Last night at Grammy Ceremony 56, Seattle's very own Macklemore & Ryan Lewis cleaned up in four of the seven categories they were nominated in, taking home Grammys for Best New Artist, and in the rap category, Best Performance and Best Song for "Thirft Shop," and best album for The Heist.
We only got to see Mack & Mr. Lewis accept their Best New Artist Grammy since the rap awards took place earlier in the afternoon's untelevised segment of the ceremony. Which is super weird. I would have way rather seen any and all rap awards than to have sat through one more piano song. It turns out every single celebrity in LA can play piano, and Grammy night is the night to show that off.
Anyway! Macklemore wore a green velvet suit and black bow-tie and thanked the fans, Lewis wore a black and gray suit with an extremely large houndstooth pattern on it and remained silent. During the rest of the ceremony, every time the camera focused on Macklemore's face, Davis Schmader pointed out he had a very good "listening" expression. I thought about how his skin has never looked better. We all agreed his fiancé looks really nice; she started crying before they even got to the stage for Best New Artist.
Hours later, Macklemore (black shiny suit, bolo tie) & Ryan Lewis performed (black shiny suit) "Same Love" with Mary Lambert (amazing red glitter dress) and Madonna (white colonel-Sanders suit and cane) while Queen Latifah (black glitter dress) officiated the weddings of 33 couples onstage.
Congratulations to the couples, to Macklemore & Ryan for winning the Super Bowl of Music, and to everyone who declined to play the piano last night.
Here are three things that happened (four if you count my discovery of the html for hearts):
♥ Chris Ballew was telling an animated story when he suddenly stopped mid-sentence and shouted, "HOLD ON! MY WIFE WANTS TO TELL ME SOMETHING!" After a brief pause, he announed his wife wanted to hear "Body," which they played immediately.
probably very intoxicated giddy audience members fell to the ground during the PUSA set, too wasted elated to continue standing.
♥ After "Kitty" but before "Peaches," a punk-jacketed door guy admitted that "10-year-old me is freaking the fuck out right now."
We then ran over to Chop Suey, sadly missing Half Breed, but catching about 1.5 loud, sweaty So Pitted songs before one of my all-time favorite Seattle bands, NighTraiN, came on wearing all black-and-white, looking and sounding amazing (as usual). From their stage presence to their real-as-fuck lyrics, Rachael, Taryn, Selena, and Nicole have been on-goddamn-point since I first saw them years ago in a dank CD basement. Sorry for the swears. I'm still drunk. "Choo choo motherfucker."
Next up was Childbirth, the fertile punk project of my bandmate and Stranger contributor Bree McKenna, Pony Time's Stacy Peck, and Chastity Belt's Julia Shapiro. It's true, these folks are my friends, but OH MAN THEY ARE SO GOOD. When clever lyrical concepts meets catchy riffs, and they get along really well and love each other very much, a beautiful thing happens and suddenly three women in hospital gowns are delivering an album called It's a Girl. If you don't believe me, or you think my judgement is being impaired by hits of medical-grade friendship, hop on their Bandcamp your own self and then come back here and apologize. Even when McKenna's brand-new bass amp started smoking, Shapiro and Peck traded places and played as a duo while another amp was located—total pros. The only lame part of the night was when they sold out of Childbirth-brand Forever21 pink sweatpants.
Not a bad Tuesday, Seattle, not bad. ♥
Who knew The Presidents were going to play Neumos last night? UH, THEY DID! Happy 10/20 Anniversary Neumos/Moe! There's still two more celebratory shows: Tonight with the Thermals, My Goodness, and Summer Cannibals; and tomorrow, Thursday the 16th with Brent Amaker and the Rodeo, and Fox and The Law.
Get in there, and tell 'em 10/20 more years...
The banter was as light and friendly last night as the band's bouncy brand of rock-and-roll, and nearly everybody in the mostly-full room gathered on the opening night of Neumo's 10th anniversary (and Moe's 20th) celebration was in the mood to dance. Each time I hear a Telekinesis song, I envision Lerner soaring between the buildings of Seattle in superhero spandex, singing youthful lyrics with a healthy smile, sprinkling uncut joy into the homes/hearts of residents, who quickly run to their windows with glee (close your eyes and give it a try!). There was no flying—or spandex—but otherwise, the vibe was pretty consistent with my vision.
