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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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