Monday, October 8, 2012

Sights and sounds from the final Adventures in Modern Music festival

Posted By on 10.08.12 at 12:30 PM

Micachu & the Shapes
Ambient musician Lee Noble has a good sense of humor, and last night at the Empty Bottle he needed it. Noble performed to a small and rather indifferent crowd on the final night of the Adventures in Modern Music festival, and the Nashville native reached for some sort of connection with the crowd by cracking jokes—even at his own expense. "Here we go, karaoke to my own songs," he announced, pressing play on a prerecorded track. Noble's set was more than just karaoke-ready instrumentals, though; he spent parts of it on his hands and knees making subtle adjustments to several effects pedals, which helped him create his lush, beautiful melodies. His performance inspired little response, and even his gleeful announcement that his set would be followed by a couple of crowd-pleasing acts—producer Holy Other and avant-pop outfit Micachu & the Shapes—was initially met with apathy. "Welcome to the most mellow festival ever," Noble said.

"Mellow" isn't quite the right word for Adventures in Modern Music, though. The festival—in its tenth and final year, due to the departure of Empty Bottle booker and festival creator Pete Toalson—has always hosted an eclectic mix of fringe, experimental, and outsider music, and this year's lineup included black metal, juke, trance jazz, sound art, and EDM. An evening's bill might have an antagonistic-sounding band alongside a warm and friendly one, or a thought-provoking noise artist opening for a DJ who wants you to move your feet.

Just before midnight on Wednesday I caught prolific lo-fi legend R. Stevie Moore whipping his white mop of hair as his backing band ripped through a fuzzy instrumental freak-out; one hour later I danced to thumping global-bass music from LA duo Nguzunguzu as they traded spots behind the board and casually flipped through CD booklets looking for tracks. On Friday Supreme Cuts' Mike Perry and Austin Keultjes bounced around as they wove together two years' worth of their material into a delightful psychedelic mix. Supreme Cuts were the polite antithesis of the previous group, noise act Shit & Shine, who walked onstage wearing bunny ears and sinister clown masks and opened their skronky, aggressive set by telling the crowd, "Whatever you're talking about is boring—just shut up."

Throughout the five-day fest, a few acts had difficulty with the crowd. Chicago footwork DJ and producer Traxman (aka Cornelious Ferguson) had his hands full during his headlining set Saturday night; he's used to spinning for large crowds eager to dance, but most of the small audience gathered at the Bottle apparently hadn't planned on moving too much. "It's all eyes on me," Ferguson told the crowd. "I'm a DJ." In his quest to get people to, in his words, at least look like they were having fun, Ferguson rolled out an impressive mix that turned tunes by Black Sabbath and Kanye West into footwork jams. He managed to get a number of attendees to submit to the beat—one dude even threw himself at one of the club's big speakers—but the dwindling crowd barely made it to 1:30 AM, which at a different club would've been the high point of the night.

Poor attendance was a problem for much of the festival, and at times it even felt extreme; most attendees early on Saturday appeared to stick to the walls, as if trying to escape the beautiful fingerstyle guitar of Hallock Hill. But the Bottle was packed on Thursday, with plenty of fans sticking around throughout the night for the sinister Demdike Stare—the rapturous response was hardly in keeping with the brooding soundtrack. At one point I was stuck standing behind a couple who were practically glued together, dancing and making out as if no one else were around—which actually made me way more uncomfortable than the horror-movie clips Demdike Stare projected onstage.

By the festival's end lots of folks looked drained of enthusiasm—understandable if, like me, they attended the entire event. I certainly enjoyed Micachu & the Shapes' festival-closing performance on Sunday—and most of the sets I caught, for that matter—but after five nights of avant-garde music, I was ready for the adventure to be over.

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