"We are Telekinesis, and we're from Seattle, Washington," Lerner said about three times during the set, eliciting a roar of hometown cheers each time. His drum set center stage with huge padded mic angled at his mouth from over his left shoulder, Lerner pounded the hell out of his drums while sing-yelling into the heavily reverbed system, flopping his cheek-length curly hair every which way. The rest of the band (though Lerner writes his songs solo, he's joined live by a guitarist, bassist, and keyboardist) was turned up to match Lerner's pounding/singing, and the whole operation together sounded fit for an arena. The volume, and the band's highly positive energy really filled in the gaps in the mostly full room, pulling people together physically and emotionally.
Halfway through the show, the band stepped aside, and Lerner took up an acoustic guitar, and did his singer/songwriter thing. He worked through "Rust," from 2009's nearly self-titled Telekinesis!, and a couple others before returning to the kit for a finale that included "Power Lines" and ended with "Tokyo." The crowd hung in for the softer moments—and his voice can certainly carry a room—but the enthusiasm the crowd brought to the band's more rocking numbers looked like they were the people's preferred mode. Lerner invited the assemblage onto the stage for the final song (pictured above), informed the crowd there wouldn't be an encore ("Encores are really weird," he explained) in the nicest possible way, and went out with a bang.
P.S. Did you guys see Wild Ones? Before Telekinesis took the stage, the Portland quintet played a pretty killer set of dreamy guitar-balanced electro pop with creative dance rhythms (think Pure Bathing Culture meets Reflektor-era Arcade Fire). Also: Wild Ones share a guitarist (Nick Vicario) with Telekinesis. I'd recommend giving their new album (with a title that's hilariously at odds with their moniker) Keep It Safe.
Some semi-anthropological wide-eyed observations, as well as a few more photos taken from the back of the arena along with a gaggle of photographers clustered near the sound booth (but taking care not to obstruct the views of people who "payed to be there"), after the jump.
Sometimes revelations come on a Tuesday night at Barboza—Seattle quartet Newaxeyes, for instance. These young white dudes were playing their first proper club show, but they stunned the small crowd with 30 minutes of dense, penetrating unconventionality. After the set was over, one joker waved his hands over a monitor, as if it were smoking. Many a valid concept is portrayed in jest.
From jump, one could sense that Newaxeyes ain’t your typical Seattle band. They immediately filled Barboza’s royal-blue-hued room with extreme frequencies and rugged, off-kilter beats. Think UK noise-drone titans Fuck Buttons jamming with innovative, cult hiphop unit Dälek and you’re getting close to imagining the artful aural violence happening here.
Newaxeyes’ music is dark without being hackneyed, abrasive yet nuanced, psychedelic in non-obvious ways. Everything’s distorted, all of the time. All of their tracks fluidly segued without pause, like a well-wrought DJ set. At times their bass tones powered through your quality earplugs, vibrating the hell out of your cochlea, and rippled your internal organs. The third song found vicious, slithering beats encrusted in ill debris draped in astringent clangor, until everything dropped out save for a beautifully pensive guitar solo. Nobody saw that coming, but when it did it was breathtaking. The last piece sounded like Roy Budd’s “Get Carter” theme being sucked backward into a huge vacuum.
Based on this show and to a lesser extent on their Soundcloud output, Newaxeyes are Seattle’s most exciting new band. Follow them closely.
Burien-based octet, Bacon Off a Wolf Plate, has just released their promising sophomore EP, Schlong Whisperer. It’s a somewhat odd conglomeration of sludge and emotive dub mountain-core that’s fresher than ever. Wait, that sounds like shit. Hold on –
Bacon Off a Wolf Plate make angular, lush indie reggae, and have recently signed to Ventriloblower Records. Their debut album, Micronesia, is out soon. No. Shit. Or -
Bacon Off a Wolf Plate, the Renton-based electronic, emo house, speed-fusion trio has changed direction with the release of their third full length, Demolition Derby Cowboys Inside the Vespa of Your Ballsack. Yes. They’ve veered from their influence of straight ahead Death Cab/Arcade/Killers indie. For this latest recording, Wolf Plate gave themselves a set of creative parameters. They smoked a brick of hash in their homeboy’s studio and stripped it down to three two-string basses, with all of them singing through the Helium Angel pitch shifting vocal effect. They call it lardzoid trap, and recorded everything live to tape. For drum sounds, they pogosticked, and threw applesauce against the wall, recording it with a flat PZM Pressure Zone condenser microphone. On the whole, songs are reminiscent of Everclear if Art Alexakis were throat singing with his ass in his throat. The concept for the album is based off a Russion sleep experiment from the 1940s, where prisoners were kept awake for fifteen days using an experimental gas. (YOU GOTTA READ THAT ENTIRE THING.) Damn. Sorry:
The food rations past day 5 had not been so much as touched. There were chunks of meat from the dead test subject’s thighs and chest stuffed into the drain in the center of the chamber, blocking the drain and allowing 4 inches of water to accumulate on the floor.
