Category: Whartscape 2010

Whartscape 2010 Part IV: Welcome to Humanity

Charles and I arrived almost right at the start of the festival on Sunday, the final day of the final Whartscape. Charles understandably was rather reluctant to get there so early. I thought we’d already missed too many of the acts, and wanted to just miss slightly less to get some more bang for the buck. But the chances of actually seeing an irresistibly infectious band wasn’t altogether high.

Sure enough, probability held true. No bands that early afternoon played aural opiate. In fact, the only band that I remember, the only band to even make any sort of impression was Little Howlin’ Wolf. The impression wasn’t made by ways of enjoyable music, but by how fucking ridiculous the set was.

Some background to Little Howlin’ Wolf would probably be ideal. It’s less a “band,” and more the personal project of James Pobiega, out of Chicago, Illinois. James is a gigantic Polish bear. Allegedly, the dude was heading for a career in athletics. Football. I don’t doubt that. Mofo was fucking huge. His nose was probably the size of my face. His face was probably the size of my chest. Anyhow, athletics didn’t pan out (it usually doesn’t), and James headed for another hard-to-guarantee-job career as a musician. Which seemed to ultimately pan out for him…in a way. After a number of decades, he’s built a rather sprawling legacy for himself. Pobiega became a minor street musician legend in Chicago, self-released almost 40 7″ singles, and even received some spotlight in People magazine at one long forgotten point.

So yeah, you think diamond-in-the-rough kinda musician who plays some rusty, grizzled blues. Nope, dude was pounding his acoustic guitar in between playing two saxophones at the same time with his nostrils. Batshit crazy. The music really had no semblance of structured rhythm or melody. Which is rather typical of noise and free jazz. And this was all of those. But it also somewhat resembled “free blues,” if such a genre even exists. Weird music that I will probably never listen to again in my life, no matter how many bridges I end up building. However, the set was still hideously entertaining. For crying out loud, I wish I had some pictures.

I’ve neglected to mention the rest of the band. Pobiega was supported by two women spontaneously wailing in the background, a skinny cowboy fiddling with synthesizers and a weird stick-violin instrument (just a bow and a stick with strings on it that made this piercing scratchy noise), and Jason Willett on bass. Quite a fucking sight, all of them, led by bear of a scary-looking, shirtless man James Pobiega going berserk with all his instruments.

******

As crazy as Little Howlin’ Wolf was, the next event would eclipse all the music at this festival.

This event would be curated by Mother Nature. Mother Nature, you attention whore.

A crush of wind spanked the Current Space. The tarps on Stages A and Stages B shielding the equipment underneath were torn off. Rain was definitely going to follow. The equipment, worth so many thousands, had to be protected.

Festival staff rushed to prevent the tarps from flying away to Canada. A psychic on Stage B tried to tell everyone to calm down. A tech quickly took away her mic.

People scrambling, shouting. Seemed like a scene out of a disaster movie.

I took some pictures. The carnage was awe-inspiring. Then I felt bad about taking pictures. I was becoming the very people that I despised — those who want to find pictures perfect for Facebook albums that people will ‘like’ instead of helping with a problem.

I asked Charles, “Should we help?”

Charles logically pointed out our limitations. It’s bad to not help. But it’s also bad to blindly throw yourself into a situation and hinder the solution of a problem with your ignorance. It was going to rain. Who knew how long we were going to stay for.

“But yeah, I think we should,” Charles concluded at the end.

******

The curtain of rain came crashing down.

We threw ourselves into action. Charles and I ran up to a festival staff-member to see what we could do. Charles went to gather all the garbage bags into one spot. I started moving chairs and tables into the storage room. Those tasks were finished fairly quickly.

Charles and I briefly debated leaving. But, there was still much work to be done — the equipment still had to be saved. We decided to stay. I wont lie, part my of motivation for staying was selfish. The intertwined worlds of indie musicians and hipsters are very much mysteries to me. I wanted to see a bit more of and get a bit closer to these people. And also get first word on what would happen to the rest of the acts for the festival.

