On Land Festival 2010 — Sunday shows

And the final day of the festival, starting with the Aquarius Records instore that afternoon:

Ilyas Ahmed and Grouper, Aquarius

Ilyas Ahmed and Grouper — “Lovely hushed start, very them for lack of a better term: wordless, lost vocals, rich low guitar textures, massive reverb…The set continues in that vein, some slightly faster songs but otherwise always in the zoned/echoed/postgaze/4AD spot I still adore.”

Christina Carter, Aquarius Records

Christina Carter — “Christina starts in very delicately and deliberately…Alternating between the guitar part and lines being sung from a poem in her notebook. It’s a very affecting performance…Second song begins with a short instrumental introduction — has a similar vocal/guitar/vocal feel but the parts blend more.”

Then later we were off to the Swedish American Hall and one last night:

Higuma, On Land

Higuma — “…Gentle wide open and dreamy guitar to start it off. Evan adding some darker shades that suggest Barn Owl a bit but this is clearly its own thing esp thanks to Lisa’s vocals…Both performers now opening out their parts, Evan really letting fly while Lisa explores both the central melody and vocals…Big guitar part from Evan kicking in, loud but not punishing, more loomingly melancholic. Really great set here.”

Common Eider, King Eider, On Land

Common Eider, King Eider — “…they kick in with a LOT of dramatic feedback and zone…Forlorn wordless vocals, deep echoes, HUGE feedback from guitars and violins, soft piano. Don’t remember last year like this!…Everything much more hushed now. The last band I saw that was quite so extreme was Ghost! But CEKE have their own good style…Now moving into more explosive drum parts and increasingly frenetic strings while the piano part remains serene and steady…George Chen is the modern Animal on drums. Minus the neck chain…Now back to guitars (quick big feedback strum, low e-bow rhythm), vocals and then violin. A massive sounding conclusion…Though now a brief coda? Same slow descending melody, much more skeletal.”

Ilyas Ahmed, On Land

Ilyas Ahmed — “Compared to the instore’s slow, steady hush this is much more improvisational and alternately hurried and quiet…Much pedal adjusting, almost like a constant search to refine and focus the sound as he performs. Vocals now coming in serenely…Ilyas announces “This one’s for Jack” and I’m sure it’s Jack Rose. Still missed, was thinking of him today. A lovely song.”


Bill Orcutt, On Land

Bill Orcutt — “…he takes the stage to a sudden hush…Might sound strange but his performance reminds me of Glenn Gould in a way, the sudden physicality and vocal interjections…It’s almost like the notes get ripped suddenly out of the guitar, quick and fierce, then peace reigns for a moment…The second song is calmer in parts, creating a tension between that and the sudden bursts as they appear. Performance as exploration …Big resonant tones at points — another thing to remind me of Jack Rose tonight, from a slightly different angle…Third song has him suddenly rip into a quick propulsive blast (on acoustic guitar, no less — its wear and tear makes perfect sense)…Tumultuous applause after the fourth song — many cheers — and after asking if he still has time, into one last piece.”

Dan Higgs, On Land

Dan Higgs — “Dan Higgs begins with a warm “Hi everybody” in between his opening chants and gentle instrumental rhythm…”Let’s go insane…because what they call sane…it’s a waste of the brain!” All to soft tambourine and high tones. And why not?…The gospel in his vocals is equally warm, it’s a sudden appreciation, and he invites us to “help me out if you like!”…”Got some dust in my throat…feels nice!”…In response to a claim it’s Holy Bible time he sings of burning it, breaking its spine and standing on it “until your tears run dry”…”What is the Bible?…it’s turquoise blue, it’s neon pink…an ocean of sound…and there is no evidence, no explanation why.”…”Clear away the bricks, clear away the stones, smash the holy vessels with hammers made of song.”…”Learned about my own sense of smell this week!” The story about trying to determine the putrescent smell in his van = A plus…Switching over to banjo…He can definitely come up with some peaceful yet creepy laughs…”Last chance to throat dance! OOOOOOOAAAAAOOOOWUH!”…Gotta say this is definitely my most unexpected set of the festival. Nail filing and all!…”Going to play one last song…it has been a strange pleasure…I’m always looking for new pleasures…this goes out to the ladies!””