Nine Inch Nails at Key Arena last night was one of the better shows I have ever seen. Trent Reznor and band gripped with complete control, with all parts of the machine hitting their mark. The show was never not on. From immaculate eastern bent torrents of techno to intense pixilated blistering. Very little talk from Mr. Reznor to the crowd. As soon as each song ended, the next one began. His vocals were clear, strong, low at times with a throated muscle-whisper of pain. Reznor and band were there to do one thing: play the songs and perform the show. Sound was near perfect from where I was. Vocal delays caught pinpoint and trailed. The two female powerhouse, realmified backup singers added another world. Damn these women could sing. Cages lowered and raised in front of the band for projecting and slicing visuals of abstract code architecture. Until the last sounds of “Hurt” came to end, Reznor was totally consumed with, and moved by, producing sound. Some form of immense cyclopean black swan-bird had perched on top of Key Arena during the show. The Anti-Phoenix. As the crowd filed out of the building, Reznor could be seen riding it off into the distance of the night. God damn, that was a good concert. God damn. (Here is some rough video of the show. Doesn’t do it justice. Hopefully it will serve an approximation.)
Jason Lajeunesse—who, with business partner Dave Meinert, is reopening the beloved grime pit/venue after the previous owner abruptly closed the doors in early October—said he thinks the amount taken from the ceiling was close to $1,000. However, he says, "The value wasn't the issue, of course, it's the years of history attached."
Lajeunesse explained, "I think someone went in there with the purpose of stealing those bills specifically... I think it wasn't just about the money for them either, otherwise they would have stole the thousands of dollars worth of tools that were there. That would have been much easier and more profitable."
"Someone believed those bills belonged to them, and they didn't want us having them. That is my opinion..." Lajeunesse said. "My landlords received a call from a very inebriated someone last week who threatened to come and steal the Comet sign and anything else he thought belonged to him. I'm not going to name anyone, but this is the information we got. We were warned to keep an eye out. I guess I didn't suspect someone would go through all that trouble, and risk possible charges of theft, over such a small financial return."
So be on the lookout for someone with a stack of gnarly bucks and a staph infection?
We got an anonymous email this morning concerning Big Freedia's Neumos show last night (I will say, at least Freedia wasn't opening for the Postal Service at Key Arena this time around):
Okay Seattle show-goers, listen up.
I totally respect your need to go to a show and stand there with a bitchy look on your face like you aren't having any fun. Go for it—if you don't want to dance or show the performers you are stoked on the opportunity to see them live, that's cool. Have at it.
But it is NOT okay to shame or hinder people from shaking that thing.
I have never been more annoyed by the Seattle freeze than I was last night at Big Freedia. If you don't want to be touched, go to the back of the venue where the rest of the anti-socials are, don't form a line in the front right up against the stage with the rest of your asshole friends and throw the evil eye at people who accidentally bump into you, particularly if you don't want to dance. And no, the fact that I was trying to dance and have fun behind you and might have touched you a few times does not mean I am a "crazy bitch."
Please, I insist, go listen to emo music and reflect on how miserable you are. Don't waste space and ruin the experience for people who are having a blast.
Sure, part of the appeal of going to a bounce show is watching super beautiful women twerk, but bounce music is made for DANCING Seattle. It is DANCE music. I find it sort of unnerving that so many people in front stood frozen and hard like bodyguards simply observing Freedia and the dancers bounce. It's a beautiful thing, but you are gross.
This music is about letting go, it's all inclusive. Anybody can do it. Freedia is a gender bending rebel and tours with dancers from all over the country—white, black, male, female, skinny, luscious, whatever! The spirit of New Orleans comes alive in bounce music, the sensuality, live and let live, flamboyant, celebratory nature of a city that never stops partying.