Charles and I sprinted to Stage B to see how we could help. We held up the duct-taped tarp so people could move around underneath slightly more freely without the tarp getting in the way.

Later on, I started helping out with moving the equipment. Charles, on the other hand, kept his arms up for almost the entire time, dutifully pushing up the blue tarp. In the process, he was able to chat with a woman who was part of the band slated to play next on the stage. We later found out that the woman was part of Prince Rama, a band that’s steadily gaining some attention. Cool beans.

It felt damn good to work arm-in-arm with these people who passionately wanted to salvage this thing that they deeply cared about. And in turn, this passion rubbed off onto me as I pushed myself to see the thing through. Band members and spectators alike were cooperating, working in efficient worker-bee step to resolve the mission at hand. Strangers came together to accept a share of the responsibility and trust that the other would fulfill their role. Teamwork embodied.

This all sounds fairly pedestrian, I know. but seeing such utmost cooperation, especially between strangers, is precious. Seeing all these spectators rush in and help — it’s good to know that the bystander effect isn’t always the default. Fuck the bystander effect.

Eventually, after a two-hour eternity of pitter-patter, it all came to past. The equipment had been hauled away in a truck without any water damage. The show was arranged to go on at other venues. The storm had subsided.

Staff members and volunteers emerged from underneath the tarps. Other spectators that had fled the rain began drifting back, perhaps answering to the call of James Pobiega’s celebratory saxophone soloing. Civilization had begun to rebuild. The Earth would be slowly repopulated.

Amidst the rubble, a band called The Creepers played a makeshift on a minimal setup. Without the backing power of formidable speakers, it was arguably the quietest set of the weekend. But also the most genial, acknowledging that love, whateverthehellthatwordevenmeansinitsprofundity, still exists.

The show would go on to continue at a club called Sonar later that night. Unfortunately, Whartscape disappointingly only felt like a club show after that.

For me and Charles, the festival closed out on a note anticlimactic to the nth degree. Baltimore indie superstar band Beach House, the gem of the festival, were plagued by horrific acoustics in an all-too-brief set that was cut short by the Baltimore City Fire Department because Sonar was over-capacity.

We could’ve gone to H&H to see the few bands that remained. But, having weathered the chaotic afternoon, we were spent. We hailed a taxi to head back.

For us, Whartscape Z010 had long already come to a worthy close.

Whartscape 2010 Part III: The Day of the Drummer Frontpeople

Finally found a copy of the Whart Z010 program floating somewhere online.

Phew, was worried that I’d never be able to come across an accurate listing of the festival artists again.

******

Well, on Saturday, Charles and I decided to swing by Whartscape slightly later. Our legs were unable to hold up to our original ambitious plan of seeing every artist from noon till past midnight.

We got to the outdoor Current Space at around 3, just in time to see Altered States come on. Altered States announced that they were out of good old Chicago. That immediately put me on their good side. The duo consisted of a drumming frontwoman and a guy on backing synths. Very cool setup. Also, very cool sound. Their music consisted of trance-inducing, tribal-sounding stuff that I don’t feel like classifying into any genre right now. The presence of a drumming frontperson amazed me. I’d never seen one before. Impressively, I’d see a couple more of those before the end of the day.

Following Altered States was Dope Body. Accurate band name — these cats were quintessentially dope. Their sound could be described as frenetic noise punk with some vicious, disgustingly bone-crunching distortion. Moreover, man, what transitions. While I wouldn’t call myself a big fan of punk, I have to say, I’m an absolute sucker for the punk-ish transitions that are stylistically affiliated with the genre. And these guys had brutal, visceral transitions in spades.

I liked Child Bite and Thank You, but I don’t remember exactly how they sounded. I simply remember that my ears were pleased.

Anyhow, with Ed Schrader, the streak of enjoyably distinct artists was broken by something “appreciatively” distinct. Charles and I decided it was a good time to take a break, and we went to get some delicious roasted duck from a nearby Chinese place.

