Desolation Center's genealogy of anti-commercial sound takes us to West Berlin, where Einstürzende Neubauten (translation: Collapsing New Buildings) create a new musical lexicon around the use of heavy machinery. It also gives us a glimpse of the New York No Wave scene, where groups like...

There are hardly any electronic instruments on Punish, Honey. Instead, Vessel's Sebastian Gainsborough built an arsenal of homemade instruments, including flutes made out of bike frames, sheets of metal, and "harmonic guitars". Punish, Honey is an industrialized suite: clanking, stomping, sparking, twitching, pounding. But instead of the giving the sensation of a migraine -- which is sometimes produced from hyperfrenetic digital constructions, as with some of the recent work from James Ferraro -- Punish, Honey is like walking through a factory full of mechanized automata, like a textile mill animated by Jan Svankmajer. Like The Sorcerer's Apprentice, if he had brought jackhammers and bellows to life, rather than broomsticks.
Vessel - Punish, Honey Album Review

Nik Turner - Space Gypsy Album ReviewNik Turner Space Gypsy Cleopatra Records The fabled saxophonist, flautist and frontman Nik Turner has always sought to defy the epithet "ordinary". His showmanship, sax and flute playing and great songwriting were an essential compound in the chemical reaction that gave birth to some of the most influential albums and live shows of the early- to mid-1970s. Anyone who has been fortunate to see him live with Hawkwind, or his other projects, such as Inner City Unit, Nik Turner's Fantastic All Stars, Space Ritual and Nik Turner (ex Hawkwind), will know that he is one of the most exciting, outrageous and innovative performers ever to take to a stage. Turner's new album, Space Gypsy, appears to have succeeded in working the elusive magic of channelling that extraordinary live energy and capturing it on a studio album. This was always the success of early Hawkwind albums, from 1971's In Search of Space through to 1975's Warrior On The Edge Of Time, which were bursting with power and originality of a kind that has not been replicated by many acts subsequently. There are many other good Hawkwind albums, but that period is regarded by some as being the peak of what was attainable by the group.

Although Asheville, NC certainly has a diverse music scene, the city sitting in the hills of Blue Ridge Mountains is probably more well known for its pickers and strummers than it is for its turntablists and synth wizards. That is, except for once a year, when Moogfest comes to town and celebrates the art of the electronic in honor of synthesizer pioneer Robert Moog, whose foundation and burial site are both located in the artsy mountain town. Moogfest took a break this year in order to regroup, change promoters and pick itself up out of the brisk air of autumn and move itself to the promising days of spring (it will be held April 25-27 in 2014). Into its silent void flowed Mountain Oasis Electronic Music Summit , a three-day electronicaganza (promoted by Bonaroo-bringers, AC Entertainment) that delivered a variety of both big-name acts and up-and-comers. The gigs were held in various venues throughout the city, which helped create different pools of mood you could dive into and out of throughout the weekend, from the stadium-like Exploreasheville.com Arena (formerly the Civic Center) and Thomas Wolfe Auditorium (both of which comprise the US Cellular Center—confused yet?) to the intimate and indie-feeling Asheville Music Hall. Acts overlapped each night, so decisions had to be made, but for the most part, it was possible to groove to a broad mix of sounds from about six to past midnight each night. Here's my extensive recap of the entire experience over the three days.
 
FRIDAY

Jacques Greene

For me, the festival got off to a bit of an unpleasant bass-blasting start. I began with a bit of Jacques Greene at the Orange Peel before getting pretty much "bassed out" of the venue. Greene is a 21-year-old house producer from Montreal who manned the decks on stage. His tracks definitely grooved, but the bass was so severely accentuated that it was hard to take in any of the other sounds he was unleashing. You definitely felt the music, but actually hearing it was another story.  

Purity Ring

So I chalked things up to the sound engineer possibly being more comfortable with larger spaces and trotted across town to largest venue in the mix, the ExploreAsheville.com Arena to catch Purity Ring. This Canadian duo has been turning heads since the July 24 release of their first album, Shrines, and features Corin Roddick on the decks and Megan James on vocals. Roddick's arrangements are deep and icy, full of cycled vocal samples and echoey deep-space synth. Above this, tethered by a thick cord of bass, James' sweeter-than-Bjork voice floated. Again, there were times when that low-end tether was a little too thick, smothering the lyrics and turning James' sweet and sometimes spooky voice into just another component in the wash of sound. But it's hard to tell if that was intentional or just another case of bad mixing. On Purity Ring's recorded work, the vocals are often smeared deeply into the music, so the lyrics don't always pop. What did pop on stage were the pod-like lanterns that the duo both played with drum sticks, getting a satisfying percussive boom from each.  

