the aggression of Zurich’s Triptykon and the encrypted identity politics of Dean Blunt. Maybe it was just me, but I found something deliciously poetic about Dean Blunt playing immediately after a black metal band, not only because the indoor venue was swamped with long-haired, black-shirted white dudes who were going to have no interest in Blunt’s music whatsoever, but because it heightened the irony and defiance contained in the title of his new album.

With this (inadvertent?) juxtaposition in place, it was almost as if Blunt’s set had been plotted as a deliberately nonconformist answer to Triptykon’s, a refusal to play a white genre of music on an evening that — by all superficial tokens (e.g., genre tags, in the case of Triptykon, and album names, in the case of Blunt) — had been billed precisely as an evening dedicated to a white genre of music. However, to be fair to Tom Gabriel Warrior/Fischer (he of Celtic Frost fame), his band’s performance was everything their doting legions wanted, so it would be a gross misrepresentation to say that the night was about Blunt and what in all likelihood was a mere coincidence.

But sadly, I knew and know nothing about Triptykon (shameful, I know), so rather than make any ill-informed appraisals, I’m just going to skip ahead of their prog-cum-doom-cum-black metal and land right at Blunt’s feet. His set began in darkness and the sound of heavy rainfall. At the back of the stage, in its pit of shadow, a cellist and then a saxophonist could be seen with their instruments. They pulled skewed drones out of them, creating the lilting soundscape into which Blunt unceremoniously entered, in the midst of the smoke machine’s excesses. For almost 10 minutes, he walked from the rear of the stage to the front, resting before his mic only to hesitate and retreat once again into darkness. Eventually the hired hands retired to the backstage area, replaced by the Londoner’s personal “bodyguard,” who according to his recent interview with The Wire was there to ensure Blunt wasn’t the only black person in the room (although he wouldn’t have been, in this case).

After a further round of hesitations — possibly deliberations over whether we were even worth the effort — the patter of rain faded, seguing into the brooding drama of “The Pedigree.” From here, we were treated to a The Redeemer-Stone Island greatest hits compilation — “II,” “III,” “The Walls of Jericho,” “VI,” and “Demon.” And even if it’s no longer 2013 — the year in which those albums were released — the zeal surrounding the subject matter of these tracks hasn’t dimmed for Blunt. He made a point of intoning the “me” in “All she sees is me” in “II” and “So don’t you wanna be with me?” in “III” with particular venom and indignation, and as the hour progressed, his initial taciturnity morphed into a steely audacity, one that saw him intermittently resting one foot on his monitor and leaning into an audience he seemed to be judging from afar.

Less combative, however, was Joanne Robertson, whose tender singing provided a graceful and stoic counterpoint to Blunt’s slick militancy. She also was the one who whipped out the Telecaster for the folkier Black Metal numbers, forming the second of what could be regarded as the set’s three stages. “50 CENT,” “BLOW,” “100,” and “MOLLY & AQUAFINA” all benefited from a subtly explorative approach to their melodic leads, with the Fender’s drippy echo opening up a space that was more fluid in contrast to the preset recordings that’d served as the musical backdrop until then. More than that, it deepened the sense of “lost” and drifting that threads through much of Black Metal, sinking Blunt further into his exiled funk and sinking the audience further into a placid reverie.

But just as we were settling into our comfort zones, the voided blare of “X” began and the performance transitioned into its final phase. If nothing else, this segment will be remembered by the locals for the surge of wild oscillating noise that followed “X” and, more indelibly, for the strobe lights that accelerated and brightened to an unbearable pitch as this surge congealed into the obscurity of “GRADE.” Seriously, the flashing was so extreme that almost the entire crowd was compelled by their own instincts of self-preservation to spend the remainder of Blunt’s visit with their eyes closed and their heads bowed in solemn prayer, except for a few notable exceptions who took the opportunity to pretend they were at their favorite nightclub.

Maybe because the lamps producing this violent luminescence were situated at the very front of the stage, or maybe because he’d already been inured to strobing by that point in his tour, Blunt continued with his passage through “PUNK,” “HUSH,” and “MERSH,” taking advantage of our de facto blindness to observe us without being observed in return. And regardless of whether this stunt was intended as a piece of conceptual art, as a commentary (on the invisibility of subjugated and persecuted minorities?), or just as a way of giving us oglers a figurative taste of the scrutiny that often follows him around, Blunt appeared satisfied as the uppity post-dub of “MERSH” shut off. He raised his fist into the air, held it there for a second, and then withdrew backstage. He didn’t come out for an encore.

