Nestled within the confines of the Strawberry Hill neighborhood in Kansas City, KS, the FOKL Center flourishes in a space marked with little more than the four letters which make its namesake. Formerly the Tienda Latina market, the large display windows that face the street at its corner perch give a view of the precarious intersection at 7th and Central, a crossing which I found out that night is the antithesis of pedestrian friendly. Inside the building, the floors remain tiled with the featureless squares of vinyl that once provided footing for those acquiring their weekly groceries. These days, the floors support the traipsing, dancing, and stomping influenced by frequent art installations and live music performances.
The idea of a music festival in its basest form is daunting to all parties involved. The bands are kept on a tight schedule of loading and unloading heavy amps and road cases filled with who knows how many pedals, wires and gear, perpetually waiting for their brief moment to give what crowd there is little more than a sampling of their work, then tirelessly haul that same equipment back out to their van. The venue and those volunteering to keep things on track are constantly kept on their feet by unexpected malfunctions throughout the course of the night, and deserve commending for keeping their sanity intact through it all. Lastly, the audience themselves are inundated with a variety of musical choices, asking themselves if they should see band A, B, or sometimes C, D, or E.
The first ever Kansas City Psychfest made a good choice in staggering the musical acts so that while one is playing on the ground level, a band is setting up in a second performing area in the basement. In theory, when the first band finishes, the second band begins playing minutes later, providing an almost seamless night of music. There really is no better way to have a dozen artists play in the same building in one evening, but when put in practice the difficult task is given of deciding whose set you should break from to take a piss, get some fresh air, or grab a bite to eat.
The evening of music was kicked off at 7:00 with Thee Devotion performing upstairs. The local five-piece with an affinity for fuzzed-out ’60s and ’70s funk (with a nod toward The Sonics), white pants, frilled shirts, and platforms just released a new record and played some of it that evening. Davin Watne spent half the set with a pastel-colored guitar around his shoulder, and the other half peacocking around his performing area, all while giving a surprisingly on-point falsetto, wherein the stories were about ladies, sexiness, and other things one would expect from the kind of music they play. Such a performance was ultimately lost on a small, motionless crowd that wasn’t yet prepared for that kind of energy.
The duo that followed contrasted as much with the previous act as the dark basement from which the sounds emitted did with the luminosity of the light sculpture in the room above. Delaney Moore and Sterling Holman performed a set of improvisational drone as Twofaced, each settled adjacent from each other in the corner of the room. Ropes of intertwining red and blue light lay at their feet, providing the only other glimmer in the room barring the projector immersing the corner in fragmented images and video displays. The forms dancing on the walls were not so much influenced by the sounds coming from Holman’s guitar and Moore’s table of gadgets, but the aimless movements created a haphazard kinship with the wandering intonation they produced. The project has recorded together, but at this time none of it has been made public.
Upstairs, Brandon Knocke stood alone behind a case piled high with keyed instruments, eyes ceaselessly darting from one piece to another while everything above his waist instinctively bobbed in rhythm with the synth-heavy electronic music he creates as Discoverer. The tracks Knocke displayed began as sharp, bare-boned beats with a few sequencer knob turns, then were gradually piled upon until the initial raw beat was only an undercurrent to often soaring panoramas of groove conscious streaks that gnawed at a vintage aesthetic. Discoverer’s last output was 2010’s Build a Base, but a brand new album is expected to be released later this year. Knocke can also be seen and heard as one half of Parts of Speech, whose approach to ’80s centric synth pop is strewn with sleazy fuzz and overdubs.
Among the three musicians that make up the Jorge Arana Trio exists decades of experience in crafting fast-paced compositions with erratic time signatures. As a founding member of Pixel Panda, Arana is no stranger to the precision required in constant time changes, though with the Trio he is able to venture into avant-garde jazz experimentation. Most songs may feature a calculated mashing of keys or a meticulously plucked guitar, backed with bass and drums played with accuracy just as severe. Violinist Chaski Zapata joined mid-set to further accentuate the sheer veracity one can achieve through adherence to training. Final side note: it’s a bit odd that Jorge would play immediately after Discoverer, as Trio drummer Josh Enyart played with Knocke in the band Latin, which also contained Evan from Minden, and John from Sundiver, but I digress.