We came back just in time for Ponytail. Awesome. Dustin Wong was awesome with his shrieking and outrageously enthusiastic guitar playing. Actually, “enthusiasm” is a good word to describe the whole band. Wikipedia describes their work as falling under the genres of art rock, surf rock, and noise pop. Those terms still mean nothing to me. All I know is that this band exuded fun from every fingertip, facial twitch, and sweat drop. Frontgirl Molly Siegel was batshit insane, face seemingly melting every few seconds throughout the set. Charles aptly stated what we all thought — the chick has an insanely flexible face. All said, Ponytail probably was the second or third favorite act I saw that weekend.

And after Ponytail, came my favorite act of the weekend — the Dan Deacon Ensemble. Not just Dan DJ’ing, which is what he usually does on his tour. This was a bombastic, cannons-ablaze setup, manned by over half-a-dozen people. This performance was just like the Ensemble’s at Lollapalooza last year — pure ecstasy. This is why I don’t have any urge to test out recreational drugs, for now; concerts are enough for me. Intense moshpit. I had to frequently come out for breathers. But people rubbing together, breathing heavily, sweating, grinning, convulsing in mellow moshpits — yeah, this thing kind of resembled mental, spiritual communal sex. I have little else to say and will now point you to these pictures, which regrettably, only capture a slightly bit of the jubilee that was present:

No Age was next on the schedule. Having seen their Pitchfork reputation and liked the little that I heard from their latest album, I had some moderately high expectations for their performance. Those expectations were ultimately left unfulfilled. The guys were competent, but simply sounded a bit too…normal, in comparison to everything else I’ve heard throughout the day, to appeal to me at the moment. That said, I was impressed by the appearance of another drummer frontman.

More power too all the drummer frontpersons of this world. How are they coordinated enough to sing and bash at the same time? How the fuck do they breath in enough oxygen to sing and bash at the same time? This sounds like grounds for an NIH study right here.

Arab on Radar followed No Age. Arab’s appearance was highly anticipated by festival-goers — the band was playing together for the first time since 2002. The reunion of the bandmembers was a big deal, because these guys were apparently East Coast noise legends. Amazingly enough, I was able to sit through their performance. The antics of the lead vocalist were kind of entertaining, even if his lyrics were downright juvenile. Too noise-y for me to really enjoy, but bearable enough for me to “appreciate.”

The night closed out with Lightning Bolt. Pure violence. Worst moshpit I’ve ever observed. Charles had the misfortune of being bounced right up to the front of the stage like a ragdoll, and didn’t escape for 20 minutes. I was luckier. Came across a pristine can of beer in the middle of the moshpit, which I quickly shared and chugged with a bro next to me, and was then able to quickly navigate to the fringes of the pit. I managed to get through the set without fat shirtless men sliming all up on me. The performance itself was a spectacle to behold. Nah, I wont be jamming to Lightning Bolt’s music while doing my homework anytime soon, but damn, the drummer was a fucking sight to behold. The third, last, and greatest drummer frontman of the day. According to Wikipedia, the guy’s name is this ordinary ‘Brian Chippendale.’ His playing was anything but. Fastest motherfucker drummer I’ve ever had the privilege of seeing. In addition to seeming having eight arms, the guy made frightening utterances through a miked-up, ghoulish-looking cloth mask. Arguably one of the sickest moments of the day was when some douchebag threw a cigarette but at Chippendale. He was playing so fast, his drumsticks sliced apart the cigarette in midair, disintegrating the once tangible object into an ethereal cloud of glowing ember-dust. Chippendale responded with a resounding middle finger. Charles abhorred the music in the set, but he admitted, “That guy is good at what he does.”

******

Too tired from slogging through moshpits, Charles and I trudged home for the night to recharge for one final day of music.

Whartscape 2010 Part II

So Javelin came and went in all too short a period of time.

High hopes followed for something more standard-fare indie-dance-synth-electropop. I like discovering and being challenged by new things, but the weather was hot and muggy. I couldn’t think. I wanted to dance.