I have never felt so free as I did the first time I went to see a brass band at a divey bar in the Treme, dancing like a "crazy bitch" (apparently, according to Seattle) with old women holding umbrellas and tiny men wearing tuxedos and spinning in circles and grinding on the trombone player and laughing and hugging and straight up LOVING and BEING LOVED by all the rad people tearing it up in one of the hardest, most mesmerizing cities in the world. People knowing how shitty life can be and saying fuck it! Let's drink and dance and let the music enliven us!
So please you asshole, curmudgeon scrooges, for the sake of Big Freedia, spread your legs and watch your back go up and down and make it clap, or GO TF HOME.
I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that Reignwolf was the filthiest thing in New Orleans Friday night.
Local (to New Orleans) blues rock band Baby Bee opened for them, and I almost feel sorry for the drum and guitar brother duo now. They played some fine Charlie Musselwhite/Chuck Berry inspired tunes while a local fanbase cheered them on through a decent effort of about 45 minutes worth of original material. It's in these moments, though, that one gains greater appreciation for the musical life of a city like Seattle, where on any given night the music is a cut above the rest. I cheered Baby Bee on, but secretly hoped Reingwolf would come out and burn House of Blues New Orleans to the ground.
It was by complete coincidence that I ran into frontman Jordan Cook and the rest of his trio during their load-out just a couple of hours before the show. A short conversation later, kismet acknowledged, he handed me two tickets to his show for which I’m now eternally grateful. The band spoke a bit about their new material and they seemed as shocked as I was that they had just spent the day recording at Ani DiFranco's house. Cook proceeded to let me know he’s played his guitars so hard in the last year that the heads just plain fell off of two of them in the last month. He then showed me a positively ancient Guild semi-hollow body he’d just borrowed from Ani’s husband, whose only request was that he not damage the head. We both laughed anxiously at that one.
People aggressively ignored the strict “no cameras” policy (N'awlins encourages obnoxiousness—smoking indoors, cat-calling, and generally acting afool will not warrant a reprimand here) to capture Reignwolf's old tricks from the very start. As you may know, he plays bass drum and guitar at once, and in some cases plays an entire drumset with one hand and hammer-on guitar riffs with the other, but Cook’s voice is so much stronger now than it was a year and a half ago when I last saw him in Seattle. It's grown into a crosscut saw of raspy wail and sexy, dare I say wolf-like howling that matches the strength of his guitar chops. The band came on well after midnight, but thanks to those old tricks they had the small crowd in a trance just a few songs into the show. It was about halfway through when Cook said “I think this is going better than I thought it would.” Boy was he right.
For a New Orleans debut, with probably 30 (max 50) people in the entire venue, the band went completely batshit crazy. With an amazing sound system at their disposal, and a decent lighting setup, the House of Blues became a vision quest, a right of passage, if not just one of those positively miraculous musical experiences for everyone in attendance. At one point the girls in front were dancing directly under Cook, showering in Reignwolf sweat. Another woman looked on agog, with that lips parted, eyes wide expression that says “what the...?” One young woman spread her arms wide and appeared to float through the chords, another covered her face as if to shield it from the heat, still another closed her eyes, held her chin up and and faced the sound, as if bathing in it. Drunk bros looked to one another, jaws slack, eyebrows raised. Heads bobbed, chins jutted, lips snarled. One guy said to another, about Cook's constant onslaught of guitar, “Yeah, I think this kid's gonna make it.”
A brief survey of the small crowd revealed people had only previously seen Reignwolf on Youtube, but a few already had favorite songs; “Electric Love” and "Are You Satisfied” put the dance into the dancehall. Guitarist David "Stitch" Rapaport (Mother's Anger) later told me he credited the videos for those songs from KEXP and Jet City Stream with launching the non-stop year and a half tour the band has been on. At one point during “Are You Satisfied” a young woman next to me let out a giddy laugh like a schoolgirl in love. Even I broke into a fit of laughter at the audacity of one of Cook’s relentless, driven solos. In the power trio formation (two six-string electrics, and drums) Reignwolf has become bigger than the sum of its parts—no longer the Jordan Cook show, the noise, the feeling, was so big it reached above and past the stage and infected the crowd.
