The ambient version of Atroxity’s “Children of Voodoo” uses drones, floaty dynamics and tonal washes to set a dark and enticingly enigmatic mood. It is reminiscent of “Tal Coat” by Brian Eno from his 1982 album Ambient 4 (On Land). It and this composition evoke a sense of place albeit one you’ve never visited and its pervasive tranquil mood drifts into your consciousness. Whereas “Tal Coat” has no vocals, in “Children of Voodoo” we hear the voices like conversations whispering abstractly from an unknown distance in the night. At times some of the voices sound cybernetic like an automated attendant for a mass transit station or vending machine. The song makes you feel like you’ve entered a neglected part of a town where the vegetation has reclaimed parts of the landscape and streetlight illumination is patterned by the shadows of foliage. It is the sound of a future where technology has lost some of its campaign of conquest over all things or simply become a part of the ecosystem in ways we have yet to predict. Listen to “Children of Voodoo” on Soundcloud, connect with Atroxity at the links provided and look out for Atroxity’s new album Outdated And Unpatched due for release November 2020.
Laraaji was born Edward Larry Gordon and as a youth he learned to play a variety of instruments and did voice training before going to college at Howard University. In the 70s Gordon was living in New York City and studying Eastern spirituality and mysticism when he picked his first zither in a pawn shop. From there he modified the instrument to be electronic and performed and composed with the zither in unconventional ways. He was busking in Washington Square Park when he met Brian Eno and the two came to work on one of the first several albums in the “Ambient” series released by Eno in the 70s and 80s. 1980’s Ambient 3: Day of Radiance was markedly different from other entries in the series as the zither as processed through effects was still fairly organic and brought endlessly fascinating textures to the collaboration.
Laraaji has gone on to have quite a prolific and varied career as an artist and spiritual practitioner. He has done albums with Michael Brook, the inventor of the “infinite guitar,” with Roger Eno, Bill Laswell, Jonathan Goldman (a practioner of healing through sound) and avant-garde noise folk sculptors Blues Control. In the mid-80-s Laraaji released recordings collectively called Vision Songs and broadcast on his public access television show as a practice and example of raising spiritual consciousness through music. He also holds workshops in Laughter Meditation worldwide. Laraaji will perform at Rhinoceropolis on Saturday, July 12 with Free Music, J. Hamilton Isaacs, Goo Age and Fragrant Blossom.
We recently interviewed Laraaji via email and discussed his blending of music and spirituality, the aforementioned Vision Songs and Laughter Meditation as well as his more high profile collaborative projects.
Tom Murphy: When you were studying Eastern mysticism did you find any connections between what you learned that route and the music around you at the time? How would you describe those connections?
Laraaji: I observed that drone music at that time reflected the sensation of eternal present time which is emphasized in eastern philosophy—the continuum of consciousness. Also deep yogic level relaxation and meditation as reflected in the music of Stephen Halpern. The heightened sensation of bliss and ecstasy as reflected in the music of Iasos at the time in the late 1970’s. Terry Reilly.
How did you turn a zither into an electronic instrument? Was anyone doing anything comparable at the time you started doing that? Did you process those sounds early on or was it more for amplification?
My first autoharp/zither was acoustic. And after exploring alternative tunings I investigated ways to amplify it. [I then purchased] an electric pickup made especially for autoharps. I dove into amplified autoharp/zither research and decided to add sound treatment with the MXR 90 Phase shifter. After recording the album Day of Radiance with producer Brian Eno my interest in other [effects] pedals expanded to include chorus, delays, flangers and reverb.
How did you meet Brian Eno and as a producer how involved was in shaping the sound of Day of Radiance?
Brian introduced himself to me while I was playing Washington Square Park [in New York City in] 1978 and extended the invite to join him in his Ambient album productions. His suggestions to depend more on live studio microphones and Eventide effects, mixing as well as overdubbing a second zither helped to shape the Day Of Radiance sound.
You’ve worked with Michael Brook. How did you become familiar with his music and what lead to that collaboration?
Michael Brook was involved in my initial collab performance tours with Opal Evening, a tour project in the late 1980s to mid 1990s. Michael was a performer as well as sound engineer for the tour. As a result his live recordings of all the shows contributed to eventual record releases.
Tell us about Laughter Meditation and why you think it is beneficial to people in practicing it.
