At a time when small music festivals struggle to survive and thrive, Corridor is charging into its second edition with gusto and confidence. No matter that it’s held during the deadest time for entertainment (January) and in an unconventional venue that hardly anyone in the city’s underground-music scene has even frequented (Georgetown Steam Plant); last year’s inaugural festival was such a comprehensive aesthetic success, it instantly had attendees eager to see what Corridor’s organizers could do next. The first year’s combination of challenging, (mostly) electronic music, illuminating and participatory art installations, and riveting dance performances left punters effusive in a way that this veteran showgoer rarely sees.
For this year’s Corridor, which is put on by the Elevator crew, curators Kirsten Thom, Campbell Thibo, Cecilia Corsano-Leopizzi, Kellye Kuh, Gabe Schubiner, and Matthew McBride have assembled another formidable lineup of musicians, visual artists, and dancers.
To describe all of the musical highlights would take more space and time than I have allotted, but here are a handful of them. Oakland’s Madalyn Merkey creates experimental electronic music of extraordinary atmospheric dimensionality and textural adventurousness. Chicago’s Kevin Drumm is a master of rigorously sculpted drones and noise; he can make your skull hum in ASMR-y delight with the former or terrorize your internal organs with the latter—Sheer Hellish Miasma, anyone?
Oakland producer Russell E.L. Butler offers rhythmically rugged, un-grid-like dance music that revels in tonal rebelliousness. Yet another Oaklander, Beast Nest (aka Sharmi Basu) engages in intriguing forays into microscopic sound design, generating the kind of heady, infinitesimal thrills in which the Mille Plateaux label specialized during the ’90s and ’00s. Formerly a singer and guitarist in world-pop mavericks Pollens, Hanna Benn is an exceptional vocalist with ties to the classical, avant-garde, and pop worlds. Zen Mother guitarist/vocalist Monika Khot’s solo project Nordra has risen to staggering heights, as demonstrated by her soundtrack for the dance performance Pylon II. Her urgent, apocalyptic compositions have revitalized the industrial genre, imbuing it with profound emotional heft without resorting to threadbare signifiers. Iranian composer Cameron Shafii brings an equilibrium-threatening complexity to his piano and computer pieces that rivals the work of Iannis Xenakis, Conlon Nancarrow, and Ryoji Ikeda. And that's just the tip of the iceberg...
Corridor happens January 21 at Georgetown Steam Plant, 6605 13th Ave S, noon-midnight, all ages. A list of Corridor artists appears at the end of this post. Tickets available here. Check out my interview with Corridor’s operatives, who answered collectively below.
The Stranger: What lessons did you learn from the first Corridor festival and how have they altered the way you’ve approached this second edition, if any?
One of the biggest lessons we learned from Corridor last year was that we had the wherewithal to even pull off such a large-scale, complex, high-cost event. Given the success of last year, we became more fearless—for better or worse—as we assembled the program for 2017. Our costs have almost tripled this year, and we will receive our very first grant.
We also noticed that people seemed to appreciate the sense of inclusion last year, so we hope to keep that. This is will be a challenge in some ways, as the Steam Plant has obvious accessibility issues. Still, we want to reach and accommodate people in every way possible.
Please discuss the reasons you chose Georgetown Steam Plant for your venue this year. What advantages does it have over Equinox Studios?
Equinox Studios played a huge role in making Corridor feel special last year. It was a space that few of our attendees had visited before, and the cavernous, reverberant main room coupled with the smaller spaces lent itself beautifully to free movement. The Georgetown Steam Plant possesses these qualities, as well; it is a venue that only a minority of our audience has visited, and has both a large hall for musical performances and a number of interesting smaller spaces throughout the building.
The fact that the Steam Plant is over 100 years old and still holds practically all the original equipment from its time makes it uniquely interesting. In fact, word has it that Lilly Tellefson, the engineer primarily responsible for the site's preservation through the ’80s and ’90s, can still operate the plant. The building is essentially a work of art in itself, and it holds a special place in industrial history (thus its status as a National Historic Landmark).
Will there be any major—or minor—changes in the way sound, light, and movement will be integrated this year? Will the ASMR room make a return?
The nature of the space will have a big impact on the lighting/visual art installations this year—the dance performances, too. It is a really unorthodox layout for a music festival. Most performances will take place on the second floor in the steam plant’s boiler room. Jonathan Womack is in charge of the projections there, and we anticipate what he will do with the new environment.
We also look forward to seeing how Austin Larkin and the members of his bowed gamelan ensemble will use the edges and bends along the mezzanine of the building. This is probably the most extreme we will go towards the low volume, with sounds to purify the audience ear.
The lower level of the Steam Plant has scattered pieces of now-defunct equipment, making it a unique environment for lighting installations. We arranged with City Light to keep the bottom floor accessible to the public, so even people who aren't interested in the full sonic experience can participate in some way.
We unfortunately can't promise another ASMR room, though we hope to try all angles. Matt Drews plans to assemble an 8-foot cube in the middle of the South field in which to investigate some variant of closeness—we're pretty excited about that.
With the U.S. seemingly headed into one of its darkest, most oppressive regimes, did you feel compelled to add a more overtly political dimension to Corridor?
For most people, the impending regime change is terrifying and disheartening, so knowing that Corridor will take place the day after the inauguration made us envision the event as more of a respite from all of that rather than a reminder or an opportunity for us to showcase our political awareness. If anything, creating a situation wherein people can relax and be themselves, with minimal social pressure, whether they choose to connect with one another or not, seems the most appropriate thing for us to do at the moment.
That being said, it’s not lost on us that the Women’s March will take place on that same day, and that compassion and warmth will be essential for folks coming to Corridor from there; we are working on the best way to address this and create the most suitable environment.
In our interview from last year, you said you booked artists whose work you find inspiring. Can you go into a little more detail about the qualities you’re seeking among the people on the bill this year?
We chose the participating artists for this year’s Corridor using a similar approach to our Elevator series. For music, we sought a combination of calming ambient music and more abrasive sonic palettes from fringe musical styles. The audio portion of the festival is geared towards deep, attentive listening; we generally avoid rhythmic music, which is already very well-represented in Seattle and creates a different type of engagement. We have a combination of seasoned artists like Kevin Drumm, who has over 100 releases under his belt, and newer acts experimenting with new and interesting sounds. Cruel Diagonals, while she has had a great deal of experience with music, is playing only her second show under this moniker.
One could say something similar about our movement sets. We find intimate inclusivity from Matt Drews, neurotic and darkly humorous exploration from Beth Graczyk, and ritualistic catharsis from Jasmyn Fyffe. Our aim in each is to physically create moments in which people pause thoughtfully and observe. Which isn't to say there won't be times when people get plain frightened, or bored.
For visual artists, we chose individuals to help manipulate and transform the space from its traditional use. Rachael Rosen will create a sound installation with radio transmitters, Anissa Amalia’s creations manipulate sensual colorful patterns to an otherworldly effect. Video artist of the ASMR space last year Leena Joshi will be premiering a new video.
Russell E L Butler