Grouper, On Land

Grouper — “…as with last year, in near pitch dark with a film set to screen behind her…The set begins with a crumbling cassette sample of some sort while the film kicks in…Softer, deep buried melodies sound off as she adjusts pedals and other elements…Extremely lovely stuff, as deep blue as her instore set but again like Ilyas not repeating it, not yet using guitar…One of the more deliberate sets of the festival, very slow evolving but also extremely involving, a slow pulling inward…She now starts playing guitar and singing, the rich reverbed tones of both a new layer of dark beauty…Moves to a new melody — a very Windy and Carl feeling now but with Liz’s vocal style one of the clear points of difference…What seemed like a final conclusion was more a quick pause, into a vocal/guitar part that’s the most stripped down yet…The film projections for Grouper have been lovely, black and white images ranging from city business to wintry forests and roads.”

Charalambides, On Land

Charalambides — “”Hi, we’re Charalambides.” And with that from Christina we are go for the final band of the festival…Almost sounding like a slow, none more drawn out blues band at the start, just. Christina’s singing goes big early on…Tom looking almost entranced, Christina seated, eyes closed. Still a fascinating partnership after all these years…The performance feels so far like an extension of her instore with the extra guitar adding more fractured texture, a darkness…Remembering Christina’s wordless keening from ten years back and contrasting it to the focused, suddenly sharp poetry here…She stops singing and their guitars break into a brief, unsettled coda to end the first song. Tom’s dark tones set up the next…Christina’s brighter, sharper guitar parts again a good but always complementary contrast. There’s heavy drama at work…The two now fully lock into their instruments, a focused, intense upward charge. Almost the only comparison point here is Swans. I’m quietly fascinated by the fact that some people near me have suddenly left over these last minutes like they didn’t expect this…Christina’s slow march now contrasted by Tom fully going off, pedals and feedback in a massive storm. Then her singing kicks in…Christina sets down her guitar and takes the mike out of the stand, Tom plays a calm part. It’s a version of a song from the instore…It’s interesting to hear the subtle differences — both her singing and his music adds or stretches out notes, a little freedom. He adds some high scrapes and swirls, she sounds even more commanding and fraught…”Maybe you will dream together tonight….she’s so far away…he’s so far away…Hush now, it’s going to be all right…” While the music’s doom laden repetition suggests anything but that state…Christina takes up the guitar again while Tom adds some softer breaks and quieter tones. It’s like the sudden removal of weight…Her singing now similarly more obviously empathetic, a bit of balm while Tom’s is still loud but now a bit triumphant…Now both of them really amping into some heroic sounding stuff, great to hear. Darkness leading into dawn…Pretty amazing. If this is how the festival all ends I couldn’t imagine a better way to do so. Into some big zoneout feedback…And On Land Festival 2010 is indeed over!”

On Land Festival 2010 — Saturday shows

Into the second half of the festival:

Le Revelateur, On Land

Le Révélateur — “Very serene start here especially with the projections, but with some faster spacerock bits…Some expected comparison points but done nicely — Harmonia, Gottsching, agog 70s electronics…Sound now starting to get very harshly pretty, rougher distorted edges coming out more. Good way to start the whole evening…Am also liking the shift to proto-Tron graphics as a bass loop begins. Very busy Tangerine Dream/Ash Ra arrangements now, but it also has something distinct to it. Hard to put my finger on…And over…but it turns out there’s another piece! A nice surprise, I’m used to set-long pieces at this stage. More treble now.”