Daily Laughter as a mindful practice treats our energy presence to heightened functioning. Included in this is our immune system, our blood flow, our hormone flow, our breath flow. The reduction of stress and emotional tension through mindful laughter prepare us for meditative relaxation and stillness. In this practice our focus is not to find something funny at which to laugh but to explore self-willed laughter as a force for therapeutic recreation and and inner spiritual self connection.
Vision Songs seems like a further expansion of music and art as spiritual practice. Did you broadcast performances of that music on your public-access show in New York? Why were you drawn to that way of putting the music and those ideas out there? What about performing Vision Songs in the live show format do you find interesting and powerful now?
Vision Songs is where I was at the time in the early 1980s seriously investigating spiritual consciousness and sharing my awakening through [spontaneously] inspired songs and music with an expanding spiritual community in the USA. Sharing the songs in live show allows me to free sing the themes and lyric contents of these songs into fresh listening.
Certainly artists like John Coltrane and Alice Coltrane have had their music described as spiritual in philosophy, practice and in the impact of the music itself. Nusraat Fateh Ali Khan and others have been practitioners of Qawwali as part of their fusion of musical and spiritual practice. Who are some artists now that you feel are operating in those modes that you find compelling?
Artists who seem to be performing in these deep intentional spiritual modes [include] Don Conreux, Gong Master, Jon Serrie, Constance Demby, Stephen Halpern and Pauline Oliveros to name a few.
Thursday | July 11
What: Deerhunter w/Moon Diagrams
When: Thursday, 07.11, 7 p.m.
Where: Ogden Theatre
Why: Deerhunter’s main contribution to modern rock music is fusing a garage punk energy and sensibility with a knack for otherworldly melodies and a gift for soundscaping straight from the realm of dreams. Oh, and a genuinely emotional intensity that comes from a deep place of alienation and, paradoxically, yearning for connection. Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared? is the group’s 2019 album and a commentary on the seemingly broken world (politically, economically, socially, culturally) we find ourselves in at the moment.
Friday | July 12
What: Froth w/Versing and Shark Dreams
When: Friday, 07.12, 8 p.m.
Where: Globe Hall
Why: Versing’s 2019 record on Sub Pop 10000 is a pointed take on an unwillingness to commit to being on the right side of history at a time when the twin forces of oligarchy and fascism are on the rise and infiltrating and coming to political ascendancy worldwide. Its angular dynamics surge forth with great momentum while remaining tunefully melodic. Froth is a fuzzy psychedelic band whose vocals seem more soulful than bratty and that makes all the difference.
What: The Blasters, Supersuckers and Wayne The Train Hancock and MC Clownvis Presley
When: Friday, 07.12, 8 p.m.
Where: Bluebird Theater
Why: The Blasters are legends of southern California rock whose mix of Americana, rockabilly, R&B and blues effected with impressive musical chops and raw passion made the group respected in circles much wider than the image of a blues rock band might now. Supersuckers moved from from Tucson, Arizona to Seattle in 1989, a year after forming, and became immersed in the then burgeoning alternative rock world but like other significant bands of the era like Love Battery and Gas Huffer never really got big but put on lively performances and produced good records. Not really grunge so much as garage rock and in the past couple of decades they’ve been known to do some more country-oriented shows. Seeing as they’re sharing the bill with The Blasters that is a distinct possibility.
What: Hi-Dive Hug Down: Panther Martin, Super Bummer, Jobless, Night Champ
When: Friday, 07.12, 8 p.m.
Why: Group Hug is putting out albums by some of Denver’s best lo-fi indie rock bands and this is a showcase for some of the best of the lot. None of them are much alike and all experimented with a more popular style earlier in their lives as bands but are now making truly interesting music.
What: Patriarchy in Retrograde at Mercury Café: R A R E B Y R D $, Lady of Sorrows, Bonnie Weimer
When: Friday, 07.12, 8 p.m.
Where: Mercury Café
Why: Celebrating the inevitable end of the patriarchy you can catch some of Denver’s most innovative female musicians including transcendental hip-hop group R A R E B Y R D $, operatic, beat-driven darkwave ambient artist Lady of Sorrows and the avant-folk of Bonnie Weimer.
Saturday | July 13
What: Laraaji performs “Vision Songs” w/Free Music, J. Hamilton Isaacs, Goo Age and Fragrant Blossom
When: Saturday, 07.13, 8 p.m.