It was around 9:00 when my body reminded me I was going on over eight hours with nothing but an afternoon espresso as fuel, recently ingested beer trying to start a cage match in my stomach notwithstanding. As I mentioned above, the single downfall of nonstop live music is making the decision to skip out on a band to nourish oneself. By no fault of their own, Restless Breed ended up being that band, though had my hands not been shaking I undoubtedly would have enjoyed their set. In the few minutes for which I was able to stick around, I was enthralled by a trio versed in the kind of traditional psychedelic rock made popular by Vangelis years before his “Chariots of Fire” days. Under layers of woozy, synthesized programming by Tom Romero was a straightforward style displaying a fundamental example of exemplary songwriting.
After grabbing some questionable street tacos from a little place down the road and nearly getting hit by a car (full disclosure: it was my fault) I walked back into the basement with but a single thought in my mind. I hate smoke machines. Better yet… I abhor them, I loathe them, I unequivocally revile their very existence. As much as I wanted to stay in the room while Yam played, I got pushed out by a rapidly forming sinus headache and watched from afar. It was already proven earlier in the evening, but one need not encompass all things psychedelic in order to be welcomed into the fold of artists calling the venue home over the next few nights. While the trio displayed an unmistakable talent with composition synchronicity, an assumption of Will Christie’s influences would better lie on someone else, though their roots are assuredly planted in rhythmic eccentricity.
At the risk of sounding as though I’m giving one of the evening’s bands a bad review, Box the Compass played an overall adequate set of unmemorable rock needlessly pushing an expansion of time and space neither remarkable nor necessary. I understand that may sound overly critical, but had this band’s position been switched with Thee Devotion, the floor would have been a mess of drunken bohemians shaking their asses instead of a littered few with barely a head nodding along anywhere in the room. I only have this single, short set by which to judge the quartet, but the addition of vocals did not save them from the doom of sounding like anything more than a culture hungry band in any number of rock bars across the city. Furthermore, I can find no online presence of the group to seek out the possibility of giving them the second chance they deserve.
Following a trip down the wooden stairs to the basement, I encountered something very surprising. It wasn’t what I was hearing, though David Williams’ Sounding the Deep is wholly transcendental. I was taken aback by what I was not hearing. The exhaustive chatter of audience members during a subdued performance was nowhere to be found. In a cobweb-ridden basement with leaking pipes and spray painted walls I had found respite, and a near metaphysical experience with music that relied as much on the concrete walls for amplification as it did the delicately drifting hands that wrought the sounds from a guitar. The atmosphere was made further cerebral with padded drumsticks at times tapping a snare and gong, and an upright bass being slowly grazed with the bow of a man who looked as though he could crush me with his bare hands.
One of the many highlights of the evening was the fantastic Monta At Odds. Delaney and Dedric Moore have nurtured the project for the better part of a decade and continually expand their sonic horizons by adding or removing elements of jazz, funk, soul, dub, and an audible penchant for combing through endless boxes of long forgotten records. Depending on how the light catches them, they could be paying tribute in their own way to Ennio Morricone, or forging their own path through expansive creations that twist and turn through moods like a stereophonic bipolar. I’m unfortunately not familiar with the extent of their discography, but every note of their performance was a thrill, and I look forward to my next chance of seeing them.
Brock Potucek was nowhere to be found, so a planned performance from South Bitch Diet was replaced by the only half hour in the evening without any kind of music. In his absence, the next band to perform was Lawrence performance art weirdos Metatone. The group is headed up by J Ashley Miller, a local artist and contributing member of the prolific SSION, as well as Pewep in the Formats, and are just as quirky as anything else he has been involved in. Behind the elevated pitch of Miller’s voice and the syncopated plucking of his guitar was a group of musicians (including Mark Smeltzer playing a homemade, one-stringed fiddle) making the experience uniquely odd, and entirely undefinable in the placement of their sound. Metatone was equal parts indie pop, calypso, and folk, the result of which had the floor visibly bowing with each jump of the crowd in reaction to their animated set.