Metal Rouge

Metal Rouge — “…soundchecking. It’s already ridiculously loud in the best way (those drums alone!)…Actual set starting off calmly, Andrew and Helga’s guitars in dank and beautiful interplay, Caitlin’s drums starting to rumble up…Helga’s vocals now starting as a new guitar line appears — this is one of the most entrancing times I’ve seen them yet. It’s slow burn but always focused rock epic buildup in their own vein, a nice equivalent to the previous performance…This is really turning spectacular now. A clear highlight of the whole festival. Arcing off into even more huge spacebound blasts. Every couple of minutes something new and bigger kicks in while the beat continues and ramps up. This is Neu! “Lila Engel” level…Only now shifting into the more freeform feedback/wail/drum clatter I’d expect from them but here it feels like exultant release.”

Grasslung, On Land

Grasslung — “…now kicking in — the drones are loud, deep and duly ominous, therefore perfect. Much less busy than the previous acts but builds well, understated melodic tones, shifts to bigger/louder keyboard roars…Starting to really get mind-meltingly huge, in a weird way it almost synthesizes the previous two sets, electronic epic progression…Huge crackling in the monitors now. Happily it is intentional, and controllable.”

Date Palms, On Land

Date Palms — “besides Mari and Gregg K there’s “trevor montgomery on bass and michael elrod on tanpura.” I’ve seen Marielle and Gregg separately now so seeing them together = should be really great…Tanpura setting an initial rhythm followed by the bass as Marielle and Gregg kick in. She’s on violin, he’s got nefarious devices…Performance is very deliberate and measured, setting a calm tone blending old and new discreetly. Gregg K’s work is the subtlest…After a pause into a new song sans Elrod. Gregg’s got a couple of stringed instruments hooked up to the gear and both are kicking in…The slow deliberation continues — I like it quite a bit, the performance clearly aims for a steady, unhurried control…Lovely blending of Gregg’s drones and Mari’s violin parts now. A free-floating haze, suddenly punctuated by bass…A quickening of pace, a slow pulling back to a new swirling Gregg K drone part, some of Mari’s violin returns.”


Xela, On Land

Xela/Zelienople — “…as I suggested, Xela takes the stage in his contemporary Iron Maiden shirt. Good man…Should also say that Zelienople has been soundchecking as well — hmm, epic jam session?…And as Jefre has announced, Mike from Zelienople will back Xela, who in turn will join Zelienople without a break between sets. Nice!…So John begins with various low tones while some fucked up Crusader horror movie clip runs. Of course! Movie apparently called The Blind Dead, Spanish film. Seems about right. Mike now adding cymbal parts to the echoed tones…

Xela and the Blind Dead, On Land

…Xela’s got a central whooshing/rising tone loop, heavily echoed, that he’s manipulating as he goes. The film gets trashier. Spanish muttonchop man with big polkadotted bathing towel + this performance = already a show for the ages…Xela now adding treble-pitched vocal parts, also heavily treated. Ghosts in caverns plus strange machinery. The film has meanwhile become a train set exploration of swarthy men and seventies backpackers with convent school visions…Mike now full out on drums, Xela’s mix an increasing electronic howl. Music builds to a climax and then zones out further, new windhowls entering. Film has actress wandering around evil ruins. Mike laying down a slow, steady beat, John again singing, female film character settling in for a night’s haunting…

Xela and Zelienople, On Land

…The rest of Zelienople now takes the stage as Xela cuts back to a crumbling flow of sound. Guitars start to ease in over it. All very gazey at the start for Zelionople, works for me! Not just that sonic quality to be sure — good use of space and mood setting, sudden changes in volume, drum parts setting pace…Film still going BTW — thank you black ashened ghosts on horses. Music now making me think of early Codeine a bit. The contrast of the moody music and singing and the film is even more o_0 now. Xela adding vocals…Movie just shifted from slow motion horseback chases by ghosts to smoothies at a coastal resort. The song then ends…And into a new one, more of a big epic sound, while green leisure suited men argue on screen. This really is a wonderful set…Spanish actors in green and orange argue in ruins near a bloody body while the musicians play on. Do they know?…Music = a big if still melancholy chug and blast. Movie = sleazy mustachioed men with seventies haircuts. Oh and more bodies…New song now. Zelienople being the most traditional rock band on the bill serves them as they still fit into the On Land aesthetic of drone. But for them it’s more implied in the slow burn of the performance and the crushing volume. (Film: mannequins, sleazos, blood.)…And a new twist in the film, we got zombies killing men playing with frogs! Music: feedback zone gone beautiful…Film now featuring cameo by the young Leon Trotsky. Xela adding in vocal textures, Zelienople creating beautiful rumble…And into a quieter arrangement while a zombie kills a redhead in a mannequin warehouse. This all makes sense in a dreamworld. No I take it back, it’s the zombie getting killed. These details are important. Song: a lovely, mournful piece…Skronky guitar heroics while the Spanish Michael Landon confronts the Spanish Sonny Bono. Let there be rock! Big blasting grind and stomp now, another Pink Floyd tribute in a way but now circa 1979. The movie is now indescribable…Xela confirmed after the set that the movie was his choice. He wanted something ‘macabre yet mundane.'”


