||[Apr. 24th, 2009|12:25 am]
Last weekend double00range and attended the second annual Communikey Electronic Arts Festival in Boulder, CO. We've been to both of them so far, and this one was probably more of a blast than last year's, although both were great.
I used to live in Boulder back in the early nineties during my first stint in college, and I still have a few contacts from back then. One of them is my friend Nathan, someone who used to experiment with music with me. He's continued to be active in the Colorado electronic music scene and is deeply involved with putting on the festival. When he visited Seattle in 2007, he told me about this event and later invited me to assist him with the technical team. So, for both last year and this year I was involved behind the scenes with engineering, production, ans setup for several events. While I do enjoy attending shows as a spectator, I have to say that I really enjoy being an active participant in making things happen – it really satisfies a need.
I arrived Wednesday evening and went to work virtually right off the airport bus. I met Nate and his girlfriend/collaborator Jahnavi on campus to set up for the Friday evening showcase. The venue is a newer building on the CU campus called ATLAS, which is a facility oriented on multimedia demonstrations and performances. It was really quite impressive how much thought went into the design of the soundstage that we used – the Black Box Studio – from soundproofing, to layout, to lighting.
Compared to the setup we endured last year at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art for a similar showcase ,this place was a piece of cake. Not only were the facilities better, but we also had a simpler set of requirements. Like last year,each act had different needs – dual stereo, 6.1 surround, and stereo respectively – but we had enough of everything we needed such that setup was a breeze. Additionally, we had the assistance of some CU students (TA's maybe) who were there to earn credit in exchange for participation. This made me feel perfunctory at times, but I just filled a role as general facilitator and enjoyed being a part of the experience, even if I wasn't 100% crucial.
On Thursday after setup, I caught the last act of the opening showcase, Multicast. Multicast is currently two guys: Dave and Jeff. I knew Dave before I knew Nate, and just barely missed meeting Jeff before leaving Colorado in 1995. They played the final showcase last year, but I think this year's performance was far better. Ironically, they refrained from over-rehearsing this time, and I think it helped a lot; they were much more in their element, calm and composed, than last year.
The Multicast sound is a downtempo / IDM mix, heavy on the analog gear and awash with guitar loops and ambient riffs. Their live set is full of slow builds and almost trancelike states, and this time they added a very South Asian (Indian) feel to the mix. I'm not sure if they did this specifically because the showcase as held in and Indian Restaurant, but it certainly left the owner of the place enthralled with the set and the festival as a whole.
Friday the weather turned to shyte... heavy, slushy snow and rain which collected on the ground as piles of icy slush which made it difficult to walk or drive. After running around town on errands, both for the festival and myself, I made it back to ATLAS in time to catch the documentary screening for Speaking in Code. The film was supposed to be about the current techno producer/DJ culture, but ended up being a highly personal account of the filmmaker's self-destructing relationship. Granted, the relationship fell apart precisely because of the techno obsession she was trying to document, but I felt like it was a bit disjoint in its thesis as it was presented. It was entertaining nonetheless, especially since I've seen a number of the people in the film in person in different contexts.
Immediately after the screening, I went back downstairs to the Black Box to finish setup for the evening's showcase. The first performance was an audio-visual presentation, of sorts, by a couple of academics from Santa Fe, NM called NoiseFold. Really, their music was a side effect of the video graphics generation that they produced live using a couple of souped-up Macs with custom software and a host of controllers – including parabolic mics, infrared theremin-like devices, foot pedals, touchpads, etc. Although the audio or video on its own would not stand out, together they were quite entrancing. At times, the video was reminiscient of the video for Autechre's Ganz Graf.
Next up was Nate and Jahnavi as Normal Ones. This was their third live performance together, performed in 6.1 surround. Up to this point I had only heard their three song demo that they gave me back in 2007. They had all new (to me) material this time, starting with a swing jazz number, then progressing through ambient and IDM tones to a couple of minimal techno/dub tracks. All along the way Jah sang, at times out front, at other times awash in effects. They also had accompanying video that wasn't live, but was obviously meant to accompany the specific tracks that they played. The whole performance was well conceived and very well executed.
Last up was Gudrun Gut, an accomplished German producer who's been at it since she was briefly an early member of Einsturzende Neubauten. She played a laptop set, but with two microphones – one to sing relatively normally, and the other as both effected vocal and controller. I was impressed with the range of styles she displayed; even her standard sounding techno riffs were adulterated with samples borrowed from other genres. I heard rock, jazz, Polish folk, and a few other varieties of samples in addition to the rougher experimental flavors she provided. She also provided her own video accompaniment, which had a unique design aesthetic, showing transitions from macros and close-in shots to partial wholes, which lent an air of dimensionality to both the visuals and the performance as a whole.
Concurrently, double00range persevered through the crappy weather to arrive, only an hour late, both hungry and ready to go. We met up with her after teardown at ATLAS, then she and I went to get some late night crepes from a place on Broadway. We then headed to the B-Side Lounge to catch the last act of the night, Nordic Soul. Sean is quite the DJ, and he was especially on tonight. I spent most of the set, however, seeking out friends on the dancefloor, including the group of three Brits that were staying with us at Nate and Jah's house. The party was definitely on, and followed us after closing to our host's house. I saw the sun "rise" (it was cloudy) the next morning, after having connected with the Brits, reconnected with Nate and Jah, and met some new people.