Deltron 3030

Next up, in the same venue, was Deltron 3030. As opposed to the Purity Ring duo who looked a little dwarfed on the big stage, Deltron staffed the scene with a full string section, a horn section, guitars and four back-up singers lending support to the stars of the supergroup: Del the Funky Homo Homosapien and Dan the Automator (both of who've been part of Gorillaz), as well as DJ Kid Koala. The squadrons of sound they constructed moved the audience and my whole body: the guitar hooks worked my hips; Kid's scratches jiggled my head from side to side; the horns got my shoulders shrugging; and the drum beats took care of the rest. Del's lyrics tickled my brain too. I say tickled because — you guessed it — most of them were buried beneath not just the bass, but by the weight of all that sound. One of the clearest vocal moments came when Dan the Automator, dressed in tails and conducting the band with a baton, taught the audience the verse: "Deltron is our hero; if he can't do it nobody can." It was our part to play as they told their futuristic rock opera staring Deltron Zero. But I suppose at this point in the night words were becoming meaningless anyway, and you really didn't need any instructions to enjoy the Deltron ride.
I will say that the bass overload from the night did cause me to miss Bassnectar who manned the stage after Detron. The beams and batting in the ceiling out by the concession stands were already vibrating in an ugly way from the night's festivities; I didn't really want to stick around to see what might happen when the ace of bass let lose. From what I heard, the set was hot and the building held up.

Bumbershoot Festival signifies a lot of things for Seattle, but the main mark of Bumbershoot is that fall is upon us. The annual Labor Day arts festival in downtown Seattle traditionally comes with both good weather and the need for umbrellas, aka a bumbershoot. Bumbershoot’s place in music festivals across the nation includes one big distinction; it name isn’t merely the Bumbershoot Music Festival, but the Bumbershoot Music and Arts Festival. The addition of arts is noticeable, for as much music stretches across multiple stages in Seattle Center, there are just as many comedians, writing panels, art exhibits and impromptu busking performances on the festival grounds.

Gary Numan

Bumbershoot has always done a great job of getting some old school acts to show their face, and the crowd make-up is always funny because of it. Those watching Gary Numan were no different. Numan has been churning out music since the late '70s, but the majority of today's youngsters know him for the chart-topping hit "Cars" and its early, slightly rudimentary use of electronica in music. I am also one of those ignorant youngsters, aware of who Numan is and his contributions as one of the pioneers of electronica and gothic rock, but with really no idea what he truly sounded like outside of "Cars". To almost put Numan's performance in a nutshell, I'll direct you to the tweet I sent immediately into his set (ignore my typo please, and for my shameless Twitter plug, follow me here). As dusk set, the lights were blaring for Gary Numan, who even at the age of 55, contorted his body for dramatics at angles I haven't hit since I was four-years-old. Gary Numan was just heavy as shit, and it was awesome. Even "Cars", which he launched into about five songs in, was heavy as shit and all of it was unexpected for my ignorant ears. Gary Numan's performance was watching all the precursors for Trent Reznor laid out right in front of you, and almost seemed like a live-action History Channel viewing. Bumbershoot has always been the best about scheduling these kinds of acts, and it was the perfect way to end the first day of music.

"What do you mean I don't get it? I'm a genius, I'll understand it; I just need to break it down is all. Now let's see, something about fish sticks interacting with me, makes me a gay fish. Alright now -- what do we know about fish sticks? They're breaded; they're fried; they're frozen. Then under me we have rapper, genius. Hmmm. Then gay fish -- homosexual and they swim...." - "Kanye West" on South Park
Kanye West Yeezus (2013) Def Jam Recordings Kanye West - Yeezus Album ReviewI've never given one solid shit about Kanye West. Perhaps I assumed he would be relegated to the fading collective memory of that awful decade, the '00s -- a waning image of yesteryear, alongside Rudolph Guiliani, Suicide Girls, and Shitty Movies Ben Affleck. He was, after all, the star of one of the greatest events in '00s history, when he hijacked a live telethon for Katrina victims, went way off script and declared "George Bush doesn't care about black people!" A couple days later, a heroic everyman citizen told Vice President Cheney to go fuck himself, right to his face: a butterfly effect Mr. West can be proud of.
And now, here we are, 2013! Holy shit, how 'bout 2013? If someone told me in 2005 that in 8-years-time, Japan would be melting from radioactivity, Daft Punk would make a yacht rock record with Nile Rodgers on guitar, Barack Obama was a two-term president and he too was a war criminal, and Kanye West from the Katrina telethon just dropped one of the best records of the year (and... oh by the way... it's experimental and grotesque like In Utero -- only nastier -- or Pink Flamingos -- only funnier)... I might have shit myself right there. Ah 2013! I mean, what the hell? There are no rules on this island. It's taken me a while to dig in, but Yeezus is fresh as hell.