[Photos: Baron von Kissalot and Mona]

This Will Destroy You
Lincoln Hall; Chicago, IL

[10-25-2014]

This Will Destroy You are aural absolutists; “5” doesn’t exist on their sonic or emotional spectrum. They leave idling in the mids or crawling up a crescendo to their contemporaries. In a discography spanning nearly a decade, TWDY only spend time in the meadow or the maelstrom. There’s nowhere else they’d rather be live, either.

I waited seven years since first hearing Young Mountain as a freshman DJ in college to find out how this band would translate the storms they pinned down in a studio into a show. Playing at Lincoln Hall, my favorite Chicago venue, was already auspicious; the room’s acoustics are on point and its sound system is an avalanche on the audience. With the release of Another Language and the newly self-applied tag of “Doomgaze,” TWDY left the twinkle and uplift the hand-holders of the post-rock fandom are so keen on for more umbrous territory. Their new material is crushing, and they don’t let their audience up from the onslaught.

The band also notably fine-tuned their approach to structure. One of my favorite tracks on the new record, “Invitation,” spends six minutes expanding and contracting around a central drum tattoo as guitars burst and wither. I remember TWDY rarely pausing in their hour-and-a-half set, spanning four albums’ worth of material in a comprehensive set. This Will Destroy You is still a young gun in comparison to some of their peers, but I can’t think of any other band living up to their name so well.

P.S. Donovan Jones (bass) and Chris King (guitar) were super-duper nice dudes and kindly obliged me for an impromptu interview:

How long have you guys been on the road for?

Donovan Jones: This is our… fourth show?

Chris King: Yeah, fourth show.

Did you start the tour from Texas?

DJ: Yeah, we just finished a European tour before that, and we had a two-week break. It feels like the tour kind of just extended over.

Actually you’re one of the only bands I know of who has a live album recorded in Europe, in Reykjavik. What made you guys decide on Iceland?

CK: It was completely random. We played in this amazing place that was called Harpa Music Hall, and we found out afterward the sound guy multi-track-recorded the show. We heard snippets of it, and it sounded, like, pristine. It almost sounded like a studio record because people were so quiet during the show, and the acoustics in there. It sounded so good we were just like “Shit, let’s put out a live record.”

Did you find a European audience was more receptive to… I’m loathe to use the term, but post rock?

DJ: Yeah, definitely. They’re just more used to instrumental music historically, whereas Americans can have kind of a low attention span where they’re waiting like a minute-and-a-half for a chorus. If it doesn’t come, they tend to just move onto the next station or the next track.

Did any of your experiences in the last tour cycle contribute to what you brought into recording for Another Language?

CK: Yeah. I feel like the transition from Tunnel Blanket to the newer record was definitely a collective consciousness of us being on the road for so long. Just learning things about life in general, figuring it out…

DJ: Yeah.

CK: …And translating it.

DJ: Yeah I mean things were really dark for awhile. Some of the tours were pretty fucking dark. You know, moments pass and you get some sort of… perspective [on] it. I think that helped with writing the new album.

There’s a lot of dynamics in the album, from tranquil moments to enormous bursts. Did that reflect with what you guys were experiencing on the tour, in life in general?

DJ: Sure, yeah sure in some way. I don’t think it was that preconceived or pre-meditated.

CK:I think it was more of a subconscious thing. I feel like we’ve always written that way, where it’s kind of more of a feeling than a restraint or trying to fit into something. [Writing] is just feeling it out.

What’s your guys’ process in constructing a song?

CK: It really varies.

DJ: It does vary. We can start with a loop, or we can… With this album, we did a lot of writing together as a band, which was something we didn’t really do that much with Tunnel Blanket. Tunnel Blanket was tracked, each instrument, not in a live setting, at least when we were writing it. When we went into the studio with [John] Congleton [producer], it was all of us together.

Did you notice a marked in writing Another Language, being closer together, more cohesive as a unit?

DJ: I think in some ways, definitely. We had to figure out how to pull things off in real time as we were recording them.

CK: I think for some of us, it was growing musically too; having more melodic elements, figuring out formulas, things that work and don’t work. It was a process, but we feel good about it.

Yeah the album’s fantastic, thank you guys for ducking into this alley with me to talk while Santana’s blaring from that restaurant across the street.

DJ and CK: [Laugh] Thank you.

