Bottled Smoke II — Sunday afternoon

The Sunday afternoon Bottled Smoke II lineup

And now on to the second and final post — though there was a lot more to the weekend than just the two afternoons!

Like the previous festival, this was a three day affair, though this time around I found I could only get to the afternoons of Saturday and Sunday rather than the full Friday through Sunday haul. A real pity but such is life and I can’t complain with what I did catch! I actually like the feeling of the afternoon sets like this, tucked away into the small locations that both the Echo Curio and the comparatively larger syncSPACE find themselves in — neither are rock clubs as such and so they just feel different and, honestly, nicer than a lot of clubs, just because it is something else.

Those in attendance similarly fit that feeling, and I should say that as with last time I had a chance to meet up with and get to know a wide number of folks, not least of which were many of the performers. Some I’d known from the first Bottled Smoke, some well before that — I think I first met Tom Carter back in 2000 if not earlier — while others were new friends, though there were people who I knew without knowing, as it were. On Saturday I noticed one fellow that I knew I had seen at various past events, and we ended up being introduced by Grant at the Echo Curio — his name’s Mike, who runs the Seagrass Recordings label, and it turned out we knew various people in common and had both been at various Terrastocks, last year’s On Land festival and so forth. Not too surprising, really! Communities do form and continue this way, though they can be broad enough that people don’t close circles until years have gone past.

In meeting folks like him, Bryce at Abbadon Records, Phil and Myste at Stunned Records and in once again meeting Tynan at DNT Records and Nate at Abandon Ship Records one gets the best sense of just how in a time when we’re well into ten years plus of the music industry’s wider collapse and readjustment that the impulse to create, sell and otherwise maintain an economy for music in a physical form still remains and thrives. Over at Chain of Knives I’ve posted about how the whole cassettes-are-back meme seems to have taken on new life now that vinyl-is-back is exhausted for novelty but the deeper truth — and this is just a sampling of all the possibilities out there, obviously, among so many different labels and sounds and styles — is that there are multiple options for any number of performers and any number of curators or label founders, that one can find comfort levels.

I had a good conversation with Phil about this on Sunday, as I was genuinely curious as to how he viewed the inevitably of his particular limited-edition tape-only approach, in that there would inevitably be those who, because of demand or interest or just general obsessiveness, would be looking to convert and share the results ASAP. He acknowledged that he wanted to see that each release properly sold out first and did follow up with those who instantly ripped what they got a hold of but once sold out he really didn’t mind the mp3s circulating out there, because that way those who did need and want the physical item had it, while his creative goals had been achieved — the release of a physical product whose aesthetics he enjoyed — and recompense had been gained. He and Myste had also spoken about their desire to move away to some degree from the short cassette approach, which has generally been common in my own experience with recent work, to longer releases, allowing for more room and longer, more involved compositions.

If anything this reminded me further of the sense of options at work, that there is as much out there to try as can be imagined, and to whatever degree as the technology allows. I wouldn’t say it’s some radical change per se but there is more than ever a clearer and wider range of simply doing whatever works, that the means of production are now able to accessed by so many more than before. It’s still a business structure that exists, of course — somebody still has to make those tapes, that vinyl, etc. — and there are compromises in other areas too (more than one high-profile musician I’ve spoken with over the years specifically laments that the shift from full job to side job/hobby which an adjusting business model has created has meant new pressures, less abilities to learn craft at a different pace or context than possible for most now).

But more of this for a later time, and more on what I actually bought at the festival then too! For now, just to say again what a great time I had, how friendly, without fail, every one of the performers were, and much thanks as ever to Grant at the Echo Curio and Chris and Katie at syncSPACE for all that they do. Were I living up in LA I suspect I would be seeing a lot more shows there! Hope to see many of the people I saw there at On Land in September.

What follows are the collated Twitter posts I made on each artist along with a featured photo and a link to a band or musician webpage — the full set of photos from Sunday afternoon can be found here. All these Sunday sets were performed at syncSPACE. I should also say I had to duck out a touch early and thus missed the final set of the afternoon by the always great Metal Rouge, sadly!