Why: Multi-instrumentalist ambient and drone legend, and Eno collaborator, Laraaji makes a rare Denver appearance to perform from his vocal material “Vision Songs.” Laraaji fuses performance, composition and spiritual practice and does workshops on “Laughter Meditation” throughout the world. Read our interview with Laraaji here.
What: Esmé Patterson w/FELIX FAST4WARD
When: Saturday, 07.13, 7 p.m.
Why: Esmé Patterson may have made her name as a songwriter in the more Americana vein with her old band Paper Bird. But as a solo artist she has pushed herself in increasingly interesting directions both sonically and creatively. And as a performer, for that matter, all while making poignant social and personal commentary. She is headlining but also on the bill is FELIX FAST4WARD who is one of Denver’s most gifted and imaginative electronic music composers and producers in various realms including dance, hip-hop and ambient.
What: Extra Gold, Bison Bone, Claire Heywood
When: Saturday, 07.13, 8 p.m.
Why: A legitimate country show with a few of the Mile High City’s finest including the folksy/Merle Haggard-esque Extra Gold, Bison Bone and its eclectic yet singular blend of psych, country and pop and Claire Heywood’s smoky, grittily soulful country torch songs.
Sunday | July 14
What: Don Felder
When: Sunday, 07.14, 5:30 p.m. gates, 7:30 p.m. show
Where: Hudson Gardens
Why: Don Felder is perhaps best known as the iconic guitarist for the Eagles during one of the most interesting, musically speaking, points in the band’s career. Sure, you may have heard “Hotel California,” the title track of the group’s 1976 album, who can say how many times but those distinctive lead guitar parts were written by Felder and his guitar interplay with Joe Walsh and Glenn Frey helped to define a certain sound of the 70s in southern California. While still in the band he wrote some songs that appeared on the soundtrack to Heavy Metal including “Heavy Metal (Takin’ a Ride)” and “All Of You” lending the soundtrack some brooding darkness and beautifully decadent guitar work. Felder’s guitar style fit in with the country rock thing with the Eagles but what made it stand out was his knack for interesting dynamics and atmosphere even when he writes something more straight ahead rock and roll. His 2019 album American Rock ‘n’ Roll is a tribute to the music that is the title.
Monday | July 15
What: Have a Nice Life w/Consumer, Street Sects and Midwife
When: Monday, 07.15, 8 p.m.
Why: Industrial drone, post-punk ambient or whatever one calls Have a Nice Life’s starkly brooding body of work, its dark compositions have proven influential on a generation of bands that have come along since its inception. Also on the bill is confrontational industrial/darkwave band Street Sects and ambient folk soundscaper extraordinaire Midwife.
What: An Evening With Michael McDonald
When: Monday, 07.15, 6:30 p.m.
Where: Chautauqua Auditorium
Why: Michael McDonald’s smooth and soulful vocals have been a part of American rock and pop music for over four decades now. Whether as a singer in Steely Dan (both live and in studio), The Doobie Brothers, as a solo artist and in his numerous collaborations including with the likes of modern hip-hop/jazz genius Thundercat, McDonald brings a deep musicality and keen ear for melody that transcends genre. He will be performing a series of shows in Colorado that we will include on our Best Shows list up to and including his show at the Denver Botanic Gardens on Thursday, July 20.
What: Headboggle, Malocculsion, Page 27, Blank Human
When: Monday, 07.15, 7 p.m.
Why: Noise shows are a rarity in Denver these days when once you could find them on the regular when it was more possible for artists to have a warehouse to make this kind of thing or where impromptu venues were more open to hosting this stuff forbidding to more mundane sonic sensibilities. This show includes ambient/noise scaper Blank Human and the godfathers of Denver noise, Page 27 in its first show since the departure of long time member Michael Nowak.
Tuesday | July 16
What: Treasure Mammal (AZ), EVP, Chromadrift, Techno Allah
When: Tuesday, 07.16, 9 p.m.
Why: An ambient and industrial pop kind of show.
What: Imperial Teen
When: Tuesday, 07.16, 6 p.m.
