Perhaphs my expectations were too high for Decibel Festival’s XLR8R showcase. With the crushing blow of the removal of British sample savant Actress from the bill due to visa complications, I was already let down before the show began. Things got better when some friends from out of town joined the caravan. We made our way into the city talking about Craig Johnson Records, Joe McPhee Music (Seattle shit, natch), Vancouver Jazz festivals gone by, and bop and acid jazz greats like Pharoah Sanders and Elvin Jones shows we were lucky enough to catch years ago.
The DJ set in the car ran from Dead Meadow to The Surfaris, and even some Greh Kihn band for good measure. Everyone was primed for something good.
The line at the Baltic Room was well out the door when we arrived at 9:30, and the DJ set from Shawn Reynaldo was a pastiche of techno and house spilling out onto the sidewalk (his sound was no where near the experimental techno/tropical trip hip hop he's capable of). I began to wonder how one could found an imprint on something so dull. Instead of waiting in line we cruised around the corner to Taylor Shellfish Farms for some delicious Kumamoto oysters and drinks.The atmosphere on the hill was lively, Country Joe and the Fish blared out of the speakers at the oyster bar. Weed and cigar smoke made it’s way into the restaurant from the street. We made it into the Baltic Room at 10pm and the DJ set could not end soon enough. When it finally did, Gulls took the stage at roughly ten ‘til 11, well into his scheduled set time.
The sound in the Baltic Room is perfect for its size. It’s your basic rockbox with solid walls, where bass and high tones resonate nicely anywhere you stand. Gulls passionately worked his sampler, and sometimes his single CDJ and controller. His compositions have an air of politeness, and operate with a much different set of manners than typical techno or house, but overall his songs spent a lot of time building to nowhere. At one point the composition even halted for well over a minute; why, I don’t know. Perhaps he was channeling John Cage. At moments Gulls' minimal hopping instrumentals showed flashes of brilliance, but by the time his work built up to something entertaining, he was well past his own set time, and 10 mintues past the 6 mintues signal he’d been flashed by the stage manager. I was itching to hear something with more edge.
It wasn’t until 11:30 when another house DJ took to the tables to prove that access to an Apple, dual pioneer CDJs, and Serato software does not a hopping club make. The dancefloor stood straight up and motionless as Teengirl Fantasy moved in with their mountains of equipment. Teengirl Fantasy set up quick (or tried to), and cut the DJ short (right in the middle of a song, it seemed) and with half their equipment online, 50 percent of the crew began working synth-squeals and throbbing wet beats out of an mAudio keyboard and mixer. By the time a wiring snag was worked out to get the other half of the duo plugged in, it was midnight, and the music actually began to reach a level of appreciable madness. Teengirl Fantasy’s two keyboards, multiple samplers, mixers, and turntables were turning out the abstract breathy rhythms, indiscernible samples, and a hot mess of beats one would expect from a world-class festival. By the time they were into their set and making some pretty good noise, I had to leave.
Down at the bar I saw Gulls exchanging his drink ticket for a tequila, looking visibly disappointed, then leaving the showcase himself. I guess he couldn’t stick around for Nosaj Thing, either.
On the way home I heard Boogaloo Joe Jones for the first time. I heard a lot better music outsideDecibel Festival than I did in, but chalk this one up to a good night out with friends. Sometimes the journey is the destination.