Justin McInteer at Bottled Smoke II

Justin McInteer — “Justin McInteer starts things off with a set done on harmonium. By singing without any amplification — none appears to be applied to the harmonium either — the effect is very intimate. It aligns McInteer less with folk-as-such than with musicians who use the tools to create something more of the now. Add in the rhythmic drones and I’m reminded of Miss Murgatroid’s set I saw over a decade back at a Little Tokyo club.”

Matthew David at Bottled Smoke II

Matthewdavid — “Matthewdavid now starts up with a fair amount of gear, compressors and a variety of swirled sounds. You quickly get a sense of his DJ work, he’s treating the gear as if it was a set of turntables, a lot of quick intercutting. The resultant music suggests various antecedents — Legendary Pink Dots, non popsong Avalanches. Plus a sense of deeper found sound ‘take the remote alien ballroom dance broadcast and make it more so’ aesthetics. His physicality with the gear reminds me of Dan Brown’s percussive set yesterday; this set as recorded would not quite work.”

Dead Magic at Bottled Smoke II

Deep Magic — “Okay if nothing else this next set is featuring a LOT of gear. Said gear BTW belongs to Deep Magic, who are about to start here…sometime…soon… And here we go. Starting out with guitar played with cigarette lighter, after which the pedals and more start to kick in. After which he sets aside the guitar to concentrate on keyboards and pedals using the initial tones as building blocks. As with Pedestrian Deposit yesterday the sense here is of power implied rather than demonstrated with deep drones. Yet the sense is of something friendly, almost gently inquisitive and contemplative, suiting the source of the band name. The addition of vocal samples and additional guitar brings another Adam Forkner comparison to the fore, not suprisingly so.”

Sean McCann at Bottled Smoke II

Sean McCann — “And after a quick break Sean McCann starts with equal gear but a noisier feeling. There’s similar elements — echo, depth, serene chill — but everything here combines into a more sudden squall of sound. At times it almost sounds like full-on ambient serenity trying to fight its way through the swathes, intentionally failing. Extra bursts of noise add to the chaos, while his live violin additions seem to create yet more reverb above all else. When the clearer tones of the violin do emerge from the mix, though, the sense of a sudden elegance, a lovely anchor. A full shift into open-ended howls of cavernous sound, slowly ebbing and flowing, then follows.”

Alpine Decline at Bottled Smoke II

Alpine Decline — “Alpine Decline now firing up their two person rock machine as such. Easily the most ‘traditional’ band of all the ones I’ve seen so far, has a feeling of early Codiene with gaze-friendly echo. The background feedback zone adds a sense of extra melancholia, but the next song is definitely fired up more in pace. If not as surprising as Rangers were last night, this is still a sharp performance, pushing just enough fuzz/hook buttons. Whether it’s the amps or the reel-to-reel or more, they definitely do a good job at adding some loud volume to the scuzz. The sort-of ballad now, first just guitar and then with drums, could almost prompt lighter waving in another universe.”

Tom Carter and Barn Owl at Bottled Smoke II

Tom Carter and Barn Owl — “The Deglet Noor Fakirs didn’t show while the Barn Owl folks have to get back to SF soon so they and Tom Carter are setting up as I type. Why yes I’m essentially front and center for this, why do you ask? What’s nice about this combination is that it can go any number of ways. As it stands at the start, delicacy is key with something suggestive of the deep tones Fripp created for Sylvian, higher parts arcing out over the gaps. What’s also clear is Tom’s gift as a collaborator; at no time does it feel like ‘his’ project with assistance. As the performance now builds, the ‘black walls of sound’ that once described Barn Owl as creating now stand out more with Tom’s part alternately adding to the building flow and finding a separate space within it. Quite something. I’m now feeling this through the floor as much as through the air. It’s a perfect sublimity, like last time MBV came through. After a slide into a joint drone, then even more open ended feedback highs, a blasted but high-flying feeling. Tom’s work is almost akin to David Gilmour fighting through surrounding aural corrosion. The performance has slowly adjusted away from dark undertows and crushing force to an aspirational rise to somewhere. A sense of almost…reaching beyond limits, hoping to reach an impossible endpoint but still trying.”