Where: Twist & Shout
Why: Imperial Teen includes current and former members of Faith No More, Sister Double Happiness and The Wrecks. Their left field pop got a boost when “Yoo Hoo” appeared in the 1999 film Jawbreaker. Though the band’s excellent 1996 album, produced by Steve McDonald of Red Kross, garnered no small amount of critical acclaim it was oft found in bargain bins at music stores. The group’s playful songs and interesting and illuminatingly personal takes on controversial themes has set the foursome apart from many of its late era alternative rock/pop peers. In 2019 the group released its latest album Now We Are Timeless. Since Jone Stebbins lives in Denver now, Imperial Teen is in some ways a local band.
What: 3TEETH w/Author and Punisher and GosT
When: Tuesday, 07.16, 6:30 p.m.
Where: The Marquis Theater
Why: 3TEETH is one of the better newer industrial rock bands. But the reason to go to this show is to witness Author and Punisher who creates his own instruments and whose cybernetic appearance is no mere affectation as it incorporates controllers of various types that can be executed by a single person. The project’s music is industrial but more raw and experimental than most music calling itself that these days.
Wednesday | July 17
What: The Beths and Girl Friday
When: Wednesday, 07.17, 7 p.m.
Where: Globe Hall
Why: The Beths from Auckland, New Zealand started in 2015 and absorbed some of that worldwide retro-90s fuzz rock vibe of the time. But since the trio is from New Zealand it always manifests differently and its melodies go down unconventional paths and the progressions resolve in fascinatingly unpredictable ways. Plus Elizabeth Stokes’ vocals are bright and strong and not couched in manifesting angst so obviously. The group did title its 2018 album Future Me Hates Me tells you that you’re in for something more interesting than “summer time good time music” and yet the group’s music is upbeat and hopeful.
What: Michael McDonald
When: Wednesday, 07.17, 7 p.m.
Where: Vilar Performing Arts Center in Beaver Creek
Why: See above for 7/15 for Michael McDonald.
What: Dinner Time (GA), Sliver, Gila Teen and Moving Still
When: Wednesday, 07.17, 8 p.m.
Why: Atlanta’s Dinner Time is a low-fi indie pop band with some raw and ragged edges to its songwriting so that it can sound a little bratty and snotty like a punk band you’d actually want to listen to. Also on the bill are ex-nü metal wavers Sliver whose covers of 90s Bush songs, at least in essence, are almost as good as the real thing. Somehow Moving Still invited Sliver’s singer to perform with them because they’re good people and taking Chris Mercer under their wing and cultivate the guy’s tastes until he realizes that Nirvana was not influenced by Gavin Rossdale. It’s an uphill battle. Gila Teen is a post-punk/pop death rock band from Denver and one of the Mile High City’s greatest duos whose emotionally vibrant sad songs chase the blues away.
What: The Head and the Heart w/Hippo Campus
When: Wednesday and Thursday, 07.17 and 07.18, 8 p.m.
Where: Red Rocks
Why: Hippo Campus from St. Paul, MN are technically an indie rock band but its beat-making and pop songcraft is more akin to R&B and hip-hop with a focus on mood and atmosphere. Its diverse and imaginative songwriting manifested brilliantly on its 2018 album Bambi and in 2019 the group released a cadre of songs in two volumes called Demos I and Demos II. The song experiments on both show how the band got from the promising songwriting of the 2017 album Landmark to the sophistication of craft heard on Bambi. At the top of the bill for this show is indie folk band The Head and the Heart. Maybe “indie folk” doesn’t apply so much anymore as the band has expanded its sounds and songwriting style in all directions. Its 2019 album Living Mirage finds the band truly utilizing space in its songwriting in a way that allows for the expansive feelings inherent to its specific musical style to stretch out and resolve organically. Which is interesting to see in the music of a band that has reached its level of relative commercial success when there can be pressure for efficiency in delivering satisfying musical hooks. This line-up plays both Wednesday July 17 and Thursday July 18 at Red Rocks.
Thursday | August 23, 2018
Who: Adam Faucett, Esmé Patterson, Bellhoss
When: Thursday, 08.23, 9 p.m.
Where: Syntax Physic Opera
Why: Arkansas-based folk/Americana artist Adam Faucett performs in Denver ahead of the August 24 release of his new record It Took The Shape of a Bird. Faucett’s creative use of vocal tones and dynamics along with his poetic imagery gives his music real character. The same could be said of Esmé Patterson whose creativity in storytelling and richness of emotional colorings in her songwriting makes her noteworthy artist in a realm of music that can sometimes seem same-y. Becky Hostetler’s Bellhoss is also a great fit for this bill since her own spare songwriting provides the skeleton of mood and atmospherics in a way that brings your imagination to bear to fill in the spaces.
