[24 July 2002]
“More Than Music 10 casts the net wider to reach out across different genres and scenes in order to forge links between them. In doing so we recognize that many of the same ethics and do it yourself attitudes are shared between the hip-hop, techno, indie, noise, industrial, metal, jazz, and hardcore scenes. By emphasizing these underlying links, even as we continue to revel in and learn from our differences, we begin to transcend typecasts, stereotypes, and preconceived notions.”
—from More Than Music’s mission statement, posted at morethanmusic.org
I didn’t take away much of a “do-gooder” attitude from the tenth installment of Columbus, Ohio’s More Than Music weekend—there were pamphleteers for the pro-choice movement and other lefty causes, and a film festival celebrating (among other things) vegan lifestyles and feminist pornography, but rock music seemed to be the order of business for most attendees. Of all the folding tables laid out across the Rhodes Center (a “youth center” and home of the Ohio Agricultural Hall of Fame, located on the state fairgrounds), the kids mostly gravitated towards the merch displays of the bands, labels, and distributors associated with the fest. It did feel grassrootsy and D.I.Y., but for all the networking going on (I came away with a sack full of promotional booty), it may as well have been a much larger festival, like CMJ or even Sundance.
The festival was laid out over three days, and music played from the early afternoon well until the evening (usually ending around midnight). I showed up at around 4:30 on Friday, shortly before my friend’s band Guyana Punch Line were due to head on stage.
I was still getting my bearings when Blow Up were on—I scribbled something in my pad about an organ-based noise sound, but they were done playing before I could really let the music sink in.
It was a well-organized event, down to making sure bands got their setups assembled and dismantled in time for each successive band to appear on schedule. I was in the ladies’ room when Guyana Punch Line started, and I ran out to catch them—I’d come to Ohio to see many of the bands advertised, but the biggest draw was getting to see GPL and meet up with their singer, Chris Bickel. Like their fellow billmates the Locust and Lightning Bolt, GPL play headspinningly fast, abrasively loud hardcore, and do it with an impressive level of diligence and skill. Plus, Bickel’s a nice guy: As soon as a song ends and he’s done with his king-hell vocal fury, he’ll earnestly apologize for how hard it is to make out the words, and point to the lyric sheets available over at the band table. It’s almost as cute as Melt-Banana’s meek “thank you"s between songs.
The Flying Luttenbachers followed—another band I’d come to MTM to see. The Luttenbachers fit in quite well with the afternoon’s unofficial “noise” theme: a jazzy-Beefheart cocktail with high camp value (the singer looks like the Count from Sesame Street) and an avant-hardcore foundation.
I’ll try to focus on the bands I actually saw and gave a shit about—and this leads me to the delightfully pretentious Rah Bras, heavy on ‘80s synths and mock-operatic female vocals (Ultravox meets Kate Bush?). Epitonic.com calls it “manic gothic cabaret punk,” and although that makes them sound more like the World/Inferno Friendship Society than Siouxsie and the Banshees or Nina Hagen (both appropriate comparisons), it’s an apt description.
I was aware of the all-girl Erase Errata based on word-of-mouth and an mp3 here and there. I had it cemented in my head that they were some sorta angular-no-wave-with-avant-didactic vocals, but they weren’t as weird and fun as I’d hoped. Their playing was fine if not astonishing, and they clearly wanted to ape No New Yorkers like James Chance; unfortunately, the end result was an artschoolish politico-Shaggs mash-up that didn’t offer anything but its own bratty bolshevist exhortations and atonality-for-its-own-sake.
Lightning Bolt weren’t quite as on as when I’d seen them at the Cooler in NYC a few years back, but they still managed to create a frenzied rapture—audience members threw water balloons, and set off smoke bombs and firecrackers. At one point, an object thrown by a fan caused one of the ceiling tiles to dislodge and fall on the densely packed mosh pit.
The Bolt have amazing rock ‘n’ roll instincts. They eschew the fourth wall of the concert stage and play on the floor, with the kids. This time around, they had a few technical problems (par for the course when you’re at a festival and hardly have time to get set up), but I think nearly everyone there either knew firsthand or had been prepped on what to expect from a Lightning Bolt show, and as the band messed around with various plugs and amplifiers, the anticipation spread like fever across the room. People pushed to grab a spot on stage, in front of the closed curtain—others stood on chairs, craning their necks to see the Rhode Island duo (a drummer and a bassist/vocalist who screams through a megaphone effect) play their inimitable aggressive-progressive hardcore/stoner-rock/free jazz. Five seconds after a Lightning Bolt gig is like five seconds after a monster-truck rally. And you will know it by the trail of dust.
The Locust are similar to Lightning Bolt—less asskick-macho and more musically tight, but equally gimmicky (proving that if you really do have the chops, your gimmick will only serve to enhance the strengths of your sound, not distract from its weaknesses) (their gimmick is they dress like bugs - no, it’s cute!). But they know as well as anyone that a mangled yelp and a construction-site rhythm need some form of melodic anchor—and I thank them for throwing out the occasional note along with the steady clatter of jihad artillery.
Friday’s headliners, Tokyo’s Melt-Banana, add to the Locust sound with a Japanese female singer. Her sweet, regular-gal persona plays nicely against the monotonous screech of her singing voice—hip-hop agitprop meets Yoko on 45. They were the last band on and their set went about twenty minutes too long; I went out into the hallway to sit down, and I got to hear the crowd reactions (“Ugh, that was horrible!” “Wow! That was awesome!”) as people filed out.