Bottled Smoke II — Saturday afternoon

Bottled Smoke II, Saturday afternoon lineup

This’ll be the first of two posts on my Memorial Day weekend for this year attending Bottled Smoke II, which (as the name gives away) replicated in part a Memorial Day weekend three years ago just a couple of months before I started this blog — a wonderful three day event at the Echo Curio in Los Angeles, Bottled Smoke.

Bottled Smoke was actually the name of the concert series done as a counterpart to an exhibition at the Echo Curio, Bottling Smoke, which is why my collection of photos from that weekend has that as the overall title. I actually recently found my scribbled notes from that weekend which I had taken to set aside probably for a piece in the Quietus (I think), but which served as a predecessor to what I do now at many multi-act shows or mini-festivals like this one, namely swamp people on my Twitter feed with thoughts about it all.

I don’t see this as a replacement for the kind of concert reviewing we’re all familiar with, the polished pieces (admittedly often subject to deadline) that are put together away from the show and which draw on memory, notes at the time, photos or whatever else may be to hand. But over time I’ve become comfortable with my own in-the-moment thoughts as being just that, and also being reflective of how I often think about live shows to start with anyway. A friend understandably wondered why I wasn’t just enjoying the music over the weekend; in response I noted that this helped clarify those thoughts and descriptions running around my head, and where in the past I would have felt maybe a little foolish or strange simply just taking notes at shows in a notepad given that I rarely had a specific commission to review a show to start with, now it feels much more commonplace since cellphones and smartphones and what have you acting as the de facto equivalent.

Receiving feedback from others that this approach has been appreciated in turn does help — one friend said “As I arrive home from a tough late shift, this stuff is a joy to read.” Again, it’s merely an approach, a very public one but one that I hope has its place, though of course not every Twitter follower of mine would care for it! If nothing else I hope as always, with all my work, to catch the interest in something I find valuable or worthwhile, and the chips will fall there as they may, as they always will. You can’t force interest in the end, something I think is one of the key points that any critic — or any enthusiast, really — needs to have some sort of self-awareness about.

But if the posts there did turn people on to the work that the Echo Curio — and its co-presenting venue syncSPACE — were doing this time around, and if this will further prompt people to check out things like Stunned Records and Abbadon Records, then hey! Glad to have helped.

Some more thank-yous and pointers in my Sunday afternoon wrap-up; what follows are the collated Twitter posts I made on each artist along with a featured photo and a link to a band or musician webpage — the full set of photos from Saturday afternoon can be found here. All these Saturday sets were performed at the Echo Curio.

Headlight at Bottled Smoke II

Headlight — “Headlight are a one person electronic act, flowing from one queasy/serene composition to the next, sometimes beatless sometimes not. Suggestive of recent electrogaze but not out to completely soothe, it’s perfect for the hot clear Saturday. Shifting into some full on spacerock/synth grooves from 1978 is a nice touch, combined with a lot of howling echo. The stop start melodies are a very nice touch too from Headlight, a sense of ‘sense’ constantly thwarted and changed.”

Dead Line Connector at Bottled Smoke II

Dead Line Connector — “…now starting up with some scraggly noise pedal rumble and crunch. There is quite literal electroclash happening, what sounds like shards of sheet metal rattling and crashing. Nate’s setup reminds me of when I saw Aube live on air at KUCI years back, but without the aggressive fury in the playing. The source of the metallic noises now clearer — looks like a thin copper plate that he is essentially playing via contacts. For all that this is louder and more earpiercingly harsher, the background rumble’s serenity creates more calm than Headlight.”