Who: short[circuit]circus #1: Structures Beavers Make (ATX noise-ish), Mahou Odd Genie & Norm L. Princess, Housekeys, Rose Alley
When: Thursday, 08.23, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Seventh Circle Music Collective
Why: This is the beginning of what will hopefully be a series focused on more experimental music. Structures Beavers Make is an act based out of Atlanta, Georgia that doesn’t limit itself to just lo-fi moody guitar and voice over subtle, ambient beats, as the artist says (jokes) on her Bandcamp page that she might do bad Avenged Sevenfold covers. We can only hope. Mahou Odd Genie & Norm L. Princess fortunately also doesn’t fit comfortably in a single, discernible genre somewhere betwixt ambient, experimental electronic dance and samples manipulation. Housekeys is Tiffiny Costello’s ghostly guitar and vocals ambient project. The most obvious comparisons are Grouper and Juliana Barwick or the less noisy period of Flying Saucer Attack. Rose Alley is a “drag noise poet” in that it’s kind of a trippy spoken word performance with environmental sounds to enhance the words.
Friday | August 24, 2018
Who: Boss 302 w/The Landgrabbers and The Vanilla Milkshakes
When: Friday, 08.24, 7 p.m.
Where: The Oriental Theater
Why: Boss 302 started in the early days of 1993 on the cusp of the breakup of the band that inspired its existence: The Fluid. However, Boss 302 spent several years establishing its own reputation as a fun, rowdy garage punk band with a charismatic frontman in Rich Groskopf and a solid band that wrote songs good for a party in the classic sense rather than the self-parody of party rock in more recent years. Boss 302 had a handful of releases including 1997’s Whatever Happened To Fun, which included its only recordings with Matt Bischoff of The Fluid on bass. The group split in 1999 and reunited in 2008 around the same time The Fluid came unexpectedly out of retirement for a time to play Sub Pop’s 20 year anniversary show as well as a string of other performances, a reminder that it was and still was one of post-punk’s greatest bands. Ten years hence Boss 302 reunited once again in July 2018 for the Mile High Parley with a spirited performance at Gary Lee’s. Even if you’re not familiar with the band’s music, you’ll get to have some laughs and see one of Denver’s best punk bands of the 90s. Also on the bill are country punk band Landgrabbers and post-grunge pop outsider punk band Vanilla Milkshakes.
Who: Lady of Sorrows, Church Fire and Mirror Fears
When: Friday, 08.24, 7 p.m.
Where: Mercury Café
Why: Lady of Sorrows is the downtempo, brooding R&B solo project of Lady Justice of industrial/darkwave band Angel War. Church Fire is a band that should be everyone’s radar in Denver at this point but in case not the emotionally charged, noise-infused dance-darkwave band never disappoints with its cathartic live show. Mirror Fears too is in a similar vein but with a more ethereal vocal style and presence whose emotional power washes through you, cleansing the psychic detritus that seems to be stuck in everyone with a heart these days.
Saturday | August 25, 2018
Who: Archipelaghost at final Alligator Party
When: Saturday, 08.25, 9 p.m.
Where: Bowman’s Vinyl and Lounge
Why: Archipelaghost, an electronic/psychedelic rock band extraordinaire, is moving away as is Marie Litton of Pretty Mouth who will also DJ this show. Maybe they’ll be back through on a tour but for now this is your last if not only chance to catch them before they’ve relocated.
Who: Lead Into Gold, ohGr and Omniflux
When: Saturday, 08.25, 7 p.m.
