"Watch these guys build sonic vehicles and take you for a ride," says Timm Mason, aka Mood Organ, describing a typical episode of MOTOR, a monthly event that's pushed Seattle's electronic underground into overdrive during the last two and a half years. A prime mover in MOTOR's Northwestern stable of synthesizer masters, Mason is one of nine live performers participating in MOTOR XX, a special eight-hour edition of the city's most adventurous showcase for hardware-based electronic music.
Organizer Sam Melancon has curated 19 MOTOR shows with the same keen ear for left-field brilliance that he's brought to the annual experimental/drone-oriented Debacle Fest. But things really accelerated for MOTOR in 2014, with headliners such as Hieroglyphic Being, Container, Powell, Profligate, Dreamweapon, and Best Available Technology bringing world-class avant-techno darkness and wildness to the event's latest and most apropos home, Kremwerk. While Melancon is known for the weird music he releases on his Debacle label and which he curates for its namesake festival, he considers MOTOR his "happy, fun crossover night"—even if the sound and visuals diametrically oppose those of mainstream EDM's ham-fisted, saccharine maneuvers. No matter if the artists are out-of-town badasses or Northwest-based up-and-comers, the music at MOTOR hits you with a rawness and unpredictability that's often missing from laptop sets. Texturally filthy and ruggedly rhythmic, this music coalesces wonderfully with the Coldbrew Collective's psychedelic visuals.
Melancon and his enthusiastic assistant Samantha Fonteyne (she facilitates events, does publicity, and produces video interviews with MOTOR performers) see MOTOR XX as the climax of the collective's first phase. They're ready to switch gears after this one, as well as change direction with the MOTOR label, which has released five great 12-inches so far. "A lot of good things are happening here; it's a better space for MOTOR," Melancon says. "Certain young people are coming up in the scene who are excited about that stuff and are teaching us as much as we're teaching them." Melancon singles out the secondnature crew, which originated in Tacoma, for bringing in exceptional creative energy. "An acceptance of MOTOR is slowly being understood," he continues. "It's this hybrid night, so it can be hard... you know, the techno kids expect something and the experimental, noise, or DIY show kids expect another thing. It's kind of a hybrid of both those things. Getting people more used to it is definitely a part of it. The biggest thing is just the quality level—it's come up a lot."
A big part of MOTOR's artistic success has come from the un-grid-like sounds of rock musicians taking stabs at dance music. Members of Midday Veil, Master Musicians of Bukkake, and Brain Fruit regularly play MOTOR, infusing it with fresh ideas that deserve to be heard beyond the coterie of Seattle's electronic underground. "I'm [presenting] MOTOR XX as a party, and this is a whole group of the Seattle underground suddenly all kind of doing something similar," Melancon says. "This is a scene happening. If you want Seattle to be known for something new, I think Jonathan Carr [Patternmaster] could be it. Timm Mason or Chris Davis [P L L] could be it. It's not like this is a weird, crazy thing I'm exhibiting for you. It's more like: Come participate!"
Melancon credits his "DIY punk-rock spirit" for making MOTOR stand out from most techno nights. "Nobody's looking to be 'the cool guy' in your cool-guy shirt. My values are humility and community and the sound coming out of the speakers, above all else, and artistic vision."
As this momentous MOTOR night is capping off the first era by spotlighting the Northwest musicians who've made it this writer's favorite electronic event, it seems pertinent to get the players' perspectives on it. So I asked the acts what they think makes MOTOR such a catalyst for innovation.
RAICA (Chloe Harris): "The MOTOR people are just superb in the support and freedom they give artists. They're pushing boundaries and melding dance music with experimental and noise people and giving them something new."
BANKIE PHONES (Frankie Crescioni): "MOTOR has given me a space to share what's going on in my head with other people through a variety of venues and their precious sound systems, and has offered me the opportunity to collaborate with fellow humans that has ushered in some cool moments in life. It's great to see different crews work with MOTOR to push a quality of music that speaks to me through weird electronics sounds, and still has good sense of self-aware humor about itself."
GOODWIN (Scott Goodwin): "Contrary to what you'd expect for such a weirdo-friendly night, I actually slowly shifted to doing more dance-floor-oriented material than what I started with as a result of playing MOTOR. Not because people weren't down with more challenging stuff, but because I felt like I didn't really have to self-consciously push the envelope as much. With the MOTOR crowd, I had no reason to prove any kind of 'noise cred' or whatever and I could just throw down."
SIMIC (Ben Block): "MOTOR has played an integral role in helping me develop my own sound and also connect with the great community of artists (both audio and visual) that congregates around MOTOR each month. Sam has fostered a wonderful, supportive community around a night that is doing something no one else in Seattle does. By combining well-selected out-of-town bookings with a growing number of solid local acts, he has created a space for Seattle's electronic artists to gather and forge real connections with those who both perform and attend, something that I feel is sorely lacking in the electronic-music scene in general, whose interactions often take place exclusively online. MOTOR has always distinguished itself by its consistency, quality, and ability to surprise. Moreover, it has played an essential role in connecting the different parts of the scene (house, techno, noise, experimental, ambient, etc.) that oftentimes do not meet at the same time, in the same space."
AIRPORT (Jayson Kochan): "MOTOR is vital because it allows me the freedom to take risks musically and visually. There is a healthy bit of competition within the collective, which drives me to be better and weirder every time."
APARTMENT FOX (Alex Neerman): "MOTOR has introduced me to a lot of amazing people who are making intriguing dance music in Seattle."
PATTERNMASTER (Jonathan Carr): "It astounds me how far the MOTOR crew has come in the past two years. I'm so impressed with all the other musicians, and I know 2015 will bring a slew of the best MOTOR releases yet."
MOOD ORGAN (Timm Mason): "What if a collection of experimental musicians with backgrounds in psychedelic rock, prog, drone, noise, and electronic music decided to play dance music? We're finding out. What's really special about MOTOR is watching the different paths these musicians travel down. There's been a lot of evolution in the last couple of years, and I think it's still early stages for most of us. I love seeing how people interact with technology in creative settings like this, and particularly purpose-built tools like drum machines, synths, and sequencers."