Swanox at Bottled Smoke II

Swanox — “Swanox may or may not have started his set yet. I’ll say he has, because it sounds very nice. The combination of more background crumble, some just-created flute samples in a looped collage and his deep chanting is suggestive of White Rainbow’s approach but sonically differs from what Adam Forkner does, more ‘instant’ in a way. The sudden switch to a slow keyboard melody/drone is also inspired, a full shift in the sound while retaining the feel. The longer Swanox continues this keyboard/pedal combination the more visibly entranced he seems. Lost in music, indeed.”

Queen Victoria at Bottled Smoke II

Queen Victoria — “And now the highly spoken about Queen Victoria kicks in with bowed guitar loops and more besides. Kinda nice to see/hear a guitar/drums duo that’s not following blues/garage tradition as such; while possessing clear roots they are more derived from Spacemen 3 and Opal/Mazzy Star, a touch blissed out but more often politely skronked. Also, I like Nick the singer’s two guitar approach, one played strictly to set tones, another then more conventionally played. Also hints of Thurston Moore as understated psych guy, one of those odd touchstones that is present but not always noticed. Using the bow as a percussive instrument as much as anything else: also grand, builds to solid conclusion! Good stuff.”

Dan Brown at Bottled Smoke II

Dan Brown — “Dan Brown (not THAT one) now begins his all percussion set, mouth organ and all. The problem with the ‘drum solo’ as wankfest is all too ingrained but Dan is clearly out to avoid that by emphasizing possibilities with the drum set as starting point, and using other instruments in concert with it. The use of gongs and other hand percussion instruments furthers this, also creating a sense of slightly chaotic ritual. Also well taken with his use of drumstick on cymbal almost as a stylus. One gets the feeling this should only be seen live. Haha and out of nowhere he says “I was going to do the 1987 Lakers song ‘Say No to Drugs, Say Hi to Life’ but I didn’t have time to learn that!'” And back to the music with bowstrings on cymbals and more.”

Pedestrian Deposit at Bottled Smoke II

Pedestrian Deposit — “And with a hush, the duo Pedestrian Deposit begins their set with bow on hand cymbal. I like the sense of implied power so far — all the pedals et al suggest future noise but right now it is eerie calm. Plus, sudden silence after it seems about to explode and then treated cello adds to a chilled, mournful state. As it develops, the cello/crackle combination further suggests Bryars or Eno with Bowie while not cloning either. Instead it’s a tactile sense of beauty refracted, something where the form is not played but softly warped.”

M. Geddes Gengras at Bottled Smoke II

M. Geddes Gengras — “Ged Gengras setting up for his solo turn, Rogue Moog and plenty of wires and more. Describing this set so far is actually a little hard — while on the surface ‘just’ a series of drone loops there’s almost a wonderful 50s-into-70s space music sense as the core feeling, something ‘out there’ from the aliens. More serene keyboards coming in add to this feeling rather than counteract it, a message of strange peace. Ged’s ability to do different things each time I see him play is one of his best qualities and this is a strong set a sense of evolutionary transmissions that develop unexpectedly, new elements and spikes of noise now appearing.”

Rangers at Bottled Smoke II

Rangers — “Rangers now setting up for the final set of the afternoon — been a great day all around! Not what I expected, this set — a five piece band but defiantly avoiding much in the way of riff or groove. Halfway between drone and a fairly cryptic jam; it’s not shockingly new, but the expected clatter and echo makes everything more of a howling mess than I would have first guessed. Reminds me a touch of Crescent as a result. Though now some steady open ended riffing is definitely starting to kick in big time, Spacemen 3 meets shimmer. In fact it’s definitely becoming big postpunkgaze almost in spite of everything before it! A nice transition. The shift the band does between open-ended but rich murk and the instrumental epic charge, constantly shifting in both directions is ultimately the group’s secret weapon, they seem content to avoid being one or the other. I also admit to being amused in a good way that one of the guitarists is wearing a shirt/short combination that reminds me a lot of what my friend Jake Anderson would wear about ten years back. Keyboardist now on cymbals and the mood is almost celebratory. In all a really nice surprise of a set by Rangers.”