Debacle Fest—so much to absorb and process. Compressed into two nights as opposed to past years' three or four, 2014's cornucopia of underground music threw nearly 30 acts at attendees, in 25-minute bursts. It was impossible to catch everything, but we had a clusterfucking great time trying.
Friday night’s opening ceremony at Cairo was a chill, gently transcendental affair. I missed Jonas Reinhardt’s Ganymede film, but caught the three live performances. (Unfortunately, Dialing In and Garek Druss had to drop off the bill for personal reasons.) Brain Fruit synth master Chris Davis started things properly with the best set I’ve seen him do—and I’ve seen a lot. His synth explorations blorped and woobed in the vicinity of Conrad Schnitzler and Bernard Szajner’s ill, amoeboid tones. He later brought in some stealthy slo-mo beats that recalled Martin Rev at his creepiest, before finishing with a relentless surge that made me think of Add N to (X) for the first time in a while.
Spectrum Control is Portland’s Dewey Mahood (Eternal Tapestry, Plankton Wat). He played solo electric guitar anthems to the moons of Mars, alternating between artful turbulence via fuzz and feedback and crystalline, fluid meditations. Headliner Danny Paul Grody came in from San Francisco to pick out beautiful, lyrical folk pieces on acoustic guitar. For the last song, he switched to an electric and swirled into Popol Vuh’s kosmische realm. Shivers everywhere.
Saturday was a hurly-burly scramble among three venues bunched together at the corner of Eastlake Ave. E. and Republican: Lo-Fi, Black Lodge, and Victory Lounge. Within seconds in this setup, you could remedy your FOMO and drastically change your festival experience. Compared to 2013’s edition, this year’s Debacle Fest was a roaring success in the attendance department—which made some sets claustrophobic as hell, but that’s the price you pay sometimes. Thankfully, most people’s hygiene game was on point. (Apologies to all the artists I missed.)
My night launched with R.M. Francis filling Black Lodge with frenzied, laptop-generated emergency frequencies. It was some welcome shock treatment. LIMITS, a new project by Brother Raven’s Jason Anderson followed. As a bald dude (Ian Halloran) in plaid shorts and a short yellow tie calmly read art theory and meta commentary about the performance itself and a female dancer (Corrie Befort) made unorthodox smooth and spazzy quasi-b-girl moves, Anderson loosed Kid606-ish tone splatter and drill beats and crazy concatenations of Moog-y Morse code.
On a 180º different tip, Common Eider, King Eider used conventional rock instrumentation to forge a hauntological doom drone bolstered by forlorn moans. Near the end, their goth-leaning pastoral bleakness was shot through with loud landslides of bass, until a massive, shattering crescendo induced heart attacks. Continuing the theme of odd juxtapositions, I next caught local electronic-music maverick Marcus Price at Victory Lounge. His m.o. is to unleash surreal streams of consciousness with surprising jump cuts and dream-logic flow. This set toggled between wonky, hypnotic dance music and ruptured abstractions.
Olympia wife/husband duo L.A. Lungs applied subtle effects to zither, thumb piano, and synthesizer to create timorous, shimmering drones and pacific ululations. Theirs was the most sublimely chill set I caught; you should cop their new Rrest album on Debacle Records. By contrast, Seattle’s Dull Knife—augmented by Midday Veil keyboardist David Golightly—conjured an eldritch cauldron of blackened drones and something that approximated the cosmic hum of the universe. This was quickly followed by Sutekh Hexen’s chthonic roar in a purple-hazed, packed Black Lodge. The claustrophobia and sense of impending doom were thick in there.
Respite came from Golden Retriever at Lo-Fi. The Portland duo’s pensive astral jazz bore a grainy, chiming drone undercarriage and exuded a strange ceremonial air. At one point with its ascending helices of Matt Carlson's organ and Jonathan Sielaff's heroic bass clarinet fibrillations, the music verged on a magical hybrid of Terry Riley ca. Shri Camel and Miles Davis’ “He Loved Him Madly.” Golden Retriever’s set was like a gradually dawning revelation that is too beautiful words (professional obligation impels me to use 'em anyway).
Seattle trio Brain Fruit laid down their reliable long-form workout, sounding like a long-lost cosmic jam from Can or Faust’s archives, electronic rock as euphoric, processional ascent. A quick jaunt to Black Lodge for a sliver of Olympia noise-drone savant Total Life (aka Growing guitarist Kevin Doria) was akin to sticking your head in a cement mixer the size of KeyArena—quite a massive, mangling grind.
Regretably, I missed King Tears Bat Trip in Black Lodge, but all reports say it was a special blast. Instead, I witnessed Seattle's New Weather (in duo formation tonight) at Lo-Fi and, contrary to rumors of basing their set on Yes samples, they veered off on a techno tangent. [EDIT: The first five-seven minutes of music did indeed contain Yes samples, but they were cleverly camouflaged.] They built a huge, throbbing bass drone and then gradually worked in a pounding
140+ 127-bpm technoid tempo that had the mercilessness of an abattoir. New Weather’s sound seemingly had too much girth for the system, as the sound crackled ’round the edges. Their Rob Hood/Speedy J-like metallic hardcore techno thrust had more in common with Decibel than Debacle, but it concluded the festival experience with an aptly baffling and brilliant exclamation mark.