The Alps, On Land

The Alps — “And with a Johnny Rotten quote from Jefre, into the Alps set to close out the evening…As suits the backing films of sunrises and slow dawns, a very gentle, nicely mysterious start, tanpura, guitars and more…Big shift via bass then drums into a blasting rumble, feedback on high, while background zoneout continues…Extended drones while something gets talked out among the band, then Jefre returns to acoustic guitar and things get blissed again. And the gong now gets played! But not in a loud way, more understated reverberation with the keyboard drones. Jefre back to electric…Okay, gong parts now much louder! But fitting the bigger, fraying edges of the performance now…Arrangement now focused on tanpura again, calming down again for the moment though the bass just kicked in again…Building to a big ending, a pause, cutting back to bass, then a nicely monstrous, majestic arrangement. Bardo Pond would approve.”

On Land Festival 2010 — Friday shows

And continuing along:

Golden Retriever, On Land

Golden Retriever — “And day two starts with a bank of dials and instruments and a film projection…it’s a marvelous performance so far, slow building waves…Given how this night seems to be the electronics/meditation evening for the most part, it’s a well chosen start. The occasional shadows and profiles being thrown against the screen are my favorite element along with the treated bass clarinet rumbles. Now shifted fully over to electronic tones now for some minutes before the bass clarinet arcs in. Pretty awesomely looming/ominous…And further shifting now to staccato bass synth pulses and rhythms, another useful twist that keeps the performance evolving. It’s definitely a hell of a combination with the electronics.”

Aster, On Land

Aster — “All nicely mysterious so far, bowed cymbals and blocks hit, what seems to be a harmonium and Ashley’s singing…Ashley switches to her sax, drums now being further bowed — this is slightly reminding me of a more spare Avarus…The extremely high tones they both create are a great contrast to Golden Retriever’s deeper sounds. Loud audience though…Eli starting to hit the drums more as Ashley’s tone turns to skronk, things getting deeper and more fractured…Eli playing the hand cymbals as they sit on the drum heads is a sight to behold. High speed quivering and chaos.”

Robert A. A. Lowe, On Land

Robert A. A. Lowe — “Another pause, color bars on the screen and Robert A A Lowe aka Lichens is setting up shop…Lowe’s set is coordinated with a projection. Circles expanding outward while, so far, a steady beat and overlaid drones emerge…The circles are now rotating off center and melting but the music continues to pulse steadily, almost relentless…The tension between the slowly wound up music and the cheerily off colored clouds is well done. Like an art piece for kids TV…The replacement of the pulse with a new stuttered high-pitched rhythm and deeper drones further shifts the mood…The color circle flow now ripping along quickly, melting even more as a huge main drone comes to the fore. Not deep, but mesmerizing.”

Operative, On Land

Operative — “This…might tear my head off…Starting off much more quietly than last year but do I ever love the drum pad/synth robot freakout. Scott Goodwin, mad scientist…And the bass just dropped. The effect of the projections on the drumsticks: A+…Drum pads now creating massive echoes over a quick pulse, video game whooshes dying away, jackhammer beats that are pure EBM/trance…Let it be said that seeing Adam Forkner going off upfront as a crazed raver is hilarious. He and Pete Swanson rock fake glowsticks…Sign of a sharp band — some part of the arrangement died out and they smiled and worked around it without a break.”

