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.
Viet Cong / Andy Shauf / Phases
Joyful Noise; Indianapolis, IN
When Monty’s de facto birthday cake was being haphazardly passed through the crowd — extolled by local musician Jared Birden on behalf of Viet Cong — it proved the existential point of fighting forces beyond control. The show sold out well before the 15th, but the apathetic Sunday crowd could only rustle up more than half the capacity of Joyful Noise’s performance space. The technical difficulties that riddled Andy Shauf’s performance and the battle for more vocal in the monitors for all bands came to a tipping point when, mid-scream, Viet Cong brought down a breaker.
With all the mishaps, it would seem the tiny show was a bust. Far from it. Although Viet Cong and the crowd had a hard time recovering after the nearly 15 minute intermission (captured perfectly by the band leaping into a semi-gloss version of “Continental Shelf”), the build-up to Viet Cong’s triumphant show was enjoyable every step of the way.
Local band Phases opened up with a dream-gaze sound full of antipathy and longing. A lot of plucked notes and foggy drones, with a Michael Shannon doppelganger making odd faces as he concentrated a bit too hard on nailing complicated rundowns. As the band loosened up in front of the friendly hometown crowd, the music became more confidant and organic. As a buttoned-up sound, Phases could go down the wrong path. As a live entity feeding off the energy of a happy crowd, they began to fulfill a future potential yet untapped.
Poor Andy Shauf and his band were thrown to the wolves. His wistful, down-tempo songs not only seemed the appropriate soundtrack to the technical difficulties that plagued his set, but his Wes Anderson cache was an odd fit sandwiched between more down and dirty acts. The highlight was the drummer, whose Tilda Swinton androgyny and robotic shuffle was both eerie and engaging, much like the actress herself. The interplay between the Rhodes and the bass was fantastic, particularly as Shauf battled amp problems through much of the set, which left his guitar crippled while highlighting the great vocals. His Canadian good graces endeared him to the sympathetic crowd, and here’s to hoping he comes through again because his accessible post-twee idealism would do well in the aw-shucks Midwest.
But back to the cake. Viet Cong took the stage, seeming 10 feet tall and bulletproof. They teased “Pipelines” by The Ventures and the crowd was immediately sucked in by the playfulness — not just of a band celebrating Monty’s 32nd birthday but of a band that was born of tragedy, now fueled by the idea to not let a life un-lived be their grave marker. So as cake was being sent from stage to crowd, the band launched headfirst into “Throw it Away” and the raw chemistry and akimbo limbs of a band enjoying the right-now was transferred onto the enthusiastic youth (and a few older gents). It continued to snowball through them playing the first half of last year’s EP before another half-rendition of a cover (this time “Immigrant Song”) before “Bunker Buster” hailed the shift to the band’s latest long-player.
Then came the aforementioned power outage. But the band and crowd pressed on. A rare sight in Indianapolis, which is starved for this brand of raw charisma outside of local acts. If Viet Cong had anything to gain, it was a loyal following and the knowledge that Indianapolis is a friendly crowd worth revisiting on future tours. Despite the equipment and electronic failures of the evening, it was all the more memorable. Not to mention that there was cake and they let us eat it, too.
Arca & Jesse Kanda
Hollywood Forever Cemetery; Los Angeles, CA
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
|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.|
|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.|
|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.|
|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.|
|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.|
|0.00-113.51||Constancy, coherence.||Inconstancy, incoherence.|
01. Hope Drone/[new song]
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
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
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
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.
The Rock Shop; Brooklyn, NY
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