 

Dim Past - Black Dolphin Album ReviewDim Past Black Dolphin Other Electricities / Roofless Records Dim Past probably isn't going to get too much DJ love for his new EP, Black Dolphin. That's not a statement about the quality of the music therein, mind you -- nor do I mean to suggest that it isn't danceable. The thing is that this lo-fi rager sounds like the shredded fragments of techno waveforms managing to escape from the confines of your local basement show's shitty PA speakers. Where many modern producers aim for precision and clarity, hoping to have their babies pushed out through Funktion-One speakers or blasted into miles of Euro festival goers, Black Dolphin is submerged under a dank ass layer of lo-fi resin more commonly found caked around Bay Area psych rock tapes and ultra-limited hardcore 7"s. I mention those unrelated genres because while there are certainly people out there making harsh techno (Regis and Marcel Dettman come to mind), it's been a while since electronic dance music has sounded this DIY; the record has the feel of Surgeon's Force+Form in terms of presentation. Case in point is lead track "Ghostlord Masterclock", a 4/4 stomper that shreds with the intensity of Jeff Mills' dystopian Waveform Transmissions. The track says something about the adrenal dump of techno in its rawest form; this is the way it sounds in your gut rather than your ears after hours of sweating under the glare of a nonstop kick drum pounding on the one. It also serves as a wonderful example of the American underground's turn towards EDM. Where once our oscillators churned out heaps of white noise into surrealist oblivion, recent years have seen those feedback loops start to wrap themselves around that instantly recognizable beat -- that not only harkens back to the club, but to the instinctual metronomic pulse on which we humans have based our movements since time immemorial.

 

Wolf Eyes No Answer: Lower Floors De Stijl (2013) In their rather prolific career, Wolf Eyes have developed a near-cult following in those who want something louder and more abrasive, yet don't have the energy for hardcore nor the patience for Merzbow records. They inhabit a very specific alcove in the world of independent music, but this alcove is very relevant, as it is both inaccessible and accessible at the same time. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the band, Wolf Eyes create unique textures of layered noise consisting of synthesizers, guitars, vocals and other random madness, mixed through an array of effects and modules and placed over steady beats; they only follow loosely the format of conventional song. That being said, there is nothing new here, which in the case of Wolf Eyes is a very good thing. In a way, their latest album, No Answer: Lower Floors, is a return to form -- a term I despise yet is quite fitting in this case. Their more recent albums, such as Always Wrong and the Moods in Free Time series, flowed in the direction of the lack-of-boundaries noise; the tracks on No Answer, on the other hand, are more reminiscent of the band’s break-through albums, Burned Mind and Human Animal, which follow more standard song and album structures without losing the free-form noise.

 

The bathroom is cramped at the Star Theater, and it's very hard to find a decent space to snort ketamine properly. I have to put my foot in front of the door because you can't lock it. Managing to get a pinky or two up there, my experiment has begun. KMFDM, on ketamine. Their laser light show helped lull me into the warm disconnect of the substance immediately, and coming up, it was easier to enjoy the show. Separations occurred within the walls of distortion; I could begin to make out the synths, pre-programmed sequenced data filling all the nooks and crannies. It pulsed and distorted in tandem with fist after fist pumping into the air. The refracting laser lights bouncing off all the heads, creating cathedrals of hair dye. KMFDM does not stand for Kill Motherfucking Depeche Mode. I’m not going to tell you what it does stand for; it’s in German and you have Google. As a part of the first Chicago Wax Trax! industrial bands that included Front 242, Ministry, My Life with the Thrill Kill Cult, KMFDM have a place in electronic music history. They have been a band for nearly 30 years, always touring the states heavily. They have great militant imagery based on the artwork of Aidan Hughes. Their sound is classic. Like Van Halen. March 8th, 2013 @ Star Theatre - Portland, Oregon

 

MADNESS! is a recurring series of audio WTFs and head-twitching, spine-tingling experimental or chaotic fun (k-k+st-s-t+l)icks.

Fontanelle

Ever-trustworthy metal tastemakers Southern Lord Records are releasing the latest from Portland rock experimentalists Fontanelle! Their last three releases were escapades in ambient jazz-rock weirdness released on Kranky Records in the early aughts. Vitamin F, to be released on October 23rd, is a record for music nerds who love to be lost in the sounds of horns, guitars, and drums interfacing with one another in unpredictable ways. The massive lineup includes musicians such as Rex Ritter, Andy Brown, Mat Morgan, Borg Norm, Brian Foote and Paul Dickow, as well as the following guests: Gentry Densley (Eagle Twin), Steve Moore (Earth, sunn 0))), Hans Teuber, Eric Walton (Skerik), Jef Brown (Jackie O Motherfucker) and Dave Carter. This is a record for music nerds, no doubt. Spin Magazine calls the record "it may be the most metal record to feature no actual metal on it whatsoever", and that may actually be the most accurate possible description. You can stream "When the Fire Hits the Forest" from Vitamin F via Spin.
Says the press relase:
For this brand new recording, FONTANELLE has been trying to transport themselves back in time to 1973 into Patrick Gleeson’s Different Fur Trading Company Studio. Through the studio expertise of Randall Dunn (sunn 0))), Black Mountain, Wolves in the Throne Room), it sounds like they made it! Rex Ritter’s tour of duty with sunn 0))) during FONTANELLE’s hiatus seems to have irreparably changed his DNA, as well as the entire band’s. Adding an amazing array of horn players, many of whom were heard on the most recent sunn 0))) LP Monoliths & Dimensions, FONTANELLE have fortified their jazz vocabulary and have conjured a burly fusion approach that has been dubbed “White Magus” – a sound sure to appeal to fans of Miles Davis (circa 1969-74), Toritse and Mahavishnu Orchestra.