After spending the time that South Bitch Diet would have been playing making programming changes on a variety of sequencers, CVLTS began a droning set that was effectively cut short due to bass amp troubles. During their appearance, Josh Thomas remained kneeling on the rug that covered the corner of the basement, adjusting ambient tape loops and knobs to further heighten the intensity of the sound scape. Using his guitar through a floor full of pedals, Thomas provided a despondent tension that worked in opposition to the sensations released from the tapes. Nearby, Gaurav Bashyakarla had pushed two benches together to form a makeshift stand for his equipment, eliciting a piercing buzz through the air that idly glided until the eventual amplifier issues began the countdown to the piece finishing. I sat on the ground in front of Thomas, and once the sounds faded into a close, he looked up and shrugged, saying “That’s it.”
The final band to perform that night was the esteemed Mr. Marco’s V7, a group whose talent and vitality have made the band (and members) mainstays in the KC music scene for longer than I care to count. Marco Pascolini’s contributions to local music (Expassionates) are vast, but so are bassist Johnny Hamil’s (Pamper the Madman), and drummer Kent Burnham (many jazz, zydeco and rock bands), but all are outshined by the force of nature that is Mike Stover (Cher UK). Throughout the set, Stover would trade back and forth among a theremin, a mandolin, and a lap steel guitar as necessary, but the first two were the most prevalent. V7 is another band that defies definition, and anything you could label them as wouldn’t do justice to the extent that their sound reaches, though there were a few mentions of Captain Beefheart during their set. I was fighting sleep by the time they closed the night at nearly 2:00, but I’m very thankful I stuck it out to see the impossibly fast “Sweet 5,” followed by a bossa nova set closer.
Huge thanks to Leah O’Connor for stepping in and taking some amazing pictures. Check out the rest of her shots from the evening here.
It is at times a bit disheartening to walk into a venue and be one of a meager number of people in the building that is neither performing nor part of the staff. It’s hard not to internally bemoan the state of local music when even on a night of mild weather, no stragglers wander in out of sheer curiosity. Of course, energy can be better spent on things that don’t involve griping about the attendance to a weeknight show, but it is still interesting to wonder how things would transpire had the room been filled to capacity.
Lawrence trio Muscle Worship opened to an almost empty house with the same veracity I witnessed when the band’s volume quite literally made things fall off the walls at a now defunct record and second-hand clothing store. For thirty minutes, the trio of Sean Bergman, Billy Ning and Nathan Wilder basted the room with meticulously arranged, obliquely analytical rock music. Though perhaps not quite as experimental as the acts to follow, the band was no less complex in their delivery, albeit Bergman’s shouted vocals were stifled as a result of their insistence of playing as loud as they possibly could. The bulk of the set consisted of songs from the first EP (“Gone Before Dagon,” “Jesus vs the Lord”) and other releases already available, but two new songs made an appearance from the trio’s upcoming full-length debut, and were nothing if not complementary to the sound upon which the band has built.
Kansas City native Justin Wright began performing under the moniker Expo ’70 as an experimental outlet while living in California, and brought his project with him upon returning to the area. Wright’s output of droning and atmospheric soundscapes is staggering, especially as someone whose band is almost always nothing more than a floor full of effects pedals, an amp and a guitar. Recently, Wright has been playing with Aaron Osbourne (Monta at Odds) and Mike Vera, a move that only works to amplify the celestial Kraut-inspired work Expo is often known for and delves that much deeper into avant-garde compositions, replete with a looming disquietude and seemingly erratic plucking of strings. Don’t get used to the lineup just yet, though. Once the trio is finished playing a few upcoming regional shows and festivals, Wright will be back out on his own.