Where: The Oriental Theater
Why: Paul Barker was the iconic bassist and co-producer of Seattle post-punk legends the Blackouts as well as EBM/industrial rock band Ministry during its most popular and productive era. Lead Into Gold was a side project Barker put together in the late 80s/early 90s. The project was basically put on the shelf until 2015 when Low & Slow was released, making available some tracks originally recorded in 1990. With 2017 performances including that at Chicago’s Cold Waves festival, Lead Into Gold became an active band again with a new album titled The Sun Behind the Sun appearing in 2018.
ohGr is the band formed by Nivek Ogre and Mark Walk of Skinny Puppy. Its music is not as dark or as heavy as Skinny Puppy can be, rather more a focus on the playful side of both musicians. Devils in My Details showcased a noisier side of ohGr and a more sound design approach to composing the music, a method Walk and Ogre also applied more to the then subsequent Skinny Puppy album 2011’s HanDover. As per Ogre’s performances with Skinny Puppy, from the early tours for ohGr in 2001 to now his stage appearance is theatrical and dramatic reflecting the flavor of the music. So for the 2018 album Tricks we can probably expect some heavy emphasis on animal imagery for the stage set and Ogre’s costuming.
Sunday | August 26, 2018
What: Textures: Pythian Whispers, Finnocitta and lib.eriana
When: Sunday, 08.26, 7 p.m.
Where: Mutiny Information Café
Why: This is the latest edition of Textures the ambient showcase hosted by Wesley Davis of biostatic and his Symbolic Insight imprint. Included on this bill is experimental electronic/ambient duo Pythian Whispers and lib.eriana, the acoustic and production project of Alan Muñiz, former member of avant-garde jazz band Malamadre. Drone, loops and beats artist Finnocitta from Gainesville, Florida will also make an appearance.
Who: Straight White Teeth, Modern Leisure, Briffaut and Whole Milk
When: Sunday, 08.26, 7 p.m.
Where: Lost Lake
Why: Patrick McGuire was a member of one of the more promising Denver pop bands Flashbulb Fires before he moved away to Philadelphia in 2015. After sustaining a severe injury that damaged his right arm putting any notion of every playing guitar and piano again in jeopardy. Two surgeries later and McGuire had full use of his arm back only for, according to the Straight White Teeth bio on its bandcamp page for the track “Lifetime,” McGuire and his girlfriend/former bandmate Ella Trujillo had to leave their home due to violence in the neighborhood. Now rootless with no permanent residence McGuire and Small White Teeth has managed to tour with McGuire as a solo act with tracks and what bandmates he can pull together for a show or performance. For the past year, McGuire has been recording and releasing singles rather than a full-length album all at once, a gesture that may give potential bandmates in any given city he may play a frame of reference. That this show will include the great Colorado indie pop bands Modern Leisure and Briffaut, from Denver and Colorado Springs respectively, suggests that maybe someone in either band could join McGuire for this performance.
Monday | August 27, 2018
Who: David Byrne
When: Monday, 08.27, 6:30 p.m.
Where: Red Rocks
Why: David Byrne is rightfully known for his idiosyncratic and visionary music art and performances going back to his days with punk/pop band Talking Heads in the 70s and 80s. His solo material as well as his various collaborative albums including those with Brian Eno (in particular the 1981 non-western ambient/electronic drone/samples masterpiece My Life In The Bush of Ghosts) and St. Vincent (for 2012’s Love This Giant) have been products of a unique imagination and curiosity that illuminate American culture and the human condition in ways that are both eccentric and relatable. Byrne’s body of work is proof that he’s not been one to fully rest on his laurels. This includes his 2018 album, American Utopia, which has been hailed as a return to form by critics. In some senses that is the case with Byrne’s inimitable songwriting style incorporating traditional instruments used in both traditional and decidedly unconventional ways alongside production methods as compositional tools, both giving his deceptively simple songs a sonic and emotional depth to enhance the experience of listening both in the recorded and life form. American Utopia is also a component of the multimedia project Reasons to Be Cheerful which aims to give people a reason to have some joy and hope in a time of seemingly unremitting bleakness and destructive political impulses with their inevitable consequences for the planet including human civilization.
For this tour Byrne is bringing a sprawling lineup to manifest the music of American Utopia as well as material from across his long career. People who purchase a ticket for this current run of shows can also redeem a coupon for a free CD copy of the album with details on the ticket. But the real treat is to see a master of the artform of pop in full bloom well into an already lengthy career.
Tuesday | August 28, 2018
Who: David Byrne
When: Tuesday, 08.28, 6:30 p.m.
Where: Red Rocks
Why: For David Byrne see above for Monday, 8.27.
Who: The Binary Marketing Show, New Standards Men, Equine and Sporehive
When: Tuesday, 08.28, 8 p.m.
