by Brad Roberts
It's hard to imagine a more stimulating or exciting event as this year's Culture Collide Festival. That's NO on stage at the World Stage at right. Now in its fourth year, I had only attended once before, two years ago and only saw a few bands, but getting a press pass this year, I decided to throw myself into it as fully as my time...and energy, would allow. The festival ran from Thursday through Saturday in as many as eight venues at its peak.
Going to their website, I was able to sample almost all of the bands on the schedule and jotted down quick shorthand notes like "dream pop", "shoegaze" or "sad girl folk", "delicate quivering voice" or "baroque pop" next to the band names. It gave me something to go on with my unfamiliarity of almost all the artists.
On Thursday, October 10, I raced over after work and got there in time to check in, get my treasured press wrist band and step into the Taix Front Lounge to hear Melpo Mene, a Swedish indie band whose lead singer, Erik Mattiasson, appeared to be suffering from some kind of stage-confessional jet lag, but pulled it together to deliver a couple of interesting songs. I saw them again on Saturday and was quite impressed by their second set. Catchy songs with nice vocal harmonies and complex arrangements.
I intended to spend most of the evening at Lot 1 as the band Secret Shine (UK) was the one I was most impressed with when I sampled their music and read their history as a seminal band in the shoegaze movement in England, and they were set to play at 11 PM. Before departing Taix, I stopped by the Champagne Room to hear a little bit of Wooster (US) who sounded very good as a representation of American indie rock with lots of jangly charm and a singer whose voice resembled that of Finn Andrews of The Veils. I really wanted to see Bombay Show Pig (Netherlands), not just because of the arresting name, but their energetic samples intrigued me, and they were scheduled to go on at Lot 1 at 9.
I didn't get there till 9:30 but, fortunately Bombay Show Pig (at left) were just going on when I arrived, so I got to see a really lively and passionate set by this dynamic duo. Linda Van Leeuwen wails away on the drums, while keeping focused on her ferocious vocals, which bounce off the steady voice and guitar of bandmate, Matias Janmaat. Very impressive, high energy power, these two make a tremendous noise.
Next up was Like Swimming (Sweden) who play a delicately structured and soothing indie rock hybrid containing lots of atmospheric background ambiance. Well sung boy/girl harmony vocals stand at the center of each song.
But it was Secret Shine who knocked me off my feet. The pioneering British shoegaze band formed in the early 90s, their career went on hiatus in 1996 as members attended to personal goals, but by 2004 they re-formed, released two albums of new material and have continued to the present. Their fans included Kevin Bronson and Modern Time Machines' Ben Golomb, who both filled me in on the band's history. RFSL's Kathryn Pinto joined us.
The minute they began a spell was cast over the room as happens when a room full of people are listening to something really extraordinary and all ears become one big collective ear. Kevin and Ben told me they had been fans of Secret Shine (at right) for decades, but that they had never seen them as they rarely, if ever, appeared in Los Angeles. Consequently I realized nobody in the room had ever seen them performing live before so everyone was falling in love at the same time. A heady collective rush.
Steady jangly beat, hypnotic solo and harmony vocals, swirling guitars and gorgeous melodies, punctuated by moments of such delicate orchestrations (it was like blown glass) seduced me into a state of sublime reverie. I got two of their CD's on the spot and the full length The Beginning and The End from 2011 has become my favorite album of the moment. Secret Shine played the festival two more times, but too early for me to catch them again, as I had to work during the days. Here's hoping they'll come back to L.A. again.
In spite of the fun of Thursday, I was barely tired for the Friday night installment and I didn't even stop for dinner between work and the festival, choosing to eat there. I headed straight for the outdoor stage by Taix called the World Stage to hear some of the US band, Medicine. Like Secret Shine, they have been making indie music since the early 90s, but I had yet to hear them. At the time I was eating a couple of tacos and downing a beer, while striking up a nice conversation with a British couple here on their honeymoon, so I didn't pay the attention they deserved, but it sounded nice in the background.
