Saturday, June 4, 2016

BigBldgBash 2016

The kids and a cousin and I all went to Big Building Bash or Big Bldg Bash 2015 and enjoyed it immensely, enough so that I made a point of getting tickets for 2016. This year I went with my daughter and my other daughter's boyfriend on June 4 and we had a great time.

The bash is held in an odd sorta DIY/industrial building down by where the Spokane St. Viaduct crosses Highway 99. It's surrounded by the 270 degree turn from Eastbound on Alaskan Way to Northbound on Highway 99, a big huge flying concrete monstrosity that circles the block up above. The main parking area is across the street directly under the Spokane St. Viaduct. The surrounding neighborhood and the space itself are quite unique.

You enter the Big Building's lot from the West end, on the North side from the surface street just south of the Spokane St. Viaduct, into the lot next to the Big Building. A couple or three food trucks line the area and there are tables and benches. One of the venues is just inside the building here and usually has the garage door rolled open so you can hear things mildly well.

You can see the "front" side of the Big Building in this photo, it's the blue-greenish building in the middle right, below the Highway 99 Viaduct.
You go in the door and the first space is to the right, the one with the garage door opening to where you just were. They set up 2 stages, one at each end, so the bands can overlap setup and tear down a little more, making for tighter turn-arounds and more bands overall. Further down the hall stairs led up to another performance space, this one is on the North side of the building. The rooms up here look like artists spaces and small dance practice spaces. If you skip the stairs and continue past on the first level you get to the loading bay which is the largest stage, or rather the 2 largest stages. In 2016 they put a big bar area in between the two stages in the loading bay, and also opened up another outdoor space at the East end of the building. They also had another path from the big loading bay to some vendor/artist tables, a bar, and a DJ.

It took some wandering about to figure out where all of the spaces were, it was a bit of a maze of hallways and back areas. This description doesn't do the space justice, it really is a Big Building and this year they had blacklight art installed in the main hall past the stairs up towards the bathrooms that gave the section a surreal dark-and-light-at-the-same-time feel. Suspended geometric structures made of orange and green UV driven pigments that glowed brightly provided most of the light. The occasional white cotton shirt or teeth glowing brightly in the crowd below as they shuffled through the hallway, edging past each other, provided the remaining light. The hallway had a somewhat ethereal feel to it. You could see well enough to get around, but it was dark enough for details to fade in the corners, making everything feel a little vague.

It was a gorgeous hot day and there was a dense selection of great bands playing a wide variety of music. Most of the time 2 or 3 bands were playing at the same time and a wide range of music was available. Soft folky stuff with harmonies, cranky bluesy stuff, thrashy punkish sweaty sets and angry metal head bangers, pop, synths, singer songwriters and the hard to describe in between bits, you could find good music and bands you'd never heard of before kicking ass all over the place. A bit more slide guitar than usual maybe, but that seems like the new norm since we saw the same at Fisherman's Village in Everett.

So many good bands, but I didn't take much in the way of pictures or videos though. I'll go ahead and use whatever I can find off the internet (OK, off of flickr anyway) to illustrate my blog.

High points in no particular order:

  • Black Plastic Clouds played the fest again this year. They were one of my favorite discoveries last year so it was good to see them again, still rocking out and working the crowd into a sweat.
  • Cloud Person (another repeat) put on a great set, and they had a child of a band member join them on-stage, it was just about the cutest most endearing thing I've ever seen.
  • Crazy Eyes loud and swaggering on the back stage, smashing away at the electric piano and rocking out with a good grinding pounding electric sound.
  • Wild Powwers playing fast, tight rock and roll - great vocals, standout drumming, driving bass and a great almost classic guitar-oriented-rock sound
  • Pillar Point's spacey synths and good driving beats and haunting sound, one of the better fits with the venue.
  • & Yet playing a tight set, different sound with the strings, extremely well written songs. Like Pillar Point and Black PLastic Clouds for that matter, Pillar Point also played back to back in festivals, playing both 2015 and 2016. I actually got a video of them last year.
  • The later shows outside when it got dark, especially the ones with the lasers and fog, were outstanding.
  • The back stage, the furthest from the front that was also outdoors, had odd flame towers - 20+ foot tool metal towers that vent flaming propane clouds above us under computer control. They setup a demo where you played a kind of "Simon" like game where you had to repeat a sequence of taps in 1 of 4 colored quadrants on a translucent drum head looking device, each success leading to a repeat of the sequence with another random quadrant selected making it harder and harder to repeat without errors. Eventually the player would botch it, missing a note or playing the wrong one, and the flame towers would erupt with five clouds of furiously burning propane above our heads, rising up towards the level of the nearby Alaskan Way Viaduct, baking us with additional heat fort a few seconds. Basically 5 fireballs would erupt and we'd all break out in sweat, then they'd dissipate in a few seconds and the game would begin again.