I was most impressed with the new material, like some unclassified genus of grunge that Reignwolf cultivates; Seattle in spirit, but the future of the sound. He’s done that with his blues playing as well: It’s pentatonic, but polyrhytmic. It's personal, weird, transformative blues. He contorts his body around the guitar and plays a possessed, disembodied blues that kicks the gospel out and puts Satan right back in the middle of the blues conversation. On the electric mandolin, his chord structure, backed with six string rhythm, sounded like the chorus of heaven’s angels, those scribes who penned revelations must have envisioned. The sound of Reignwolf is a crushing collection of painful wails, sexy licks, and drum hits; an ocean of noise that forces your senses into fight or flight. By the end of the show Cook was a whirling dervish of blues, pushing his borrowed Guild guitar to the brink—I winced with fear for his guitar as the House of Blues stage (and the fretboard, the entire musical scale, the Earth, etc.) became too small for him and he wobbled and weaved, drunk on his own music, into the wing, out to the edge of the stage... The tension of watching a man go completely insane was palpable—the air filled with the scent of blood, the crowd demanded an encore, for which he brought out his own guitar and beat it until the low E string broke.
After the show I asked Rapaport whether the new material would be on an album soon, he said simply, “Yeah, I think it’s about time”.
There was smoke, there was talk of black holes, there was awkward Blow-ish banter with the audience ("This album took a really long time—I say that to make you feel more comfortable"), there was shadow dancing, there was pantomiming of leaning over a girl playing dead in order to check her pulse and, while down there, kissing her. But the thing I can't get out of my head is the way the Blow performed "True Affection" last night at Neumos. This is a song that a surprising number of people have done covers of on YouTube. It's the slowest thing in the regular-rotation Blow catalog. Every Blow fan knows the words. It's a plaintive, off-two-minds song, and it's a watery song: "I was out of your league, and you were 20,000 underneath the sea, waiving affections..." "You'd surface first and we'd share our thought bubble..." "Your depths made a pressure that punctured my works and all your fluids couldn't tolerate the force of my thirst..." "And true affection floats. True affection sinks like a stone..."
Okay, so what did they do? They did swimming. Khaela swam laps. It is not the kind of song you expect crowd-surfing to happen during, and the Monday-night audience looked a little taken aback when Khaela first dove onto them, but this is Seattle and once it was clear what was happening everyone knew what to do. Well not everyone. Khaela got fairly close to where Melissa was but then the crowd assumed she wanted to get back to the stage, and Khaela kept having to say, "No, toward my girlfriend. TOWARD MY GIRLFRIEND!" Eventually Khaela got to her girlfriend, standing there at the glowing control deck, but in the melee the mic cord somehow became disconnected from the sound system. The beat to "True Affection" had already started, though, and the show must go on, so the crowd just sang the song a cappella. Shouted the song. Well, everyone who knew the song shouted along, and everyone who didn't know the song was like What the fuck is happening? It was awesome. It was so... affectionate. And then at last the sound guy got to the bottom of the mic issue, and Khaela sang the last couple lines of the song amplified, and then she asked the crowd near her there at the control deck to get closer to her, and then to put their hands up, and then she dove onto them, and they carried her back to the stage.
Daaaaaang it. I was so excited to see Thee Oh Sees last night at the Croc. With the Blind Shake and OBN IIIs (who were both frickin' excellent, and selected as Oh Sees tourmates because, as John Dwyer told me, "Both are bands I love getting to watch every single night.")
Unfortunately, I am short. And the place was packed. I mean, that's a good thing, but no matter where I went, Mr. Tall Guy somehow pushed right in front of me. I tried to watch, from the all-ages balcony. I couldn't see much from up there either. They SOUNDED amazing though! Next time, platform shoes.
MVP—that's Michael Jackson Versus Prince—played the Hard Rock Cafe on Saturday, with bassman Dan Roach holding it down with style (including the sartorial flair of a four-pointed pocket square). The selection of covers ran more to deep cuts than you'd expect, especially on the Prince side, keeping real fans satisfied, though one singer seemed less than fully engaged—he was seen checking his phone onstage. But singer Arzelia Jones Jr. has some serious pipes; she did right by the Jackson covers, possibly making him the winner. (You can also hear her in the bands Soul Provider and Surround Sound.) But really, everyone won at MVP, on the dance floor and at the bar, where watermelon-flavored Bacardi is a thing.
Okay, OKAY, I'm normally not into those cringe-inducing, "surviving member(s) of a band that peaked three decades ago" style bands, and when I heard that Marky Ramone was touring (uh oh) with Andrew W.K. (huh, okay) I was on the fence. A lot could obviously go wrong...
