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.
Night one of Decibel Festival was mostly devoted to the Hyperdub Records showcase at Crocodile. I arrived while Seattle DJ/producer/7 Deadly label head Jimi Jaxon was in middle of a dank, rugged set of future bass, grime, and rigorous, malevolent dubstep. The earth-moving low end made the air hemorrhage. Seriously. A nerdy-looking white dude in a SAD BOYS shirt (picture a frowny face in the O) did some frantic footworking throughout the set. It was pretty mind-blowing.
Ikonika followed, and this young British woman stunned me with a torrent of old-school techno bangers straight out of an early-’90s Best of Plus 8 comp, all hard-pistoning rhythms and martial snare fills, with the occasional odd, festive melody. I haven’t heard her latest album, Aerotropolis, but if this set is any indication, I need to. Toward the end of her hour-long performance, the music moved into more ruffneck, experimental realms, but without losing the totally amped feeling. Stellar show.
DJ Spinn, subbing for a reputedly injured in an auto collision DJ Rashad, began his performance by announcing, “We gonna turn this bitch up quick. Where’re all my weedheads at?” He proceeded to let loose the frenetic funk that we now call “footwork,” and the tempos elasticated sporadically and sometimes maddeningly throughout his 75-minute set. Dunno about you, but this seemed too long for this style of hyperkinetic music. Diminishing returns and all that. But it was cool to hear Roy Ayers’ “Everybody Loves the Sunshine" in the seemingly wrong context of mercurially shattered breakbeats.
By the time Kode9 took the stage at 12:15 am, I was feeling Hyperdub fatigue, but the 25 minutes that I heard of his heavy heavy sound system pressure was a visceral and cerebral thrill. It had the controlled chaos of a riveting sci-fi film.
Closed out the night at Q, where Ben Klock was Germanically filling the club with massive-sounding minimal techno. Q reminds us how great it is to hear ketamined bangers on a killer system. The invasive, throbbing bass frequencies made you feel as if you were in a huge pleasuring machine hurtling into deep space at 138-146 beats per minute.
Tuesday nights at Pony, with ggnzla's "I Hate Karaoke", are always a blast and last night was A+ extra fun. I was already home in my pajamas when I got a text saying that Shannon from Light Asylum and Nicola from ADULT. were singing duets and just generally hanging out at 'the Stables.
I talked to Adam of ADULT. for quite some time. Turns out we lived in the same apartment building in Detroit in the late 90s—the Phillips Manor on East Willis. He even remembered the time I confused a whole bunch of juggalos, who were waiting in line for an ICP show at the Majestic Theatre in front of our building, by throwing cooked potatoes at their feet from the window of my apartment.
He said he thought Pony was a great bar, and told me ADULT. is never playing any more daytime shows. He also said he doesn't care "if Detroit ever gets "better" or "worse"—it's perfect just the way it is now."
ADULT. play Neumos tonight, with Peter Hook & the Light, and Nightmare Fortress. Light Asylum also play at Neumos, this Friday, with Little Boots, Young Galaxy, and MNDR. Both are part of the awesomeness that is the Decibel Festival (thanks, Sean Horton!)
Kudos to the booking agent who had Naomi Wachira on the bill Sunday night at the Tractor Tavern with Valerie June. I was happy to finally catch Wachira live, and doubly gratified to be within earshot of June.
Wachira finished her set with "African Girl," a song she referred to as her soul anthem—something I thought was a curious thing to say about a song—but if you can imagine being so deliberate, so certain, so confident with words, then you can begin to imagine the level at which Wachira sings. With songbird-like vibrato and the ability to wrestle the breath from every note, she sang and played guitar for a mostly solo opening set (a backup singer accompanied on a couple of songs). She’s a local treasure to be certain, and was the perfect opener for Valerie June.
June is a west Tennessee (Memphis, by way of Jackson) songwriter who stumbled into singing and taught herself to play guitar and banjo. Still, it was about an hour and a half, and many banjo songs into her set, when she announced “I don’t know how to play this thing, I just make it sound how I want it to, I mean, it’s mine, right?” And she was right. June has writers tripping over themselves to compare her to everyone from Erykah Badu to Joni Mitchell (I mean, at least dig a little, she’s more like Rosetta Tharp meets Francine Reed), and people want to include the names of her recent producers when talking about the sound of her new album. But it’s clear listening to her music live that Valerie June is playing exactly and only how Valerie June can, which, luckily for us, is a virtuosic roots-country filled with ragtime and blues.
June finger picks and strums with her thumb rather imperfectly to get to her sound, and her singing voice is mostly just a nasally holler, but somehow that’s perfect for the stories she tells, and she knows it. “I’m not a musician, I’m a person who plays music,” she said as she held the at-capacity, mostly seated crowd completely captivated. I did not expect Valerie June to actually embody her songs. Like a folk music method actor she’d tell a happy little story—“I started wearing draws, y’all, there’s just too many pairs to like, you know?”—then close her eyes, strum an intro, and become the subject of her song. On her version of Elizabeth Cotten’s Appalachian traditional "Freight Train" she wasn't just singing a folk song, for all I know it could’ve been 1930 outside the brick walls of the Tractor Tavern.
She announced that she’s been writing songs for a while (nine years ago she taught herself to play guitar), but never wrote about murdering a man until she married one. She then played her own murder ballad, "Shotgun." Groaning, growling, and growing possessed (breath was short, gasps were heard), she clawed at the strings and tore at the neck of her guitar with the slide (once she even smashed it frighteningly with her fist)—it was the most convincing adaptation of the feelings being sung about I’ve probably ever seen from a performer. Then, transformed, she laughed “I’m not a murderer y’all, I swear! I don’t even own a shotgun, yet.” Then, just like that, she jumped the track into some gospel, playing “This World Is Not My Home” which she sang and played sweet enough to make my heart jump right into my throat.
Somehow June’s Southern style is so friendly that she can field drunken song requests with a polite ''no," handle the hecklers who simply must know about her hair (seriously people?), and still get all of her stories (mostly adventures about underwear, and other Memphis blues singers) in. Valerie June’s between-song banter was practically a clinic for how to handle a crowd as a musician. Of course she played an obligatory encore (something I think we can go ahead and dispense with in this century), in which she managed to tell a story about the voices in her head that write the songs for her, sing the best version of "Goodnight Irene" I’ve ever heard, and play just about every song one could want to hear from her catalogue (now three albums and an EP deep).
I had to work, and couldn't go. Regretsy! I'm extremely regretsy that I missed this show. How was it?
"Peppermint Schnapps and super-sized sundaes with chocolate sauce."
—the Julie Ruin, "Run Fast"
There's a reason Kathleen Hanna disappeared for six years after the end of Le Tigre and before the beginning of the Julie Ruin (the band, not the solo record she released in 1998).
If you've seen the documentary The Punk Singer, you know about her struggles with Lyme disease, and if you missed it, this interview will catch you up. She may have also needed a break from music-making—as well as the adoration of some pretty intense fans—but she's back now and sounding better than ever.
If Le Tigre seemed like an odd fit for a major label, Hanna returns to her riot grrrl roots by putting out the first Julie Ruin album on her own. Nonetheless, it plays more like an extension of Le Tigre's electro-pop than Bikini Kill's agit-punk (the five-piece includes bass player Kathi Wilcox from Bikini Kill and keyboard player Kenny Mellman from Kiki and Herb). The emphasis on rubbery party grooves also reminds me of the early B-52's, especially since Mellman handles the vocals on one song, "South Coast Plaza," while adding counterpoint to several others. My favorite Mellman moment: when he contributes to the "Girls Like Us" chorus.