November AMG reviews

An Election Day special. Sorta:

Now a retrospective festival rundown — Bottled Smoke 2007 in Los Angeles

Bottled Smoke logo

Which might seem a little strange, given three years have passed and all. But to explain:

A little over three years ago is when I first started the blog, but a little before that is when the original Bottled Smoke festival occurred at the Echo Curio (plus a side visit over to Mr. T’s in the Valley). It was also before I was on Twitter, before I could have even purchased an iPhone and might have even been before I was on Facebook, not entirely sure now. Everything really does blur up and blur together. In any event, for all these reasons I didn’t and couldn’t talk about that get-together the same way I’ve talked about the On Lands, the last Terrastock and so forth — this recognition of how things really have radically changed for me and a lot of others may be a little long in coming but there you go.

I was, however, happily on Flickr at the time and had been for two years, so I took a lot of photos of the event. I also wrote a review of it after the fact for Plan B online but I guess it’s not around anymore, though maybe I’m just looking in the wrong spots. It wasn’t until a couple of months ago, though, in the midst of one of my periodic scrounges through (and clearing out) of old papers that I realized I had scribbled down a series of notes on a number of the performances.

These were essentially Twitter posts avant la lettre, really, or I could have seen myself posting them as such. Quick impressions, often hopelessly insular. I don’t really recall using any of these for the article but I could be wrong — I think I had some vague idea I was going to write something up for an ILM posting or similar.

Since I have a bit of time this week I figured I’d go ahead and create what would have been the kind of retrospective photo/’Twitter’ overview of the festival had all the factors I mentioned above been applicable back in May 2007. A random exercise, perhaps, but that way it’s all preserved a little more clearly. I think after having seen both the second Bottled Smoke earlier this year as well as On Land just the other week, both of which featured a number of acts who I saw for the first time at the original Bottled Smoke, it’s nice to look back a bit.

I’ll also preface this by saying that I cannot find notes for all the acts (apologies to Xela in particular!) and that there were a few performers I didn’t see at the time — friend JBR was having a small housewarming party down the road a bit so I cut out briefly for that — but it’s still pretty complete for what it is. Hope everyone enjoys!

Antique Brothers, Bottled Smoke

Antique Brothers — “…steady, slow but good interplay. Instrument swap, drone/acoustic plucking…touch of fluid spaceyness. Slow but great buildup, nicely blissed…excellent way to start. Settles into two acoustic guitar gentle ramble. Focused, with soft drone background…very accomplished, with roughness given space. Nice blend….Flute/recorder adds to it. “Black Bart’s Cave…just buy it from Grant.” Twin acoustic encore — short set, fired up crowd. Relaxed, communal. Ends with goof and laugh.”

Ilyas Ahmed, Bottled Smoke

Ilyas Ahmed — “…starts very gently, contemplative melody. Lovely. Effortless filigrees…Just sound, into an extended flow. Shifts regularly but (something unreadable) a new beauty. Like, in fact, a great dance or hip hop mix. New elements each time…His singing initially a lost ghost amid the whoosh of Sunset Blvd. traffic…A capella back into a stately descending melody. Perfect mix/control w/r/t vocal/guitar blend. Second piece more ‘conventional’ but still striking…very delicate. Third (song) for bro/mom. How nervous his fingers are!…Sudden big keen — amazing.”

The Sea Zombies, Bottled Smoke'

The Sea Zombies — “Brad (Rose), Xela, Jefre, G. Kowalsky…DARKTHRONE! Intro: ‘Shut the fuck up!’ Jefre on drums: ‘We’re gonna be shit!’ Loud, collage, random into drone…ad hoc! But not bad for all that. Increasingly goofed/chaotic…Too many cooks? No, there’s intent, but overlapping. Pedals raised, constant motion…Xela wails, the rest drone/blast/tweak. A mean is reached.”

Pocahaunted, Bottled Smoke

Pocahaunted — no notes. There’s space for notes on the paper but hey.

Metal Rouge, Bottled Smoke

Metal Rouge — “…dulcimer/guitar, both loaded with effects…Hot, sunny, nice difference…uptempo/loudness/noise…slow/sure burn. Screech/drone…quicker on the dulcimer, metal sheet howls…phases in/out, rhythm of zonk…e-bow dulcimer, bowed guitar…sudden static drop (unreadable)…switch to koto (?), tones cutting starkly through murk…huge high-pitched zone/drone…ear-piercing.”

Changeling, Bottled Smoke

Changeling — “…solo drone/pedal…people love facing away!…Miles Davis approaches here…more a show of change in the details, but they are great details.”

Mike Tamburo/Matt McDowell, Bottled Smoke

Mike Tamburo with Matt McDowell — “…guitar and dulcimer? more delicate and rolling, Matt w/shading, then into combined (unreadable)…acoustic pluck turned into doom threat, twin guitar fun…twang overlay, then guitar/drums, then clarinet drone…huge wash, hammered guitar/tuning forks…singing/acoustic guitar/drums…slow build rise! very inspirational.”