The last act of the night further continued the rule of three, but with the addition of the Pontiak trio being of blood relation. Lain, Van and Jennings Carney are not only brothers of the beard, but also by birth. The band call Virginia home, and on their multiple albums and EPs over the last seven years have touched on influences as arcane as Olympia drone purveyors Earth, to as obvious as psych, prog and stoner rock trailblazers like Tony Iommi. The trio played the majority of their newest release, Echo Ono (including the quite raging album opener “Lions of Least”), and so the 50-minute set was very much grounded in an ethos of organic, American psych-rock with rare instances of pedal work and noodling during soaring acid rock interludes. Banter was neither present nor necessary, in its place even more ear-splitting noise reminiscent of the forefathers of heavy metal.
I hate to be that guy, but you missed out on one hell of a show, Kansas City.
Nerd talk: Although Muscle Worship has had a relatively short life thus far, only having been around since 2009, Sean Bergman and Billy Ning have been playing music together for over a decade. Before the release of their debut full-length in 2000, Bergman joined as second guitarist in Proudentall, in which Ning was playing bass. The band was fronted by Matt Dunehoo, who would go on to lend his voice and guitar to Doris Henson and Baby Teardrops. After Proudentall ran its course, Ning and Bergman formed Volara with Paul Ackerman (Giants Chair, The Farewell Bend) and Brandon Akin (Panel Donor). Muscle Worship drummer Nathan Wilder currently plays in both Ad Astra Arkestra and The Appleseed Cast.
Justin Wright has been evolving as a musician since he was in a high school band called Restrain, a band that was more or less straight edge hardcore, and was fronted by Sean Ingram before he later formed Coalesce. When Wright moved to Boston in the late ’90s, he threw in a few months of practice time with a group of guys led by Aaron Turner. Once he moved on, the group eventually became well-known metal band ISIS. After Boston, Wright moved to Los Angeles, where he joined Living Science Foundation, who had a release on the Kansas City label Second Nature Recordings. Wright now resides back in KC, where he runs the Sonic Meditations label and releases other mind-expanding sounds from local projects like Umberto, Sounding the Deep, and Breathing Flowers.
I have been waiting more than a month to find out just who will be playing the inaugural KC Psychfest. Announced yesterday, the collective at the FOKL (556 Central Ave) will be presenting 30 bands in their space on May 18th and 19th (the website also lists the 20th as part of the event). Tickets are available now, single day passes for Friday and Saturday are $11 a piece, Sunday is $8, or you can get the all-inclusive weekend pass for only $21. They can also be picked up in person from Earwaxx Records, Zebedee’s, or Love Garden for you Lawrence folk. With record store day coming up this weekend, you’ll have a perfect opportunity to grab a pair for you and your closest warped-minded friend.
As initially announced, the weekend festival will not only include the sanity crushing sounds of various artists from the metro and beyond, but will also contain art displays in the gallery, and what is looking to be a pretty intriguing sculptural video installation. Unfortunately, no specific set times have been announced, but I expect they will be made public before too long. See the full list below. I’ve included links to music and notes where applicable.
KC Psychfest 2012 lineup:
Umberto (KC – Matt Hill is a former collaborator of Justin Wright’s Expo ’70)
Dylan Ettinger (Bloomington, IN)
Expo ’70 (KC)
Mr. Marco’s V7 (KC – Marco Pascolini is an unstoppable force)
Monta At Odds (KC)
Metatone (presumably KC, has collaborated with a local Balinese gamelan)
Karma Vision (Lawrence)
The Conquerors (KC)
Gemini Revolution (KC – members of Monta at Odds)
Vor Onus (KC)
South Bitch Diet (KC – side project from Brock Potucek of Lazy)
Box The Compass (KC – no website that could be found)
Sounding The Deep (KC)
Restless Breed (KC)
Import/Export (KC – one of the many John Bersuch projects)
Kevin Harris (St. Louis)
Surroundher (KC – a project of Sterling Holman of Import/Export and Sky Burial)
Discoverer (KC – side project of Brandon Knocke from Parts of Speech)
Thee Devotion (KC)
Carnal Torpor (KC – project of J Ashley Miller from SSION)
Jorge Arana Trio (KC)
Twofaced (presumably KC, but no website could be found)
CS Luxem (KC)
Yuo (presumably KC)