The fabulous Trent Moorman interviewed Marky, who assured us that he was simply going to play the 35 best Ramones songs and Andrew W.K. would be singing them. No new album, no new songs, just the tried-and-true punk standards you know and love. Plus I guess you can't really go wrong with Andrew W.K.—the guy has remained a magical (if not slightly mysterious) unicorn for so long I almost forgot how excellent he is live. He wants to party. Not in a creepy way, in a fun way that might include him giving stranded kids a ride home after a show (true story).
Every single leather punk jacket and/or pair of white jeans in Seattle (plus a couple that flew here from Denver just for the show) was at Neumos last night. I missed the opening bands, but walked in right as Marky and Andrew (along with an enthisiastic guitarist and bassist) took the stage.
They ripped into ALL the hits (I almost started naming them, but you know what they are)—super fast, super loud, with little or no stops between songs. Marky looked pretty good with dyed dark hair and bangs; his drumming was tight in that pro-drummer way where all their power seems to be coming from the elbows down, with little other movement. It took 10 minutes before the crowd gave in and smashed together with fists shaking, screaming along. I don't remember the last time I've seen so much raw enthusiasm. Legs bashed faces in sloppy crowd-surf efforts, kids hopped up on the stage to sing along for as long as security would allow it.
My date and I took our opportunity when "I Can't Make It On Time" started (one of my favorite Ramones song and personal anthem), asking our kind buddy to hold our purses and lift us up into the crowd (he won the "dude of the night" award for sure). I tumbled onto the stage and hugged Andrew W.K. around the waist for as long as I could until security pushed me back into the sea of hands and sweat. Everyone smelled like hair products and soup. I woke up with a giant bruise behind my ear and the kind of head ringing that may signify damage. Worth it.
How about that feeling when you have unreasonably high expectations for a live performance and then they’re exceeded? Such a rare thing. But it happened last night at Triple Door during Raime’s set at the OPTICAL 4: Black Noise showcase. Primed by the 2012 album Quarter Turns Over a Living Line and previous EPs on the Blackest Ever Black label, I mentally elevated British duo Raime to this year’s Demdike Stare of Decibel.
Situated at the far right corner of the stage in darkness and augmented by
Leo Mayberry their own stark and unnerving visuals, Tom Halstead and Joe Andrews began by coaxing sepulchral drones punctuated by dungeon-door-slam beats. Later came methodical, glinting shafts of guitar and demonic angel sighs. Another track featured tolling bells of doom accompanied by an incongruously springy rhythm—but Raime’s beats seem to hurtle you toward oblivion, not the usual physical release. The set ended in slow-motion ambient desolation, a perfectly dank and melancholy conclusion. This is gothic music devoid of all kitsch, goth as existential condition. Raime’s is a universe purged of light and “fun.” Somehow, though, the pitilessness of their music is comforting. Someday, some risk-taking horror-film director is going to tap Raime to create the ultimate score for majestic hopelessness.
The Sight Below (Seattle’s Rafael Anton Irisarri) was feeling ill and had his hoodie pulled up and wore a jacket onstage, but he delivered what was at times his most abrasive ambient set to date. There was an orchestral grandeur to the Sight Below’s swarming drones that ranged from beatific to anguished. The performance was marked by one amazing anomaly: a massive ambient-dub bruiser that sounded like a combination of Seefeel and Scorn. More like this, please.
Nosaj Thing was subbing for the absent Oren Ambarchi, but I fled to hit Neumos for Archie Pelago. No snub to Nosaj—it’s just that I’ve seen him many times and he’s always great, but I’ve never seen Archie Pelago. And they did not disappoint. A trio featuring sax, cello (sometimes fingerpicked), and three laptops, AP played busy jazztronica that vibrates somewhere between Cinematic Orchestra and early Four Tet. It’s dance music, but Archie Pelago don’t make it overly easy or obvious. Their compositions squirm to get off the rhythmic grid and color outside of the lines. They thrive on chaos and excess, even though they have their minimalist streaks, too (the obsessive, uplifting repetition of Steve Reich and Rhys Chatham occasionally can be heard). This was some of the most involving organic/synthetic real-time mish-mashing I’ve witnessed happening on a stage. Would see again.
The tenth annual Decibel Festival once again was an overwhelming ocean of extraordinary tones and a galaxy of diverse beats. Not surprisingly, as it’s grown it’s become more accessible, but there are still enough challenging performers to wear out even curmudgeonly elitists over its five days. Director/founder Sean Horton announced with his traditional and endearingly hoarse voice from the Triple Door stage last night that Decibel had met attendance and artistic expectations, So I guess we can expect more of the same (and some of the different) next year. Congratulations to Decibel’s hard-working staff—and please consider cutting back to four days (my annual request, which will likely be ignored).