I'm convinced that the obscure local festivals - Big Bldg Bash, Macefield Fest, Fisherman's Village - provide by far the best value in music. Huge lineups of great local bands in local venues, not like the corporate polished mega-shows at all, very much unique personal efforts that reflect their neighborhoods and the Seattle music scene with opportunities to see more local bands than you even knew existed. I see plenty of shows and these are the ones that stick in my memory and define the year in music for me when I look back after the fact. West Seattle Fest and Timber Fest also fit this mold, Van's Fest is also the sort of thing I'm talking about and I'm sure I'm leaving many equivalents out. I recommend finding the more obscure smaller scale non-corporate festivals and support them with your ticket money and enthusiasm, you won't be disappointed.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

KEXP: Seattle's Living Room

I needed to settle in with WiFi for a bit to catch up on work so I drove over to the KEXP studio public space.

Plenty of reasonably comfortable couches and chairs, KEXP playing over the nice sound system, espresso counter, this is Seattle's living room.

I got my usual coffee drink, settled in and took care of the electronic work. The WiFi worked fine, so I was able to get done in time to join the group let into the hall outside the studio to watch an interesting performance.

Gerald Collier, Friselle and John Doe each performed some Woody Guthrie material and spoke about Guthrie's influence.
The performance was mic'ed and produced extremely well, the sound we got through the speakers in the hallway was exceptional. A crew of 3 or 4 cameras operators stood and squatted in the middle of the circle of musicians, filming and taking pohotos. We had been warned not to try to take any photos or they'd remove us, so the photos available from KEXP are all I've got. They took enough footage and I'm sure they recorded the whole thing on multitrack equipment so with any luck they'll provide the performance video at some point. KEXP's videos have wonderful sound and clean clear video.
Not that this video has much to do with the performance we saw, but it's a nice example of KEXP's video ouput. Perhaps 30 of us, from geezers like me to 4 year olds being held by their dad all stood rapt and listened. Then the performance ended and we went back into the public area, Seattle's living room. I pulled the laptop out to get back to work in a better frame of mind than usual, I have to say I enjoy getting to hang out at the KEXP space.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Fisherman's Village 2016

Carina and I made it to all 3 days of Fisherman's Village Music Festival in Everett. I'd missed it previously and regretted it, they had a great lineup of local talent. We made up for it this year, seeing all kinds of new (to me) bands, different styles, great venues, we had a blast.187
I didn't track band names, no notes or anything. That's be too much like work! That means I have tow work out who the bands are by looking at the schedule and relying on my weak memory. I think this is Bear Mountain based on their late Saturday slot in the historic Everett Theater. Probably.

Bands I know more about or have seen before are easier to track. I recognize Julia Massey and the 5 Finger Discount, we saw her/them at the Anchor pub. Great set! 162

Julia Massey had been highly recommended to me and I'd never quite managed to catch a set so it was satisfying to finally catch them. They're great just like my distant cousin told me. Fun local act having a good time performing for an appreciative audience, Fisherman's Village delivered and then some.

Star Anna played an intense, intimate set at the Anchor. I've seen her at Bumbershoot and looked forward to this set, I'm glad we made it. The Anchor is actually several blocks from the rest of the festival, and by this time (Sunday) our feet were getting sore. We drove the car down to the waterfront and back a few times to save our energy and I'm glad we did. We eventually wore out, but not before seeing Star Anna putting on a show and I suspect we might not have made it without the car to save our energy.


We also got some nice sushi next door at J Ramen and Sushi. That and the tea warmed us up and got us motivated to stay for more music. 


It was a cold and occasionally wet festival, which is unfortunate when there's an outdoor stage. It's still fun when the band is good, like Fauna Shade, for example.
But even for local heroes like Fauna Shade, fewer people show up when it's raining and crowd energy tends to be a little more muted. Harder to be hot when you're cold? Great set and the crowd enjoyed it, but if it had been 20 degrees warmer we'd have all been dancing and moshing and there would have been twice as many people. Outdoor Festivals in the greater Puget Sound area face this risk, at least we had some cooperative evening weather, anyway.
We did get a little bit of action at Zippy's early Saturday, catching Tobias the Owl, a personal favorite, Robert Blake, and Johanna Warren
The indoor stages were great. The historic Everett Theater is an awesome venue.
Plenty of room up front for the crowd to get in close and dance. The Ramblin' Years definitely had us packing the aisles and the front area, dancing and having a great time. 118
Grace Love and the True Loves played a spectacular set at the Everett Theater late Friday night.

