by Gillian Rose

Degenerate Art Ensemble
w/Kultur Shock, Circus Contraption, Butter Sprites, Scape, DJ KO, DJ Goatmax1, DJs Hideki, Kamui, Bumblebee
Sat Oct 11, Jem Studios (6004 12th Ave S, 736-7722), 9 pm-4 am, $5.

Last spring, the familiar sounds of a Georgetown art opening were disrupted by loud blasts of drums, flutes, and bells coming from a small group dressed in all white. They were glowing in the drizzling streetlights, moving only at the call of drums and stopping at a whistle's shrill command. Without breaking character, the group walked into the coffee shop and performed a slow, jazzy tune. Their singer, Haruko Nishimura, entered dressed in a torn, frayed wedding dress, and she exploded into movements that jerked her voice from her body. Nishimura's vocals--a mix of punky, high-pitched shrieks, throaty coos, and alien ballads--sent shivers throughout the cafe as another performance of Seattle's Degenerate Art Ensemble took hold.

DAE involves 11 core members in a group cofounder Joshua Kohl describes as a "punk-jazz-freak-groove orchestra." For the past decade, they've been experimenting with blending various styles of music and movement. Their mood-shifting sounds move from a playful circus vibe to a more somber selection of traditional-sounding jazz, and their repertoire comes from two basic veins of musical performance. There are the more autonomous songs befitting a rock-club bill, and there are the action-oriented pieces, where notes are strung along to follow the ascent of an arm or the descent of a character into the realms of the underworld. Member Joshua Stewart explains that the Degenerates themselves (who include members of local acts like the Dead Science and Xiu Xiu) bring eclectic and sometimes contradictory musical elements to the table--from Gypsy music to jazz to punk rock--lending to the band's unique flair.

This past June, DAE made good on that mantra to create "inspired physical theater/dance hallucinations, art collaborations" with "Dreams from Wounded Mouth," a provocative narrative told primarily through music and dance. The piece included installation and costuming direction from collaborating visual artists, and a cast of over 27 performers. With a show this elaborate, the band's ability to create an entire world comes to the forefront, an element that may only be hinted at in club shows.

The band leaves for its next European tour in November with a similarly inspired show. While experimental music and theater may still be more at home in Europe, the group has acquired a strong following here in Seattle by people who realize that, more than just a band of musicians, a DAE performance is truly a work of art in every sense of the phrase.

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