Obviously, every Decibel participant's experience is unique and you can't see everything and you may think I'm insane for spotlighting what I did. So, what were your Decibel highlights? And do you like Decibel as a five-day event or would you like to see it return to four days?
No disrespect to Mr. Juan Atkins, but after witnessing Rrose take techno to heretofore practically unheard infernal heights, the Detroit techno god’s DJ set sounded a bit trad and earthbound. (From my vantage point, I couldn’t tell what Atkins was actually doing, either. I saw no vinyl, CDs, or laptop. Did he download the set from his brain to a little black box? Or was it… an iPad DJ set???) Whatever the case, Atkins’ punchy techno and house tunes were uptempo and upful, and the crowd dug ’em hard.
The Orb—old bald white guys Alex Paterson and Thomas Fehlmann—made some of the dubbiest, w33diest techno you’ve ever smelled last night. It was like a best-of medley of their ’90s material, a fragrant reward for the die-hard, hardcore fans who remember a time when Paterson wasn’t a dead ringer for post-hair Brian Eno. We got “Perpetual Dawn,” “Slug Dub,” “Close Encounters,” “Majestic,” “A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules From The Centre Of The Ultraworld,” “Little Fluffy Clouds,” and I think more cuts off Orbus Terrarum—but with their DNA subtly rearranged and track times truncated. (If anyone knows what that song with the funky quacks were, please let me know. I’ve spaced.) The Orb far surpassed my expectations. Granted, it wasn’t 1995 Orbicularity, but it was as riveting as anyone could expect from them in 2013.
Over to Neumos for Kompakt Records’ afterhours party (celebrating 20 years as a label), John Tejada was his usual solid self, a low-key techno master working at his impeccably paced peak. Matias Aguayo, though, is a whole other kind of special. He has more personality and lovable quirks than any dozen other techno artists you can name combined. His staccato singing in Spanish (looped for Lidell-like onomatopoeia) and his piquant woodblock tapping and singing into said woodblock and Latin-tinged rhythms contoured for techno specs all coalesce into super-fun dance music bursting with vivaciousness. He did a fantastic, altered rendition of “Minimal,” which is one of the greatest meta-techno works ever. And any track that samples Liaisons Dangereuses’ “Los Niños Del Parque” is quite all right with me (“Niños”). I’m more of a dark-techno aficionado, really, but Aguayo’s festiveness is so contagious and inventive, it makes sense to lighten the fuck up for it. Demdike Stare will forgive you… just this once.
Ageless wonder Thomas Fehlmann came on around 5 am (well past his bedtime, no?) and right out the box just started unleashing the coolest, subliminally funkiest dub techno. The decent-sized crowd was still moving more than you see at most regular-hour shows, and with a genius like Fehlmann at the controls, it’s no surprise (also:
DRUGS smart drinks). His spare moves—like a man trying to keep his incomparably suave grooves from levitating out of the room with his palms and shoulder shimmies—remain as charming as ever, btw. I only had enough stamina to stay for a third of Fehlmann’s 90-minute set, but I imagine it went on to be a heaven-lowering highlight. We might have to crown the professorial geezer Decibel MVP.
Machinedrum's latest album, Vapor City, is more focused on sustaining a mood of reflection than making you dance your ass off. His last record, (the marvelous Room(s)) and subsequent singles suggested something a bit more in-your-face, but I love this latest turn, being a sucker for the melancholic melodies of jungle at its finest (see "Renegade Snares (VIP Remix)" to fully understand the wondrous juxtaposition of hard-as-fuck breaks and beautiful keyboard lines.) So I was curious to see how he would pull this off live.
First off, though, was 17-year old Marcel Everett, aka XXYYXX, who got the crowd moving with a DJ set combining his original material with a variety of intriguingly curated beats. His head-banging proved to be infectious, and to be honest I'd never seen Aphex Twin's "Ziggomatic 17" played to such an enthusiastic crowd. Witnessing an ocean of backwards hats going ham to that track's convoluted breakbeat science was an early highlight of the evening.