Pete Swanson, On Land

Pete Swanson — “And Pete has kicked in with a hell of a lot of noise right off the bat. Rapidly finding the weird beauty in it all though…It’s a classic enough approach (feedback at extreme levels becoming meditative) but Pete does it v well…The distortions of his singing don’t resemble MBV’s, say, but add a similar, softening effect, an anchor amid the swells.”

White Rainbow, On Land

White Rainbow — “A fuller start for this White Rainbow set than some I’ve seen, a couple of vocal swirls and then lots of tones. Here come the beats!…Seeing Adam stand and do a sort of slow dance to near funk grooves is another fun change. Always enjoy acts that don’t simply repeat…Now into a big, thrilling whomp of background textures and a synth solo! Maybe mid-eighties Peter Gabriel is back!…Instant cut to a fast electro loop and nothing else. Phase II I guess! Bass bursts and all…Now it’s sounding like a grungy (NOT grunge) Moroder production from 1977. Loving all this…KAOS pad abuse, massive echoes of grinding whirs, collapsing beats, sweeter tones arcing in, and now the killer touch — an animal sound program for his iPad, with goofy graphics. But of course!”

Oneohtrix Point Never, On Land

Oneohtrix Point Never — “Keyboards, some pedals, lots of wires, a mike, and we’ll see what happens…Well any set that starts with whalesong MBV guitar into keyboard tones is pretty much my catnip right goddamn there…The emphasis here is on slow melancholy and hush. The pauses between notes are key, even as new parts appear…The chunky, pixelated abstract video images add to the feeling of dying technology…Moving now into fast, echoed but still pounding beats. The melancholy now feels crushed under a jackboot, yet emerges at moments…Very open ended performance in ways, moods seem to shift on a dime or close to it, always still melancholic but sometimes lightly so…Starting to feel like a concluding point, a lovely clean synth melody emerging behind the huge return to MBV wash…But still continuing, an almost Field like echoed vocal sample drifting along, then sudden chop up Autotune chaos and — that’s it!”

On Land Festival 2010 — Thursday shows

And kicking off a series of retrospective posts looking back on the past weekend when I went to SF and droned out. As it were.

My overall post about last year’s festival describes the whole guiding principles behind the festival and the like — it was held in the same location this year, but with some differences. First, instead of concentrated in on a couple of days it was spread out over four days, all shows being in the evening. This was a big plus for me and I think for most of us, if only because it meant we could rest up and/or take it easy all day. Second, most of the shows this time around took place in the Cafe du Nord rather than the Swedish American Hall; while I was certainly grateful to be able to sit down on the final night in the Hall itself, the Cafe space is smaller and a little more comfortable on hot days and/or evenings.

But the key thing remained the same — this was a blast of a time, great performances throughout, in fact I can’t think of one set I didn’t enjoy to one degree or another. Definite sign of quality control at work! I’ll save all the thanks and best wishes for the final post in this sequence but I’ll kick things off pretty much the same as my usual approach — selected photos from my Flickr set and edited descriptions from my Twitter feed.

En, On Land

En — “And On Land officially starts! Maxwell and James with a really big sitar like thing and an electronic setup. This is pure sonic catnip for me, loud blissed out drones….I freely admit to loving music that takes me out of the everyday and this is doing the job very very well.”

Rene Hell, On Land

Rene Hell — “Catching up with my friend Nari and then Rene Hell kicks in…Rene is in front of the stage with his keyboard setup and playing all sorts of random goodness. Bloops blurts and more besides…playing his last song now, a big majestic evil/exultant whomp of a piece. Must really pick up his new cassette.”

Danny Paul Grody, On Land

Danny Paul Grody — “He uses the guitar as something to channel sounds not typically guitar…What’s especially nice about Danny’s set is its openess. It almost reminds me of Roy Montgomery’s monumental Terrastock II set. Lots of effect pedals use now — and Danny just plugged in his Nord Electro 2 keyboard. Bring on the looped swirls…Good as the first two sets were, this is the highlight so far. Danny Paul Grody now creating majestic swells of sound.”