Where: Thought//Forms Gallery
Why: The Binary Marketing Show is from somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. Its layers of drones, simple percussion, minimalist guitar, lo-fi production and spare vocals have an intimate, warm quality that is reminiscent of bedroom recordists and the more imaginative indie pop weirdos of the 2000s like Microphones, Dntel and Casiotone For the Painfully Alone. Going out on a limb maybe you’ll hear a hint of cLOUDDEAD in the way the controlled distorted instrumentals vibe with the understated vocals. Also on this bill are Denver drone guitar experimentalists New Standards Men and Equine as well as avant-instrumental improvisational band Sporehive.
Wednesday | August 29, 2018
Who: Cop Circles, Staggered Hooks, Techno Allah, Goo Age
When: Wednesday, 08.29, 9 p.m.
Where: The Meadowlark Bar
Why: Cop Circles is an artist that subverts the tropes of No Wave jazz, indie pop and Afrobeat to make the kind of catchy songs that are fun and danceable on their own but which are often sharp and thoughtful critiques of culture and the way social policies and economic models erode human dignity and our collective quality of life in ways that aren’t obvious unless you take the time to pay attention. Cop Circles music has a way of helping to clarify your way of thinking about these things without hitting you over the head with didactic platitudes. Staggered Hooks is Dean Inman of Dream Hike’s more industrial and ambient project and this may be the last time you get to witness Inman’s gift for sound design live before he moves out of Denver. Techno Allah is sort of a glitchy IDM dance artist. Goo Age makes environmental soundscapes populated by the sonic, abstract equivalents of ambient creatures in 16 bit video games. Not the kind you can or have to overcome, they’re just there to give the scene some character and Goo Age’s IDM-esque beats some serious flavor. Think a way more playful early-yet-updated Future Sound of London circa Lifeforms.
In the annals of weirdo, psychedelic, noisy rock Chrome (performing tonight, March 31 at Larimer Lounge) stands out as one of the true originals. Innovators of an art/acid damaged sound that fully blended synthesizers and rock music, Chrome is often considered one of the progenitors of industrial music. Butthole Surfers freely admit the influence, so did Stereolab. One has to assume Arab On Radar drew on Chrome’s proto-sampling, recontextualizing, deconstructionist impulses as well. When Chrome released its debut album The Visitation in 1976 it must have seemed as alien as its closest musical cousin in the early solo albums of Brian Eno. Ned Raggett Allmusic Guide described it as “Brian Eno meets Santana.” The latter probably because of the fluttery, bluesy leads that are the hallmark of part of the guitar sound on the record alongside the fuzzy, spidery melodies. The band might have continued to develop along that path if bassist Gary Spain hadn’t been playing violin in a band prior to The Visitation’s release with future Chrome guitarist Helios Creed, mentioning he was in a band called Chrome.
“I asked if I could hear it when it was done,” says Creed. “He gave me a copy and I liked the record, The Visitation, but I guess the record wasn’t selling at all and everybody quit. Then I auditioned and me and Damon [Edge] got along really well. It ended up just being me and him after a while. I played the bass on the first three records [after I was in Chrome]. When I heard that [first] record I [told them I] felt like they needed me and I was right.”
Creed had grown up in the 50s, 60s and 70s listening to, among other bands, Black Sabbath, Iron Butterfly, The Doors and Blue Cheer. “I went to go see Black Sabbath on acid and I sort of felt like I knew what I wanted to do, in a way,” says Creed. To Chrome, Creed brought another dimension to the band’s spirit of experimentation and a guitar sound that was as energetic as it was corrosive and both jagged and serpentine.
Starting with Alien Soundtracks, originally titled Ultra Soundtrack when it was a soundtrack project for what might be called an avant-garde strip show in San Francisco. But the music was considered too weird even for an endeavor like that in a city where strange art had long been embraced. From the opening track, “Chromosome Damage” to the last, “Magnetic Dwarf Reptile,” it is obvious that Chrome had absorbed obvious influences like Blue Cheer, Black Sabbath, Hendrix, Stooges and Hawkwind and allowed that to mutate and stew into something that sounded like what cyberpunk authors like William Gibson, John Shirley and Bruce Sterling were trying to capture when they took the spirit of J.G. Ballard’s visionary, dystopian science fiction and its influence on punk in brilliant new directions. Chrome albums have consistently seemed like science fiction novels and movies no one has yet written or made. “Yeah, we got sci-fi ideas and integrated it with the feel of the music,” says Creed. “Or a sterile, dehumanizing, robotic society. We had a lot of different kinds of inspirations. That movie Carrie? Alien, the first one. Blade Runner and A Clockwork Orange–the feel of those movies really inspired us.”