This wish was fulfilled in an unexpected manner, in the form of DJ Scottie B. Electropop he was not — as the name so obviously suggests, he was a disc jockey — but danceable his mixing was. Surprisingly, he wasn’t too out-there. During his set, I felt like I was in a club without a roof, and a lot of uncoordinated, spazzy hipsters, instead of uncoordinated, drunk bros. I thought any DJ invited would’ve mixed some really weird shit, but no, he played some recognizable stuff. He underlaid LMFAO’s “Shots” beat through what seemed like 90% of his mix, and stitched in samples from older hip-hop and R&B acts like 2 Live Crew and Boyz II Men. Very rarely he did bring some recent highlights, like perennial Major Lazer favorite, “Pon De Floor.” On his MySpace, Scottie describes his sound as, “Baltimore club,or baltimore club influenced by house.” Like the case with most musical terminology, those words mean nothing to me. I don’t know enough about Baltimore to know about Baltimore club, and the only things I know about House is that it originated in Chicago and features the prominent usage of bass-heavy beats and soul/funk samples. What I do know was that the set was some good fun. I was surprised by the fact there was no grinding. I guess hipsters really dislike grinding. This conjures up a lot of images of people dancing all by their lonesomes. Yeah, people were dancing by themselves, but it was still fun. All smiles and laughs. Hard to describe — I was thought club music would suck without grinding, but it didn’t. Anyhow, I heard after his set that Scottie B was supposed to be a local legend. I don’t doubt that. He showed his mettle.

******

I admit, perhaps it was too much to expect three danceable acts in a row. The guy after Scottie B, I forgot his name, didn’t strike my interest. A guy with just a synthesizer and a mic. He wasn’t unlistenable, but his stuff was a bit too droning and dull. Charles and I decided to take another break.

We came back just in time for DJ Dog Dick. Again, just a guy with a synthesizer and a mic.

I was expecting to hear perhaps something a little lyrically offensive, but man, I wasn’t actually prepared to hear something that sounded exactly like Dog Dick. Jesus Christ, even for the sake of being open-minded, I couldn’t listen to this. The guy’s beats were decent, but his voice, good God, didn’t fit the instrumentals. I’d be hard-pressed to find any sort of instrumentals that would fit. Sure enough, the vocals were offensive. Ignoring lyrical content, the noises emanating from the man’s larynx were already offensive enough for me. Cracking falsetto hyena yelps that would’ve been fit to use for torturing captured Iraqi insurgents. The torture playlist allegedly features the likes of Metallica, Don McLean, ACDC, Tupac, Eminem, the Bee Gees, among other prominent American acts. It’s no wonder the suspects don’t talk — they’re being played some fairly mainstream and uninsulting music. Play them some Dog Dick.

A quick visit to his MySpace page doesn’t give me confidence that Dog Dick’s songwriting  redeems the sound of his voice. Titles of his pieces include the likes of, “PISSS MIXXX” and “ELECTRO SEXXX FRENZY BANG BANG BANG.” Electro Sexxx features a spiritually enlightening refrain of “I bet that she is wet!” or something like that.

Afterwards was Get Em Mamis, a rather conventional female hip-hop duo. I don’t use conventional as an insult. They simply sounded very normal after the previous debacle. Their set was lighthearted, summer fun. They rapped about being hot, not to be fucked with, and ready for a good fucking, pretty standard hip-hop fare. There’s not much to describe. They got the audience to cheer and sing along. They just couldn’t get any grinding going, which is not their fault. One of the funniest moments of the day was actually when the lead chick, dressed in white in the picture above, playfully accused a guy in the audience of ogling her. The guy awkwardly blinked for a second, before stammering, “H-hell yeah!” The collision between ghetto and hipster didn’t pan out so well this time around.

Lil’ B closed at the outdoor stages.

Charles and I stayed for less than ten minutes. You know what, I’d like to apologize for what I said about DJ Dog Dick and take back my mean words. Lil’ B was truly offensive. He talked, more than rapped over two flaccid beats, and repeatedly called out for the girls in the audience to show him their titties, while tacking on the word “swag” to the end of every one of his sentences. I used to like the word, but he destroyed it for me. Charles raised a good point — at this point of abuse, what does “swag” even mean?