Pulse Emitter, On Land

Pulse Emitter — “…pretty much living up to his name with a nefarious device. It’s a combination keyboard and effects pedal rig/box, self-contained but massive sounding, creating a serene loud flow…Very much shifting into Jean-Michel Jarre territory now. Or maybe Ash Ra Tempel circa 1976. A compliment…And now into deep swelling drone loops and keening serene blasts. All hail Pulse Emitter!”

Starving Weirdos, On Land

Starving Weirdos — “…taking the stage with beer in hand. A good approach…almost like a pocket orchestra version of Pelt, synths, percussion, pulses. Serene…Lots of gear onstage but it’s not limited to it — flutes, recorders, walkie talkies and feedback, all very flowing…Shifting to include clarinets, saxophones, vocals. Everything increasingly unsettled…Interesting seeing the shift from three years ago as hidden in the dark performers to confident, self-contained unit…And now to a variety of percussion instruments and treated vocal keening. Nothing wrong with that.”

(There should be a Barn Owl photo here but I couldn’t seem to find one on my camera! I thought I took one!)

Barn Owl — “…with a drummer, are about to rock. It’s not “it might get loud,” it WILL get loud…It’s all minimal lighting and open ended guitar lines and rumbling drums so far. A laying of groundwork…Okay now it’s getting nuts. Flying hair, drumming roars and guitar feedback fighting through chaos. Didn’t take long!…And from there into big e-bowed drones that are suddenly very beautiful. This band is rapidly becoming a national treasure…Last year I said they created black walls of sound. Here it’s the same black walls with a burning light ripping through…Quieted down and turned all very Pink Floydy all of a sudden. Wish You Were Here/Animals era that is.”

Thoughts on the On Land Festival in San Francisco

The Swedish American Hall stage

As anybody who follows my Twitter feed probably knows all too well, I was up in SF for a few days just now — something I always like to do every so often so I can visit my sis, but also because on that particular weekend the On Land Festival was being held. Started by the good folks behind the Root Strata label, it’s one of any number of festivals and get-togethers this decade inspired by the example of such gatherings as the Terrastocks over the years, in case revolving around the label roster thanks to the many enjoyable acts that have put out releases on it.

I have to say — as I told Jefre of Root Strata directly at some point, I think — that for many reasons this was one of the best such events I’ve yet attended. I think it was down to a combination of things — a good location to start with in the center of the city (literally all I had to do was walk a couple of blocks to catch a tram back to my sis’s after each day ended), wonderful venues in both the Cafe du Nord and especially the Swedish American Hall (most of the festival took place there and the sound throughout was top-notch), enthusiastic support from all involved, good crowd and in the end a really, really sharp collection of bands that played one excellent set after another.

As I put it in one tweet a few bands in, “key hallmark of the festival so far = variety. It is not simply a ‘drone’ festival, each act has a distinct sound.” And that IS key — you could easily sense the throughline on each act, why they released something on Root Strata and why they were at the festival, but while that sense of something overwhelming and awe-inspiring held sway each time, the resultant range is the true measure of success for both label and festival. I had intentionally held back from listening to any of the bands I wasn’t familiar with already prior to the festival, because I just wanted to experience it completely fresh — very glad I did so, it often meant not merely surprises but truly pleasant ones.

Root Strata’s blog has two sets of photos up from the festival here and here, check ’em both out, along with this clip of the mesmerizing performance by Sun Circle. I’m sure there are many other things out there too, I’ll have to look around a bit!

My own series of photos can be viewed here. For the remainder of this entry, I’m going to pull together the various thoughts via Twitter I had for each performance, plus a link to the band’s site and a representative photo — and please keep in mind a number of acts performed in little or no light at all! Very intentionally. Enjoy, and by all means check out all the artists’ work and support them as you can — as well as the Root Strata label in general via their catalog.