Although based in the Bay Area, Chrome didn’t exactly play live shows in a city where the avant-garde or any kind of strange, eccentric art seemed to find a home. The band had garnered critical acclaim abroad with Alien Soundtracks and its follow-up, 1979’s Half Machine Lip Moves but it wasn’t until 1981 that the group performed live for the first time.
“We didn’t play until Blood on the Moon came out,” says Creed. “That was our first show and we played in Italy at a music festival in Bologna. We played all new songs but they dug it. We played the whole Blood on the Moon album. There’s a live record of that show somewhere.”
The lineup with both Edge and Creed produced some of the most interesting and unusual music of the era including 1980’s more synth-infused Red Exposure, the aforementioned 1981 album Blood on the Moon and 1982’s 3rd From the Sun. With more electronic elements including drum machines, those records, dark and clearly taking cues from no one beyond the dictates of active and restless imaginations, Chrome’s sinister psychedelia was not destined to fit in with the fake positivism of the 1980s mainstream culture. Thank goodness. However, the Edge/Creed era of Chrome ended by the mid-80s and Edge moved to Paris with his wife and collaborator, Fabienne Shine. Edge released albums as Chrome into the 90s before he died of heart failure in 1995. Around that time he had reconnected with Creed with notions of doing Chrome together again.
After Chrome, Creed continued as a solo artist and collaborator with current synth and guitar player Tommy Grenas (from bands Farflung and Pressurehead) who connected Creed with former Hawkwind member Nik Turner with whom Creed and Grenas worked on a 1993 re-recording of Turner’s 1978 solo album Sphynx and the 1994 Nik Turner record Prophets of Time. Creed and Turner now have a band with Jay Tausig called Chromium Hawk Machine that put out an album called Annunaki in 2017 on Massimo Gasperini’s Black Widow Records imprint. “Massimo is into the whole Zecharia Sitchin theory about Nibiru so we made a record about it.”
Rumor had it that Grenas was able to get a hold of Edge’s original synth rig after the musician passed. Turns out the rumors were true.
“I met Damon before I met Helios,” reveals Grenas. “When Damon passed away I had the opportunity to buy his stuff when [his sister] Sharon put it up for sale and I bought it before anyone else did. I bought Damon’s [Moog] Liberation and the [Electro-Harmonix] Micro Synth and something else. I used it on the first tour but a lot of that stuff is too fragile to take on the road.”
Grenas used some of the older gear for the Chrome records that have come out since the turn of the century. Right now the band is touring in support of 2014’s Feel It Like a Scientist and 2017’s Techromancy. While the methods and means of making sound have changed, Chrome still seems off the frequency of mundane normalcy with songs about an ominous, dystopian future society.
“It seems like we’re on the brink of going right into that with machines and robots taking over,” says Creed. “So maybe they’ll just kill us, I guess. We’re going to be obsolete. ‘You must go to this room here and wait for destruction.’ We also have songs of hope.”
In spite of the overt sound of the band and the subject matter of the lyrics, Creed’s sharp and playful sense of humor is infused into the music as well and so is his willingness to explore the dark underbelly of American culture that is often simply dismissed as folklore. Although Creed grew up in Long Beach, California and lived in the San Francisco Bay area for much of his life, he did spend some years in the American Midwest where lurid stories of local figures and events are not in short supply.
“I was living in Manhattan, Kansas, twenty miles from Stull,” says Creed. “Supposedly it’s one of the gateways to Hell. That’s the scuttlebutt. Supposedly the Pope won’t fly over it when he comes to America. Every Halloween apparently the Goth people and witchy kind of people show up there thinking they’re talking to the dark ones. But really all it is is just a burned out church. [So the story goes,] a bunch of rednecks who hated blacks, and really everyone, put people in that church and burned it down and opened a vortex to hell. You know how the old west was. Where I was living in Kansas they used to cut the heads of slaves if they didn’t like them. All this stuff never gets written about but I know the history of Kansas is very dark. It ain’t no Wizard of Oz place, I’ll tell you that much.”