“Ladies, show me your tittes! Swag.”

“Swag” is supposed to be an abbreviated form of swagger, or slang to describe a cool piece of clothing or accessory, but in that context, it’s lost all its meaning.

Lil’ B killed swag.

******

I couldn’t end my night on that note.

So tired as we were, Charles and I headed to the next set of sets being held at the H&H.

The H&H is an awesome residential building that seems to serve as a haven for hipsters. The rooms on the 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th floors, respectively known as The Whole Gallery, Gallery Four, The Fifth Dimension, and Floristree, double as performance halls and art galleries in addition to living spaces. Sick sick place to be. I kinda wish I got the chance to live there for a week.

Charles and I traveled up and down the floors, though we did primarily stay in Floristree. There was nothing that really blew me away in terms of music, but a handful of artists did catch my ears. Unfortunately, I made a grave mistake in not taking a Whartscape program with me. Unable to match band names with the performers, many of these artists will probably be lost to me forever. I only remember two names from my stay at the  H&H, Polygons and Teengirl Fantasy (who I initially took to be Pictureplane, and then left the festival as a result before actual Pictureplane came on, fuck).

Polygons played some defusing and relaxing chillwave. I closed my eyes and imagined the rolling golden hills of California while listening to their pieces.

Teengirl Fantasy’s set was also relaxing, something to bob and dip my head to, rather than thrash and bounce. There songs typically used a harder and faster beat than what I heard the Polygons play, but I similarly closed my eyes and daydreamed to Teengirl Fantasy’s music. Reminded me of seagulls and vanilla-colored beaches.

Man, I think I’m really homesick.

******

So, the day ultimately ended on a satisfying enough note, the disaster that was Lil’ B having been made up for by the dalliance at the H&H. I kicked myself later for having missed out on Adventure (I have a soft spot for 8-bit synths) and Pictureplane, due to a delay of schedule that confused me, but eh, what’s passed is passed.

Too exhausted and dehydrated to fight out way through the concrete jungles of Baltimore, Charles and I took a taxi back, ready for the next day.

Whartscape 2010 Part I

Originally, I was going to go to Whartscape and write a post detailing my thoughts about each set that I watched in classical concert-blogger fashion.

But then I decided that a straightforward concert review simply wouldn’t do my experience enough justice. I wanted to revoke, not catalog.

So I figure, I might as well just talk about the craziness of the weekend.

******

I’d hoped that Whartscape would turn out to be a fun music festival. Me being stuck here in Baltimore and all, I wanted something that could substitute for Lollapalooza. Indeed, my expectations proved to be horribly inaccurate. Fun was not something that Whartscape always was. There was more visceral, musical enjoyment to be found in that Sunday I went to Lollapalooza last summer than in all four days of Whartscape that I stood through (though the first day of Whartscape was a theater day).

As a nice gesture, I’d like to at least give the pretense of liking every song that I hear at a concert. While I’m not a musician, I imagine it’s a horrid sight to see a contingent of people blankly standing still with aimless eyes while looking down from the stage. Yeah, I get that honest reception is necessary for the benefit of the musician to know whether or not he’s found his appropriate audience (or is plain stinking it up), but if the musician made the energy of coming out to play, I’d like to at least give the slightest amount of energy to be a small confidence booster. Nah, I don’t thrash my head, dagger my ass to everything I hear, but even if I don’t like something, I’ll at least lightly and politely nod my head to the rhythm (if there is one). Plus, something about movement can make some songs more palatable. Nah, I don’t constantly dance out of a sense of altruism. The motivation is selfish, as well — I can move as a last desperate attempt to inject some enjoyment into the song.

But yeah, throughout all of Whartscape, I think I only found myself instinctively dancing to five of the sets that I heard out of tens. It was more a matter of taste than anything. I went in I less “enjoyed” the music at the festival, for the most part, rather than “appreciated.” Going back to what Jason Willett (who played as the bassist for Little Howlin’ Wolf  at Whart, by the way) told me at True Vine, I still need several bridges before my brain programming can rewire itself to wholly accept noise (by which I mean the genre of music).  As open-minded as I’d like to fathom myself, I still innately reject music at this point that lacks standard rhythms, progressions, and scales.