Thanks again to Jefre and Maxwell of Root Strata for pulling it all together — see you next year!

Jefre and Maxwell

Danny Paul Grody

Danny Paul Grody: “…starting the festival with gentle, slow guitar moodouts, then further shifting to keyboards, then acoustic guitar, a gently flowing collage. By adding wordless vocal keening to the layers of sound, the feeling is of a calmer White Rainbow set.”

John Davis

John Davis: “…with help from Maxwell of Root Strata. Davis opening on electric guitar, Maxwell on koto (I think). Elegant melancholic drone from the start. The koto textures the deep drone, which in addition to the landscape film projection is pure slow sunrise beauty….John Davis set just wrapped up on a note of perfect serenity.”

Jim Haynes

Jim Haynes: “…now on stage with a tableful of nefarious devices. A good start….The combination of mixers, pedals, Haynes bowing something and more suggests a lost spaceship, a damaged hulk….Haynes also using acoustic elements well — rhythms and scrapes in a bowl adding a literal crumbling.”

Darwinsbitch

Darwinsbitch: “…deep oscillating drones, electronic violin at a high pitch. Compelling! The combination of the violin’s odd modalities and the vast moaning drone is near Köner-levels of awe. The addition of a slow rising melodic motif put this set at the top of the heap. Stellar.”

Metal Rouge

Metal Rouge: “…focused facing their amps, creating arrhythmic scrabble and drone chaos….their more Sonic Youth/Dead C style playing here is a nice contrast to what has happened so far without disrupting it — again, showing what ‘drone’ can actually encompass. Also, swapping from drums to trombone = nice touch!….And they even ended on a drum solo because why not!”

William Fowler Collins

William Fowler Collins: “…now starting with a big ol’ blast of feedback — that was more a soundcheck — now playing to film accompaniment of water/bubbles. Suggestions of an Old West in the shadow of electricity, twang lost in echo and drift, dark roars….A screech of wires across a night desert, looming power terminals over blasted sand. Majestic.”

Starving Weirdos

Starving Weirdos: “Unlike at Bottling Smoke, this time there’s light onstage….Set up reminds me of early Pelt but sound is more of a mix of echoed howl, mixing murk, chimes, unease. Perhaps the most theatrical show, sonically if not visually.”

Scott Goodman/Operative

Operative/Scott Goodman: “Pure sine wave oscillation madness so far. The equivalent of liquid chalkboard scraping….Okay now that the full drumming is kicking in it makes more sense — New Wave Lightning Bolt, kinda. Suggestions of Suicide, DAF, Trans Am, Mouse on Mars — aggroelectro. Yet still droney!”

Joe Grimm

Joe Grimm: “…now starting, with his film/audio setup on the floor, projecting to the stage….The most minimal of the shows so far — Grimm avoids expected stage presence and projects blank white, letting the flicker of the two beams match the buzzing hissing insect drones he creates, a thousand angry bugs. The constant changes in screen flicker suggest ghost images, all while the drones get angrier and louder.”

Pete Swanson

Pete Swanson: “Saw Yellow Swans once, will be interesting to see the difference….has guitar and mike ready but so far it’s rumbling craggy drone….I’d say this was the most shoegaze set yet, but of the cryptic aggro version — FSA at its most unhinged. Shifting to classic guitar/buried sing scream style now, fighting through waves and waves of sound.” (I randomly mentioned this comparison to Pete later and he suggested more of a Gate sound, which makes PERFECT sense.)

Ducktails

Ducktails: “…a guy, a guitar and a lot of gear, plus bright lights. And twinkly keyboards….it’s all rather sparkly somehow….Okay and the sample swirl explains the Hawaiian references — like a lazier Avalanches, not without charm. This might be the first performer ever who takes percussive inspiration from Tones on Tail’s “Slender Fungus.”

The Alps

The Alps: “…after a slightly rushed soundcheck, the Alps are good to go. The first ‘traditional’ rock band lineup of the day, but aiming for mantras in a Spiritualized sense in part….Also exploring open zone freakouts, Stooges/Can steady builders, an effective tour of styles.”