The Black Keys
Moda Center; Portland, OR

[10-31-2014]

On Halloween, The Black Keys stopped by Portland during their fall tour to play for us, and what could possibly be better than seeing The Black Keys on Halloween?! Well, for one, The Black Keys performing IN COSTUMES on Halloween! But unfortunately that didn’t happen. What did happen, however, was pretty great, anyway. They played the Moda Center, home to the Portland Trailblazers, 20,000 seats, and a really big stage. So it was nice to see that the duo added two members for the tour to round out their sound and fill up more of that expansive stage. While it’s not impossible to put on a great stage show with just two people, it’s a lot harder when one of those two is an immobile drummer and harder yet when the stage is humongous. The lighting was simple, no complex show competing for attention. Just four dudes, bringing the rock.

This Halloween, there was only one trick to go with the treat of The Black Keys; early in the show, a false curtain behind the band dropped to reveal a huge wall of lights. Not the greatest trick and not nearly as cool as it would have been to see Dan and Patrick in costumes, but when a band can put on a great show without relying on tricks, well, you can’t really complain.

Zona Tapes presents: FREEFORM
Radio Bushwick; Brooklyn, NY

[09-11-2014]

So it was September 11, 2014 and the traffic going into Brooklyn from Long Island never changes: rubbernecking is by nature or something we collect socially? But goodness, we all get to where we need to go (most days), as did I upon arriving at Radio Bushwick, and just looking at the place, I’m thinking, My boii Andre (Zona Tapes CEO and coordinator of FREEFORM) moving on UP. This place is a legit-ass venue and bar, where the tender talks about paling ‘round with Rraro, and I’m just like, “Budweiser!”

Jeffrey Hayden Shurdut was first up on a player-piano with a fellah on drums. The build-up of this set — up and down, left and right — was enormous. Shurdut scaled just about every note, flinging fingers across the bones of percussion the piano contained. The drummer (borrowed-borrowed set) played everything: all cymbals with other cymbals, feet on drums, sticks inside spilled water glasses, etc. As the set constantly sifted between climaxes and declines, the duo was one with music and unmatched cooperation of sound; picture the percussionist hunched over just about every drum, muting them with a thousand silent beats, and Jeffrey Hayden Shurdut slapping the side-wood of the piano while scraping the key cover across the top; everything. All in all it amounted to about 45 minutes of sheer improvisational bliss.

Then came a furry of spontaneous jazz via Rob Magill. The back of Radio Bushwick’s stage was blue-lit, as was the room, with swells of breath and clicks from Magill’s beard against a tenor sax. Button-upped and tucked-in, he flared out a plethora of notes, by way of core-brainstem urges, into a single mic in front of band-less musical equipment, being filmed for a documentary by Alix Spence. And it was nearly a performance piece, unintentionally so: the constant sax playing and visual destination of the curiosity. Is there ever a moment you just know? Should he play more? Of course.

Next act was Kallie Lampel, whom I’d never heard before, but gave it a whirl because anything following a saxophone that entails a fellah sitting on the floor with two or three electronics means something drastically different, and was exactly why the night worked out so well in favor of Zona Tapes Presents FREEFORM aesthetics. Employing a sampler and some various (personally unfamiliar) effect [arrangements], the New York-based Lampel went boundlessly between timbres of life-like/-recorded sounds and melted, effects-driven squelches. Between unlocks and old samples, the set was more hip-hop-based than I initially expected, but warped into what DJ DJ Tanner does with crackle vinyl samples.

Dali Vision was up next, stocked up with his table-of-shit (as Samuel Diamond once eloquently put it to me), and unfortunately, the sound was sort of off for the first five minutes, or so. Eventually, the bass evened out with the treble and a vision of adventure emerged, as Dali traversed through scape after scape of sound and collage, on a journey of paradise and existence. With the action of Nick James and the voyeurism of AceMo, Dali Vision overcame the initial hiccup of Radio Bushwick’s set-up, and became the night’s bard, telling of a land not far from the future.

As Dali Vision’s set faded, Rob Magill Trio, including Sam Blum on drums and Shaine Scarminach on guitar. Instantly, they ripped apart the Bushwick neighborhood (audibly) until midnight. With blight matched only by the JFK runway, Rob Magill Trio, lead by Magill raising and lowering his arm, began an set of symbiotic mind cooperation. It was as if improvisation was merely fitting in puzzle pieces, when those last remaining bits began to slid in so easily, yet the images don’t match, is exactly how the three fell into a parallel. At the strike of 12, the well-oiled night, organized by Zona Tapes, came to an end as Zona’s founder DJ’d, playing out as I was leaving — and into the car, highway, and home I went, seeing a beam raised, still, in the rearview mirror.