Xela, Bottled Smoke

Xela — another one I have no notes for! Sorry about that, John!

Robedoor, Bottled Smoke

Robedoor — “…tent, crouched…one ups the ‘turn from audience’ gambit, good thick drone…everyone facing like an altar…nice self-mythmaking…tent shakes, drums are primal thump…really makes it an ominous invocation.”

Thousands, Bottled Smoke

Thousands — “…echoed slow build, vocal moan, a bit more jammy/twangy, but that makes for actual riffage, plus drum rolls…propulsive, in a way few of the acts have yet been…lots of murk, angst, groove…nice theatricality up front…some instrument switching for variety into soft freefloat loveliness, nice shift!…more chaotic calm exploration from there…short drone/howl to conclude.”

Ghosting, Bottled Smoke

Ghosting — “…solitary dark guitar and doom feedback drone/tone rhythm…grace fighting against the pit, rising above confusion…finger bells adding a light glaze…chatter sample, abrupt end!”

Starving Weirdos, Bottled Smoke

Starving Weirdos — “…theatrical! aims at immersive experience…candles, Lincoln, jungle/forest sounds, cries and howls…Atman/Vangelis dropkicked strange spinning rubberband thing…flowing composition (Spacious Mind?)…ZONK.”

Tarentel, Bottled Smoke

Tarentel — “…squeeze box, nefarious devices and more…slow calm start, soundbox drone…unfolding rapture of sound…and then just as glaring near silences…bowed cymbals = key.”

Heavy Winged, Bottled Smoke

Heavy Winged — again, no notes here but a great performance.

The Holy See, Bottled Smoke

The Holy See — “…two guitar drone f/Tarentel folks…pedals ‘n’ fun…overload but still good for a Sunday afternoon…echo rise…standard but handy. Additional vocal treatment from J…it’s a higher/heavier pitch…mic feedback adding chaos screech.”

White Rainbow, Bottled Smoke

White Rainbow — “…very serene start, guitar/pedals, shimmer up…adjusts, adds vocals…calm…v. calm…water bottle percussion start…Steve Roachish!…gong next and now the jam…back to guitar, beads, vocal chants, beats…all keeps adding and adding…guitar chime overlay then hit the sunrise moment.”

Valet, Bottled Smoke

Valet — “…vocal selection/drone, but more layered/echo…Fursaxaish, but not exactly…Arcanta, kinda…then down into guitar sustain/note…echoing flow…then almost nothing…it’s a neat change from the thick overflow…traffic and gentle strum/zone…you can hear the click of the pedals! soloing over calm loop…back to vocal…more unsettled/tense then flows into beginning-style…and dive!”

Gregg Kowalsky, Bottled Smoke

Gregg Kowalsky — “…’tape chants’…tape decks around the room, Lucier/electroacoustic…tape overlay buzz resonating off walls/floor…Gregg sync? no. result…rise/fall that interacts/scrapes…tactile, scraggly, like something is walking/clawing…tape players range in size/volume, pacing is irregular. audience (baby! dog!) (unreadable)…a touch of Main? adjustments to pitc/volume emphasizing a scarier scraggle collapsing/shredding sound…then slowly something more peaceful/soothing…”

Theo Angell, Bottled Smoke

Theo Angell — “…soundcheck? is its own performance, strum/clang/sing…mike on case?…into joint chord/jam flow…nice shifts in/out, sometimes Theo solo…Ilyas Ahmed waits at points (unintentional?)…very clean, no Ilyas pedals, a couple for Theo…like a barbed-wire hoedown at one point! if only briefly…grinding noise jam right after gentler plucking, sudden (unreadable) charge, both singing…Cat on suitcase!…second song more focused but just…conch shell! conch jam with Tim, very strange/wonderful…drumming in the sideroom…”

VxPxC, Bottled Smoke

VxPxC — “…melodica/pedal noise spike start…other elements float in…then the roaring starts. singing bits, collage, no loops much, but definite layering…more bass zonk, organized chaos with Grant adding guitar…shoegaze/epic scope, assembles very nicely…haunting feel, perhaps surprisingly goth/shoegaze!…there’s an epic collapse at work, remember Tim DJ’d This Mortal Coil!…almost a Spiritualized progression up! into calm keyboard/guitar Mogwaish section, contemplative! very epic, very nicely unexpected…accordion into more clattering jam…organ/drum machine echo/overload, ouch! into a stately screech…bowls, pipes, all in mix…screams and wails…”

Ajilvsga, Bottled Smoke

Ajilvsga — “…with Xela…drone shatter with vocal wails to start with…rapidly punishing in a trebly way…massively overdriver/distorted, earplugs necessary for sanity…no flow as such, it’s all scraping experience!”

Nick Castro, Bottled Smoke

Nick Castro — “…four piece, perfect comedown…guitar/bass/(unreadable)…casual and friendly with each other, delicate funny…nice bunch.”

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: “…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: “…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 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.”