They brought down the house, powerful music and powerful vocal performance, tight band with chops, the guitar and horn section are standout and the bass, drums and keys fill in the sound and rive the beat and the whole thing just has us dancing and jumping and yelling, definitely a peak experience.
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention all of the great bands we saw at Tony V's Garage.
Many of our favorite new discoveries were here all weekend. Skyemonkey, Sundries, Hollers, Cracker Factory, Campion, Sphyramid and Leava all played great sets.
Notice the dude playing a slide in this picture. There were more slide players at this festival than any other event I've ever seen.
I've been writing this post by wandering through my pictures to trigger my memory. This has the interesting effect of generating content in backwards order. Sunday bands are first up in my photo stream, then Saturday, and now I'm finishing up with Friday, the first day of the festival. Slightly odd how the minor tech details can dictate how you create something.

Friday, April 15, 2016

EMP Pop Conference Get UR Freak On

This is a longer version of a blog I already published; I spent some time talking and thinking about the theme - transgression and weirdness - in this one, ended up editing it out at the time but I wanted to publish the longer and more opinionated version, so here it is.

I've mentioned that I like to take engineers visiting from out of town out to see some local music. Recently the EMP held the annual Pop Conference with the theme "Get UR Freak On: Music, Weirdness and Transgression" and booked TacocaT, Chastity Belt, S and Childbirth for an opening show in the Sky Church.

This is the sort of different musical experience available in Seattle that would be hard to come by in most cities. The top few cities have comparable and better - NY, Chicago, LA, and a few other huge cities have truly varied and huge music scenes, but few cities under 1 million have the variety and depth and deep bench that Seattle has. This is exactly the sort of show I look for to take the visiting engineers - it's even all ages!

There are challenges, though. The Get UR Freak On theme and sexual content and tone are generally not appropriate in a business environment. On the show web page there were links for the bands & one of the links led directly to "I Only Fucked You as a Joke"

From the album it's a girl!
Childbirth album "it's a girl!" on Bandcamp

While this is a valid artistic expression and probably more common than anyone wants to admit (and a great song!), this is inappropriate in a business context.

On the other hand, we're talking a business context in Seattle, after all. And I've had mild problems with boundaries on occasion too, I overshare on occasion and... well, I talked myself into it.

I mitigated the risk of triggering corporate pain and HR investigations (can you tell I work at a large corporation?) by adding a "BTW If you follow the links and listen to the bands, use headphones. Some of this stuff is NSFW - REALLY!" clause to the email and sent it out to 10 coworkers at Cisco. I wouldn't try that with a larger list or a list that included more people that I didn't know well, but I felt safe in forwarding it to my coworkers, we're all adults with reasonable senses of humor.

It was a great call, of course, but that was never in doubt as far as bands go. About the only thing that didn't go well is that we took so long eating dinner before the show that we missed Childbirth - dang, they had songs I wanted to hear live. Better luck next time, I'll have to keep an eye out for them.

We managed to make it for a classic S set: introspective and haunting, guitar driven without wailing, more a reverb and space approach. Sometimes the lyrics were more out front with multiple parts, sometimes the lyrics faded into the songs yet echoed with emotions felt from a distance or remembered with fading intensity. The instruments change up on occasion for some keyboards but the haunting quality and the feeling of remembered emotional intensity remains.

The EMP Sky Church is a great place to see a show, nobody is very far from the performers and the sound is excellent. My cell phone shot above doesn't do it justice, but it gives you some idea of where we are and the scale of the performance space, anyway. I found a nice creative commons photo from Joe Mabel (here's his flickr page)
I enjoyed it but the Indian engineers were subdued - it's kinda subdued music as far as that goes, I suppose. They were looking for more active music, stronger beats and motion and dancing preferred. Dancy pop music would be more up their alley.