My next stop was a memorable one as I and this nice couple walked over to Echo Park United Methodist Church to catch Jacco Gardner (above), whose samples lead me to describe them as "Baroque pop". A lovely indoor space with seating was welcome and as the band started up, so did a spectacularly beautiful light show which danced off the white walls and ceiling of the church interior. And the music was stunning. Gorgeously orchestrated chamber rock with the pearly vocals of lead singer Jacco. In fact all four band members sang and the harmonies were almost choir-like as they echoed throughout the reverential atmosphere. Wonderful song hooks. I got their CD too which is called Cabinet of Curiosities, and it is a perfect recreation of their 60s style Britpop sound.
The remainder of the night was taken up with partial sets by Terry Poison (Israel) who performed a kind of Blondie/disco amalgam with a strong, solid voice in the Taix Champagne Room before a crowd of dancing maniacs. Kathryn and I met lead singer Louise Kahn the following night and she was sweet and sincere.
In the Taix Front Lounge, The Pack AD (Canada) played to a packed room and it was easy to see why when lead singer Becky Black (at left) devoured her microphone with her powerhouse delivery. She was a ferocious wonder to behold performing a raucous punk rave-up with an equally revved up assist from Maya Miller on drums. A definite must for fans of 80s punk rock. I think I saw most of her set, but as I wanted to see Duologue (UK) next door, I left just before Becky smacked her head during a song and consequently passing out and being hospitalized. Fortunately she's on the mend, but had to cancel a few subsequent performances. We wish her the best. She's quite a commanding performer.
Duologue (UK) (at right) play a kind of brainy, indie math rock sung by a lead singer whose very expressiveness is well served by the powerful back up he gets from a varied and talented band. Soulful vocals and a hypnotically orchestrated background creating a nice spell, as well as the surprising variety in the songs.
On Saturday, I was so pleased with the last two days, I couldn't wait to get over there for the final day of festivities. Especially since Rob Crow (US) was scheduled to play an acoustic solo set at 11:30 in Taix Champagne Room, which would provide the perfect finale to this great festival as he is half of Pinback...and you know what I think of them.
Optic Yellow Felt (Brazil) (above) were sensational with a lead singer, Victor Nader, with considerable swagger and style and a kind of glam-rock voice,along with a band, including his brother Lino Nader on bass (and wearing a kilt??), Ed Marson (at right) on screaming guitar and a saxophonist (Ricardo Pires) and pianist (Nando Morsani), all playing in perfect coordination. Arresting songs combined with passionate delivery and the whole set was an upbeat surprise. These guys play together seamlessly.
I am always looking forward to seeing NO, and though they went on earlier than the schedule I had, I still got out to the World Stage in time to see most of their set. The crowd was with them all the way and roared it's approval. Bradley Hanan Carter stalked the stage and rumbled out his grumbling baritone and the band sounded as tight as ever.
After that I stayed for King Khan & The Shrines (Germany/Canada) (at left) who I didn't know but who totally overwhelmed me. This spectacular outfit made up of musicians from around the world boasts King Khan as the bigger-than-life lead performer. Part James Brown, Wilson Pickett and Sly Stone he struts around the stage engaging all his varied musicians, including a three-piece brass section who wear capes and dance. Super-psychedelic soul with an international flavor, this was a festival highlight. The huge audience was ecstatic.
It was off to see old friends, Incan Abraham (above) at Echoplex, and it was nice to settle into the patio and chat with friends and then go see a really superb set by the band, who sounded as good as I've ever heard them. Ran into Melpo Mene for the second time at Taix Front Lounge and this time they actually blew me away. Really excellent songwriting. Erik Mattiasson is an interesting singer with a lot of character. Meeting him afterward he was very gracious and gave me his album, Behind The Trees, (also excellent). And finally, I got to the Rob Crow (at right) set back at Taix Champagne Room where I ended my night. I always try to at least say hello every time I see him and Rob told me he was actually a little nervous as he was doing his solo thing of playing 30 songs in 40 minutes. Not an easy feat, but I've seen him do it before (at Spaceland) so I knew it would be breathless. Pulling songs mostly from his two solo albums, the songs are super-fast but each recognizable and it's just a pleasure to be able to be up close to watch his guitar playing and hear his voice almost sans-amplification.
I just can't get over what a good time this was and I want to thank the people of Filter Magazine and the Culture Collide staff for a beautifully run festival. And the great opportunity to meet so many terrific people and bands.
photos by Brad Roberts