Machinedrum, nee Travis Stewart, started things off in a curious fashion: he donned a guitar and played some contemplative jams off his latest record. The crowd initially seemed unsure, still reeling from the opener's crowd-pleasing and frankly amazing mashup of a Cranberries song and a rave anthem. Was he going to get shown up by his opener? He even half-sung his trademark vocal samples into his mic, making me wonder if all the backlash against "laptop sets" had set us forth on a path of electronic musicians trying to put on a real live spectacle.
About 20 minutes in though, he dropped the guitar, manned the MPC, and shit got real. The big, dirty singles came out, one after another, in an endorphin-releasing stretch of mania: "Gunshotta." "Eyesdontlie." "Body Touch." The bass, the beats, the woeful atmospheres, the head-tripping screen projections of endless tunnels: it all hit at once.
I would be remiss if I failed to mention the drummer, who kept pace with these 160+ BPM drumbeats with unnerving and unswerving ability. And finally, the catharsis that is "U Don't Survive," Room(s)' crown cut of blissfully sad juke music. I link to these songs because I implore you: if you enjoy electronic music in 2013, and are somehow not already down: get with Machinedrum. A character in Thomas Pynchon's latest novel says, "Paranoia's the garlic in life's kitchen, you can never have too much." This is what Machinedrum's music reflects: the alienation and anxiety of urban living, touched with the beauty of the sun setting between skyscrapers.
Thursday was a night of disappointments and astonishments.
First, a slight letdown: One of the most hyped Decibel artists, Huerco S., was slated to play live at Chop Suey, according to the official program. Instead, he DJed. Well, at least he spun vinyl. But still, people were jonesin’ to hear tracks off the new Colonial Patterns album, but we got a solid set nonetheless. Huerco started with some medium-level, dub-dusted build-up cuts. Just as I was thinking, “This could be weirder,” it got weirder with an abrupt transition into some kind of Raster-Noton or PAN-style glitchy techno. From then on, the tempo accelerated and the strange tonalities teemed. Just as things were properly saturating my wheelhouse, our party decided to zip over to Crocodile for Actress.
Notorious for missing the last two Decibels due to visa issues (so the official story goes), Actress came on about 30 minutes late and spent another 20 making very quiet rumbles, glitches, burbles that made me think somebody had slipped a Clicks & Cuts CD or an Eno album from the ’00s into his laptop. Some audience members loudly wondered if Actress had actually started. There was something pretty soundcheck-y about the non-committal ambience issuing forth.
Close to 1 am, Actress dropped his first beats and commenced with some Eraserhead techno—very dreary and melancholy atmospheres wafting over 128 bpms. Then came the peak of his set and of Decibel itself: a slow-motion doom-dub piece that recalled Scorn circa Gyral and Techno Animal’s lost 1995 classic, Re-entry. Later a rapacious bass smear, like the sound used to crack terrorist suspects’ wills, entered over slow, skittering beats. One could sense a pervasive uneasiness in the crowd.
After 1 am, the room began to thin the hell out. Most people were not feeling Actress’ techno as space oddity and anomic drift, his dissonant, subaquatic drones and cryptic voice samples, Cut Hands-like tribal techno and jagged, Autechre-esque abstractions. This was the antithesis of pandering (Actress said nothing the whole time and was barely visible behind his gear). A lot of punters left feeling underwhelmed and confused. I may be in the minority here, but after the slow start, I think Actress did a great, unpredictable, and challenging set.
For afterhours, I hit up Electric Tea Garden’s Sweatbox party (not technically part of Decibel) and found Caro (Seattle major dude/synth builder Randy Jones) laying down his patented cracked house tunes, soul-man vox and all. He bust out those old chestnuts from his 2005 album, The Return of Caro, and kept the floor throbbing like a champ.
Then Rrose took over at 3:20 am. Rrose is a stoic man (a powerful catalyst in the Bay Area’s experimental techno scene) in drag who reportedly was feeling ill during his performance. Despite the sickness, Rrose teased out fathoms-deep, un-Shazzamable techno, totally devoid of sentimentality. This was subterranean dance music tunneling into the inmost psychedelic depths of pure/impure sound. “Waterfall” was a particular highlight in a performance full of them. There wasn’t an undilated pupil in the house.
My favorite memory of the night was of the 50something businessman type dancing wildly with dangerous swinging-lasso moves. Gramps was on fire. Unquestionably, Rrose’s was the most mind-altering live techno set I’ve heard since, I don’t know, Plastikman back in 1993? This was some historical shit.
All contents © Index Newspapers, LLC
1535 11th Ave (Third Floor), Seattle, WA 98122