This Friday October 29 through Sunday October 31 with doors at 8 p.m., Denver-based experimental performance troupe itchy-O is set for a string of shows at The Summit Music Hall it’s calling HALLOWMASS. Expect a visceral flood of image and sound more like a ritual than a traditional concert or other show with performers dressed up in outfits like ushers in a neo-mystical ceremony. Full drum corps including taiko, synths, other electronics noises, bass, guitar—all in sync to create one of the most powerful live music performances you’ll get to see this or any season. Opening the first night is dark Americana band Munly and the Lupercalians, on October 30 the opening performer is industrial/noise/producer legend J.G. Thirlwell and his Xordox project, October 31 brings tribal post-hardcore post-punk phenoms Wovenhand.
In 2020 the 57-member group performed two outdoor, drive-up events, SYPHERLOT in the parking lot of the Mission Ballroom in August and HALLOWMASS at the now demolished New Tech Machinry building in October. Those performances were captured in high definition and will find release as a double live LP on November 5 through Alternative Tentacles. But advance copies of SYPHERLOT | HALLOWMASS DOUBLE LIVE 2020 will be available during the 2021 HALLOWMASS performances. We recently got to ask some questions of the band via email about the creation of the new album and its evolution as a live and recording project across roughly the past decade.
Queen City Sounds and Art (Tom Murphy): How did Itchy-O prepare for the concerts that were captured on the SYPHERLOT | HALLOWMASS DOUBLE LIVE 2020 album given the sprawling membership and what one would assume were observed precautions during that phase of the pandemic?
Itchy-O: When the pandemic hit, we got to work at what we do best, adapting and evolving. Over the years as this thing has grown, being as flexible and nimble as this behemoth can be has been paramount.
So, we heeded the call: Short-band radio broadcast turned each car interior into a private listening experience for what felt like a post-apocalyptic affair. Roving bands of our Khaos Federation opened a temporary escape portal with physically contactless strategies, engulfing each vehicle in the carefully crafted rite and ritual 2020 called for. And procedurally, we developed a set of standard operating procedures that the health department applauded us for, while we followed all of the recommended CDC guidelines for masking, ventilation, disinfecting, and distancing to keep everyone safe.
Q: Bands often release a live album to mark the end of an era or the peak of that era and the beginning of another. Do you feel this was the case with this live album? If so, how so? If not, why not wait until enough newer material was created for a new studio type of record?
I: We record all of our live sets but have never been interested in putting out a live record until now. One of the reasons we decided to release this material was because after looking back we realized we had just captured an extraordinary moment in time (as the blaring car horns attest). It was a literal torch lighting during one of the darkest moments of modern history.
In hindsight, and as you most astutely surmise, this album does feel like a turning of the page for us. One of the reasons for this is the music that we are currently writing for our next studio album embraces a number of more advanced concepts we are incredibly excited about: Things like beat cancellation, the effects of frequencies on bio-organisms, science in music, group hypnotics, and the rhythmic brain.
Q: The global pandemic, still ongoing, prompted musicians and other performing artists to find creative ways to present and perform their music in a safe way and/or to reassess their music and experiment with new approaches and sounds out of necessity and caution. Did those considerations and limitations drive the kinds of shows you’ve done and perhaps inspire new sounds and visual styles and performances that stretched what you’ve done before? How so?
I: Covid may have forced our hand, but like we mentioned we are good at adapting and were able to respond in kind. In addition to the drive-in series (which you can catch part of on Alamo In-Demand), our From The Vault live performance streams gathered fans online each Saturday for two and a half months to relive HD recorded concerts, and we were commissioned by the Greek Onassis Foundation for our Milk Moon Rite performance. The acclimation and protocols we developed helped shape our triumphant return to Levitt Pavilion in July for thousands of spaced-out revelers under a beautiful summer night sky that we set ablaze in pyrotechnics.
But, probably the thing we are most proud of over the past 19 months was our Noise Bath stroboscopic meditation series, utilizing binaural and isochronic frequencies. We rolled out this six part series to our beloved Patreon supporters (who have seriously been the lifeblood through these last 20 months) as a proof-of-concept and it exceeded everyone’s expectations.
Q: What do you feel Evergroove Studio has been instrumental in bringing out in terms of sound for the live shows and on your recordings, the live album in particular?
I: Bringing on Evergroove in 2015 was a game changer for us. Our radio frequency game is on par with the biggest stadium shows touring and in terms of the studio… a whole other article could be devoted to this; see: Evergroove’s new Atmos system that was just installed and our next record.
Q: After listening to the live album in depth I’d say that like your studio albums it gives the listener another dimension of the band. I found the level of detail in texture, dynamics, tone and atmospheric elements to be very immersive in a way that’s different from the live show where the visual element and the collective experience of both band and audience creates an energy that would be impossible to convey fully on a recording. What do you feel you tried to highlight on the live recording with the mixing and mastering process that isn’t always fully possible when executing the music live? Or maybe it is and having this independent listening experience enriches the live show.
I: Many of the musicians were out in the center of the lot with the cars and we had atmospheric mics specifically placed to capture those elements. Those tracks really ended up paying off.
Q: How did J.G. Thirlwell come to be an opener for the October 30 Hallowmass 2021 show? How did his music and production impact what Itchy-O has done?
I: Many of us grew up with J.G. – Foetus, Wiseblood, Clint Ruin, Steroid Maximus, and all of his music on Ectopic Ents, etc. We met him down in Tasmania when we played Dark Mofo in 2016; he’s been a great source for advice concerning the industry over the years and we are completely honored to get his holiday cards every year.