That was one reason I’m glad I came to Whartscape. I crossed one more bridge, came one island closer to being able to comprehend noise. Unfortunately, I was disappointed to find out that some of the bands that I listened to and considered to be noise, were actually defined as noise rock by the hipsters, which is apparently different and more “mainstream” than true noise, and/or post-punk rock whatever the fuck that is supposed to mean among the medley of musical genres, by some of the noise enthusiasts present. But hey, progress is progress. The ability to be able to appreciate any bit more of the Different, to confine myself slightly less to conventions, is a victory.

But I digress. Less about hipster definitions. More about hipsters themselves. And just what the heck happened this weekend.

******

I’m going to go ahead and skip Thursday. It was interesting. The meaning of the word interesting has worn down over time due to the over-usage of the word. But I mean it, Thursday, the “theater day” was interesting. Ian MacKaye flipping people off. Short films that would give some Northwestern film professors diarrhea. A naked woman, man, and presumably, their baby. Spontaneous cutting of hair on stage. Tasteless jokes about rape at a gas station and farting.

What transpired on Thursday escapes description.

******

But, ah yes, Friday.

With my high expectations about the bands, I’d invited my friend Charles from his humble abode in Virginia to come up to Baltimore hell to check out this event that I’d hyped up so much. We rushed to Whartscape after he came in on Friday. Amtrak delays had held back his arrival by a good two hours, and I was wondering about the treasure trove of music we’d be missing out on already. Every hipster I’d talked to in Baltimore had told me about the impeccability, infallibility of every single band on the lineup. In retrospect, I was setting us up for disappointment.

The first full act we saw was So Percussion. So Percussion jammed on an unexpected array of instruments, which included the likes of blocks of wood, plant stems, paper, and cacti (apparently, cacti needles can be plucked to make some nasty noises). As a collection of spontaneous sounds, this was music distilled down to its root definition as a medium of strung-together sound. The band members compared themselves to John Cage. For sure, the avant-garde-ness was there. So Percussion was interesting, but something I’d prefer to have observed as a museum exhibit, rather than an outdoor musical festival performance. It was a bit too hot and muggy to apply the concentration necessary to perceive their pieces. Following So Percussion was Club Lyfestyle, which wasn’t even a band, but a neon-green-clad dance troupe that skipped to techno. The techno they danced to was hideously catchy, but the spazz-dancing itself was somewhat harder to digest. And after Club Lyfestyle was a few other bands that eventually led to Needle Gun. Needle Gun was the last straw we could handle that afternoon in terms of the rampant experimentalism, combined with the overbearing heat. Charles and I actually left the festival for a while to find some food. Doubt was creeping in. I was a bit stressed, wondering if I bet off a bit more than I could chew, whether there was anything on the lineup at this festival, with the exception of guaranteed Dan Deacon, that Charles and I could perhaps absorb.

Our hopes were answered when we came back to see Javelin. I’d argue that, upon retrospect, Javelin’s set remains the best part of the weekend. Starved for something that had something resembling a melody and structured beats, Javelin was a mid-day catharsis. I’d been waiting to dance all afternoon. The synthesize handclaps and 8-bit loops began hitting with full force. I bounced up and down with the rest of the brightly-dressed crowd in appreciation. Hell, they even got Charles dancing and throwing his arms up during “Soda Popinski,” the sickest track they played out of their sick setlist, and the dude barely even moves his chin hairs to stuff that he likes! The setlist totaled only five or six songs, I think, clocking in at under 25 minutes. Wickedly short, and wickedly effective. Javelin is now on my radar.

While plenty of off-putting and discordant acts still did take the stage in the hours and days after them, Javelin deserves massive props for empowering me to make it through the rest of the festival, come experimentalism, come noise, come shine, or come rain…