I missed the early portion of Saturday’s lineup, although I did get to see hyperpercussive screamos Pg. 99 perform later on at an after-hours house party (with the fantastic An Albatross, who do a Locust/Melt-Banana redux with a Farfisa organ).
The Dropscience didn’t appeal to me in the least—the name is awful, and that alone should be a warning bell. In theory, I suppose I like Tool and Rage Against the Machine, even though I don’t listen to them much. But I know that I hate their legions of impostors, and I didn’t have the tolerance for this sludgy, boring nu-metal/hip-hop/emo hybrid. Nor did I feel like being especially kind to Glass Candy & the Shattered Theater (one-line summation: bottom-of-barrel Debbie Harry doesn’t have the personality or the voice to front the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s K-Tel equivalent). And Blood Brothers, another hardcore act, were good, but I was feeling a little burned out on the genre—once the scenery changed to the backyard after-party in town, I was ready for more.
That brings us up to 9 p.m., and of all the people I talked to, I believe I was alone in liking the Scene Creamers (another silly name, and I don’t blame anyone for being skeptical). The Scene Creamers are Ian Svenonius and Michelle Mae of the Make-Up, and they take barebones ‘60s surf-rock and stick a rubbery-postured Pop/Johansen/Reed would-be out front. It’s funny, cuz I think Svenonious actually has a grasp of what made those singers so vital in their prime—Johansen’s undying dedication to old soul music, Pop’s wiseass native intelligence, and Reed’s verby attempts at pseudo-political relevance. If it goes no deeper than being a kinda-cool three-way impression, then whatever—it still makes me smile in recognition.
People really violently disliked Tracy & the Plastics, a one-woman “band” (i.e., a woman singing and screwing around with a sampler while staring at her imaginary band mates on a video screen, her imaginary band mates played by Tracy with little effort to disguise her face or voice). Her music is fairly average electroclash—manna from heaven for byte-geeks who are just now bringing their Madonna crushes out of the closet. I didn’t hate it; I wasn’t even annoyed by it. Her video work was cute, interspersing shots of the Plastics with surreal cut-ups. And I liked her ditzy vocal tics, reminiscent of Petra Haden’s spoken cameo at the beginning of Weezer’s “Undone” (“Can I get a riiiiiide?”). After Bratmobile’s set, I was ready to retroactively declare Ms. Plastic brilliant. (She wasn’t, but bear with me.)
There isn’t a lot to say about Bratmobile as a band. The guitar is sloppy and tuneless (despite singer Allison Wolfe’s claim that they “can play now”); the drums are competent but thin-skinned, and Wolfe, if she’s a somewhat able vocalist, has an irreproachably obnoxious stage presence (dancing around in short-shorts, doing gymnastics, and acting like a preteen prat), and an obsession with talking about her gender.
Wolfe’s feminist screeds about the admittedly outdated “women in rock” discussion seemed out of place at the progressive More Than Music festival, which gave plenty of face time to women who were not (like Wolfe) only singers, but accomplished instrumentalists in bands that actually have some credibility among males. In addition to this, a gang of Bratmobiliacs descended like a plague upon a male friend of mine, who wasn’t impressed with Tracy & the Plastics and made a harmless, tossed-off remark that “Maybe if I were a girl I’d understand.” It’s amazing how damaging one semester of Women’s Studies can be to a person’s sense of humor.
During Shellac’s set, frontman Steve Albini (esteemed producer, former Big Black leader, and notorious pain-in-everybody’s-indie-rock-ass) mocked Allison Wolfe’s incoherent gender-rant (“We’re here cuz we wanna be here; we’re not here to prove anything!”), and showed how dumb the same statement sounds coming from the mouth of a typical rockperson, even if said rockperson is in reality as paranoid and self-ghettoizing as the sort of angry feminist he can’t stand.
I didn’t stick around for the full Sunday show; I wanted to see the Walkmen, but I was ready to head back to New York, and I decided to catch a ride with some friends just as Jets to Brazil were starting (at 5:30).
I liked openers Xiu Xiu, an interesting experimental/ambient band that employed Korg synthesizers, a rack of gongs and chimes, and an old-fashioned squeezebox. They would have really appealed to me were it not for the (ugh) bleating emo vocals, which don’t suit the sound at all.
With the exception of Pilot to Gunner (straightahead melodic punk) and Dälek (underground hip-hop with some spectacular turntable effects), both of whom I recently saw at the Gern Blandsten Records 10th anniversary show, I wasn’t too keen on Sunday’s bill. The absolute worst of the lot was Ghost Orchids, an electronic death-rock parade of goth clichés (it’s like hearing New Order’s “Blue Monday” over and over and over an and then there’s a cover of Public Image Limited’s “Careering” that sounds like New Order’s “Blue Monday”). Repulsive. Humorless. Dull.
I didn’t mind taking off during the middling Jets to Brazil—I didn’t consider it leaving the festival on a sour note, since Dälek, who’d just finished, was one of the very best acts on any of the weekend’s bills. Armed with a small duffel bag, a half-used disposable camera, and a ripped paper sack full of all the cheap vinyl I’d picked up in town, I left Columbus feeling pretty good.