Keith Fullerton Whitman

Keith Fullerton Whitman: “Keith Fullerton Whitman has plugged in his box of mystery wires and we’re off and running. And I’m definitely not kidding about the box….Whitman uses/abuses electronics to make them both uglier and prettier, a simultaneous reworking. The pulses, abbreviated melodies, loops and underscoring crushing collapse just screams tension. One senses Whitman is willfully unsure what the machines will do, testing to see what happens.”

[Tarentel was next and closed out the first night, and by all accounts slew. But I was wiped! Had to cut out early and recuperate — I’ve been lucky enough to see them before so I knew they would rule and I regret having to duck out. Next time!]

Brendan Murray

Brendan Murray: “As the photo sorta shows, this is another set where films are key, with Murray behind his computer. Murray’s work is a kind of classic drone, overlapping tones and rhythms as deep, strange contemplation. The choice of film projections — insects, water, plants — is actually more soothing than the music!”

Common Eider, King Eider

Common Eider, King Eider: “…a duo, with one on two guitars and violin and another just guitar. Very contemplative, calm Charalambides style to start, but tension builds….Should also say there’s a third member, a pianist off to the side hidden by amps a bit. The combination is ultimately familiar but still striking, forlorn voices and notes in suspension.”

Sun Circle

Sun Circle: “Sun Circle begin with low light and hand percussion, plus mixers….It’s a lovely way to suggest ‘wrong’ elements (drum circles, new age spirituality) via a different context. Meanwhile, slow building feedback murmur textures and starts to override the performance as viewed/interpreted.”

Barn Owl

Barn Owl: “Flying Vs and guitars with bows. It’ll be bemusing, whatever is about to happen….Yet the result is calm and contemplative, both guitars bowed while films again play. As ever, by forcing the eye away from the band, the result is strange disconnect, an actual film soundtrack even when, as now, the duo now play guitar directly, a dreamy slow spiral down akin to Isis or Jesu, or even Sunn0))) at a stretch, but cleaner and less obviously metal or shoegaze, if you like….Even now, moving fully toward full drone howl, it’s a feeling of black walls of sound, performance hidden away.”

Ilyas Ahmed

Ilyas Ahmed: “Ilyas fronting a trio lineup. With Honey Owens of Valet on guitar and Jed from Heavy Winged on drums, it’s a nice switch from Ilyas’s solo approach….There were rumors of Doors-like rock sleaze for this set — no leather pants yet….The feeling so far is of Ilyas at his most serenely unsettled — spikes and starts behind an air of calm. His keening vocals here feel more lost in the music as a result, a sinking anchor into bubbling water….The shift to full improvisation makes sense, given his affinity for and knowledge of many musical approaches.”

Christina Carter

Christina Carter: “Her ever-powerful, wordless wails are as stunning as when I first heard them ten years back, plus having seen Joan La Barbara in her company the other day, her approach has a greater context for me, less rhythmic but more free and swooping, yet equally yearning to reach beyond linguistic traps which, matched by her shards of reverb country guitar, relentlessly suggest fracture and refraction.”

Grouper

Grouper: “Grouper now starts, her own vocal keening and guitar approach complemented by a slew of pedals and films….By playing her initial parts as samples, she moves the focus from direct performance to direct manipulation, her individual parts of playing become redone elements in flowing evolution….By contrasting Christina Carter’s immediate performance with Grouper’s, the festival rightly concludes with an extension of the themes of like/unlike — common elements but individual approaches, set for set….The return to vocal/guitar now complements the samples in turn, working them back into a slow, depthless riff, another demonstration of Grouper’s ability to know the difference between homage and invention in that this does not reconstruct shoegaze, sampling, loops etc but aims for a shifting new synthesis….The silent presence of the audience has never felt so strong before now. It seems fitting to end the festival thus. It is also is fitting to end with a rich sound, feedback and delay plunging down and down, perfectly suiting the dark black water of the film, light sparkling on the edges, framing the full depths. A triumph of art.”