Saturday was low key, as we deliberately took the day off to rest up after all the work during the previous days. That night we caught the main showcase of the weekend at the Fox Theater. We came in at the very beginning of the second set by Mr. Projectile. Mr. Projectile typically delivers rather technical but melodic IDM, or at least has in every release I've heard of his and the one time I heard him live at Burning Man. Tonight, however, he delivered a heavily beat-laden techno set that was unexpected but wasn't bad at all.
Next up came Kilowatts, another act I've seen before. This night's set was well executed, transitioning smoothly over the set from his style of melodic, downtempo / IDM to a faster, dancier ending. He had the place going the whole time.
Ending the night was Thomas Fehlmann, who I've seen on two other occasions. His delivery was impeccable as usual, but he ran headlong into Colorado's liquor laws when the venue cut his set short. He was just getting going and we could tell was a bit perturbed, but I saw him later in the weekend and he seemed happy, so I guess no real harm done.
No long night on Saturday.
Sunday was a busy day. After a more difficult than necessary brunch/lunch quest, we headed out to the park to catch some of the CMKY festivities there. Fortunately, the crappy weather had since subsided and turned gorgeous – welcome to Colorado. The music for the day ranged from kids making music with modified Nintendos, to electronic-infused rock, to soul/funk singer-songwriter stylings, to house. I succeeded in getting sunburned and spending a long time catching up with Dave from Multicast.
Immediately after the park party ended, I bolted over to the night's venue to begin setup. We had less than two hours to completely set up the stage and sound system for the night. Unlike at ATLAS, we had no students to fill in, but fortunately, the sound system had its own crew, so I could focus on the stage production with Nate. We made it with time to spare.
There were four acts, and I got to play both spectator and stage hand during the night. First up was Alala.one, whose set at Decibel 2008 was one of my favorite. She typically delivers the deep minimal techno that I like, and did so tonight, but definitely mixed it up more that I've heard before.
Next up, in succession, were the Brits we'd been cohabitating with; all members of the Modern Love label. These guys were some of the nicest, most easy going people I've ever met. Jovial, light hearted, interested, and overall good people with a serious penchant for music production. Two of them are impending dads, which just helped double00range and I bond with them even more.
First up was Andy Stott, a quiet bloke who has a rough and ready sound that covers the bases from 4/4 minimal to dubstep. I'm quite fond of his musical attitude. He was very intent during his set, but then ready to let loose and party after it was over. Watch out for the quiet ones.
Next up came Claro Intellecto. I've been wanting to hear Mark ever since I caught wind of him back in 2003. He typically does a blend of house, techno, and breaks/electro that I find to be my uptempo zone these days. His set didn't go the electro breaks route like I'd hoped, but he did deliver a groovy techno set, made all the more impressive by the fact that he and Andy used virtually identical equipment (different laptops, but the rest the same); a testament to the versatility of the current state of the art.
The transition between Andy and Mark was perhaps the highlight, from my view, of the night. Towards the end of Andy's set, one of the Mackie monitors overheated. This right on top of Alala demanding that I get someone to EQ the sound, which had become progressively sharper over his set. As the PA crew dismounted the monitor and began fanning it to cool it down, I hit the epiphany that we didn't need the monitors to deliver any low end – the six subs on the floor did plenty of that – so I hit the low cuts on the monitors which probably saved a lot of future grief. Immediately after that I set to adjusting the EQs on the stage board. Then, Mark stepped up for his set, but his controller had crashed since setup, so Miles, the next act, stepped up and put a record on and prepared to DJ while Mark sorted his equipment out. Miles panicked, however, when he realized he couldn't find his headphones, so I dispatched someone to grab Alala and get hers. They arrived just as Miles' turned up. Then Mark's controller came online and he started his set.
Mind you, this happened over the course of about 4 minutes.
I stepped back while Mark started and waited for something to go wrong – which it didn't – then went out to enjoy the set. At points I stepped up to take pictures of him, which he responded with a British middle finger or some other “feck off” look – all in fun, of course. For instance:
Last up was MLZ. Miles did a vinyl only DJ set that traversed the full range of techno going back to the early nineties. His style is all styles and he does it so well that it is simply amazing – even Andy didn't have the words to express his range. He had the crowd literally jumping for the rest of the night, and kept jumping the whole time himself, which made it impossible to get a good, clear picture of him. Dave and I mused on how his set brought back memories of when Dave Dj-ed in that very same venue during those heady, halcyon days in the early nineties. My observation was that Miles' set was the first time those walls had heard that kind of music in 15 years. Everyone was pleased.
After a rapid and smooth teardown, we headed over to the staff-only after party for a bit, regained our breath, then stumbled home during a clear, beautiful night for much needed rest.
The rest of the pics
The techno festival circuit is becoming comfortable for me. It has a lot of the hallmarks of Burning Man in the community sense, while maintaining a focus on music and technology. There is a good balance between party and community. I see a lot of the same faces at completely different festivals and it feels like a sort of family reunion at times. For this particular festival, I feel a sense of satisfaction at having closed the loop between my involvement in the emergent Colorado scene in the early 90's and my participation in making this event happen. The CMKY crew has managed to pull off a diverse and extensive event that is still in its infancy, but already quite strong. Recommended.