Thursday night at Clock-Out Lounge, electronic musician Blevin Blectum helped us escape from reality while venerable culture jammers Negativland immersed us in it so deeply and disturbingly, we had to laugh to keep from crying... or possibly dying.
Before a near-sellout crowd of mostly middle-aged folks, many of whom were attending their first show since the pandemic began, Blevin Blectum (Seattle's Bevin Kelley) made her computer generate sounds that were more fascinating than most of the millions of other people using the same tool to do so on planet Earth. A friend who'd never seen her perform said to me, “This is amazing. It's like Naked City, but with electronic music.” He was right. Like a John Zorn of the laptop, Blectum flitted from brilliant idea to WTF? idea to genius idea every 15 seconds with an anti-logic that tickled your brain's funny bone.
Blectum's set began with eerie, sci-fi-film drones then soon shifted into the otherworldly atmospheres and skittery rhythms that evoked Haruomi Hosono's Cochin Moon. We also got blessed with circus techno from Uranus, saccharine pre-rock pop songs glazed with pixelated angel dust, and a Meat Beat Manifesto-like electro-funk banger with a feminist woman's voice proclaiming, “Men are just desserts.” Like pioneering synth composer Suzanne Ciani on DMT, Blectum was seemingly trying to cram as much mad creativity into her 30-minute set as possible. (Here's a PSA: Blectum has a new, insanely idiosyncratic album titled Deep Bone out now with her musical partner Kevin Blechdom. It's their first release in 20 years and it's quite the comeback. You want loony escapism? Dig in.)
Negativland returned to Seattle as a tight trio, with Mark Hosler as the only original member still touring. Accompanying him were Jon “Wobbly” Leidecker and video and light artist Sue C. This lineup makes the audio-visual subversives' most interesting music, with Leidecker bringing his spacey funk inclinations to augment the spoken-word snippets that pepper the set. The work and spirit of Wobbly collaborator Dieter Moebius infiltrates Negativland's sonic architecture to gripping effect. Sometimes, though, the music detours into rave-era chillout vibes, the haunting trip-hop of Future Sound of London circa ISDN, or the unlikely imaginary genre I'm going to call “horror-film house music.” Hilariously (to me, at least), Negativland even did their “hit” from 1987, “Escape from Noise,” as if they were some classic-rock band coasting on past glories.
Just as important as Negativland's sounds are the painstakingly woven words plucked from who knows where, which ride the skewed rhythms and warped tones like a perfectly unreasonable, schizoid conversation among dozens of strangers. Much of the set derived from True False, an acute 2019 dissection of cognition and Reality Itself™. Some examples of the confident voices sampled: “Sound doesn't exist. Completely made up by the human brain”; “We are all in this cultural trance”; “The world is trillions of times more complicated than we perceive”; “If it's not about me, then why the hell am I going through all of this for?”; “The ability to live a normal life is gone”; “So you don't think we'll all become statistics?”
Negativland have made a rewarding career out of being prodigious consumers of media who then digest it and recontextualize it, emphasizing mediated reality's crazy-making absurdity and the infinite malleability of perception and “truth.” As one disembodied voice put it last night, “This is not normal.”