Chastity Belt was up next and while they're not poppy, they certainly brought a higher energy level, louder beat and more positive subject matter to the table. Chastity Belt is more guitar oriented rock and roll, loud with backbeat and a full sound - rhythm and lead guitar, bass, drums and solid rock and roll vocals. Not pretty and polished, more powerful and sneering or laughing - sometimes with us, sometimes at us, a committed performance with a fuck you if you don't like it attitude. That very attitude makes it more appealing and evocative. I just convinced myself they're punk rock too (coming from me that's a complement) but I've never sweated the categories all that much..

They use irony and hit subjects that aren't often covered, or cover them from an angle different from what you're used to. Rock and roll was originally about transgression and so was punk and so is Chastity Belt if you look at it that way. Chastity Belt holds up the great "outsider music" tradition of providing a voice for an attitude, a point of view, and excluded people that is usually drowned out and preached against and trivialized or worse still demonized.

Since my cell phone photo is lame as usual I dug up another creative commons photo so you can see what we saw. Heck, with my nearsightedness we're probably seeing more than I saw at the show in this photo, it's got details! (This photo is from Joe Mabel again; his flickr)

Chastity Belt - Pop Conference 2015 - 04 (17239409565)
The vocals in Chastity Belt are classic rock and roll, not pretty but expressive, able to get raw, to surge to a powerful crescendo and wind it back, but used in a pretty aggressive manner. This is not subtle music, this is loud amplified music that knows it's load and amplified and likes it and has a swagger or maybe a strut.

Fun set, talented band worth seeing in a great venue.

Next up was the sheer (surf?) pop sweetness of TacocaT. This was the perfect for the visiting engineers. Well executed songs, guitar driven with a great beat, very dance friendly. Bright and exuberant, TacocaT has so much fun you can't help but have fun too.

I have no idea if the visiting engineers were able to hear the vocals and understand them, they all speak and understand English very well but getting TacocaT's word play and underlying meaning can be challenging. Figuring out cultural references the first time you hear a song in a live setting in a non-native tongue would be challenging.

That's OK, they loved the show based on the music and the beat and the performer's visual appeal and what they got of the word play, it was a wonderful upbeat fun set. TacocaT always puts on a great live show - you should see them outdoors on a sunny day with a bubble machine!

Knowing what the songs are about, they are another example of songs that are "outside" of the usual POV for rock and roll. Most rock and roll has a leering attitude towards women; when Ted Nugent's song sang "Hey Baby" it was followed by "Get into the back of my car." Direct and brutal and not even remarkable back then. When TacocaT sings "Hey Girl" their purpose is exactly 180 degrees in the opposite direction: to push back on street harassment, not glorify and justify it.

The booking for this show delivered. Get UR Freak On indeed. All of the bands are out of the rock and roll mainstream in a way that seems like it shouldn't be a mainstream criteria at all: they're groups with reversed sex ratios. Some are all women, some have a token dude. This is the exact opposite of the commercial reality in the business of music. Check out Coachella and Sasquatch where the norm  is all dude bands (5 out of 6) and the cutting edge bands have one woman. All-woman-bands are unusual at festivals and that's not because there aren't a ridiculous number of talented all-women-bands out there. Anybody not mired in their privilege knows that there's structural, cultural, financial, and who knows how many other roadblocks and barriers placed in the way of creative outsiders.

Music can be a serious business that moves the cultural consensus and penetrates our careful structures of falsehoods and prejudices and silences and taboos that allow us to ignore our privileges. Ignorance of privilege and it's relative plausible deniability are important elements in helping us continue to behave as ignorant privileged assholes. I swim in privilege and I have a hard time seeing it - our culture is just that good at hiding it and normalizing it and justifying it and misdirection, and it's hard to motivate myself to give up on the illusion that I'm better than most and earned the good stuff that privilege brings.

When someone steps outside of the fake cultural construct it forces us to see our privilege or at least makes it harder to miss. Not to get all meta and cosmic about it, but music can provide access to the marginalized and disrespected, allowing them to pull back the curtain a bit.

Men have been writing and performing explicitly raunchy songs about sex with violent overtones and outright rape for decades. A few women do songs about taboo subjects like menstruation and being sex positive and they're the ones who are transgressive? This brings the ludicrous nature of things, how out of balance it is, into a clearer focus, and at the same time it increases the cultural space available for previously taboo topics. Rock and roll and the outsider music genres like it (blues, hip hop, rap, genres originally considered transgressive that have been mainstreamed) allow us to see some of the problems and illusions and fallacies of our situation if we're paying attention.

Thanks to three kick ass bands for providing a great show and a different perspective and challenging me to try to get out of my comfort zone, It ain't easy and it's never particularly done, but I'm better for the attempts.