The Red Bull Sound Select Chicago edition continued to go above and beyond in terms of atmosphere and talent curation on Friday, November 10. The festival’s third event, Drone Activity, took place at Saffron Rails, located in Goose Island. The forty thousand square foot warehouse space housed three stages, a spectacular production shrouded in a red haze, and a whole lot of noise. The dark and industrial space set the mood for what was about to be an experimental night for artists and purveyors alike. Festival goers and those who frequent the experimental rock-electronic scene skulked around in black, earplug containers dangling from their keychains like janitors keys, in a migratory pattern from stage to stage
Although the night was filled with fifteen acts in totality, averaging five performances per stage, these progressive performances made all the difference to us at WLUW.
Rebecca Valeriano Flores
You may have heard her on our airwaves before, not in the form of a song, but in the curative forces as a DJ at WLUW in the summer! WLUW is lucky to have Rebecca, member of the Chicago post-punk band Negative Scanner, as a part of our station. Rebecca kicked things off for the Drone Activity event “early” in the night (her performance started at 8:15pm), with a performance she has never done before, as she was alone on stage. No band. No instruments. Just her voice. Having won awards for poetry prior to her performance, it was clear as to why. She delivered a powerful performance ranging between soft-spoken, peaceful, and calming lines of poetry, that transitioned into a screaming cry as the lines became more intense. With this passionate performance, I would definitely go see her do a similar performance the next time it happens, and you should too.
Admittedly, I entered the large industrial warehouse known as Saffron Rails just after Carol Genetti started her performance on the Southeast stage. Genetti is an experimental improvisionatist, and an ideal candidate to showcase a piece of Chicago’s drone noise. Smoke filled the venue to the point where recognizing faces of friends became a difficult task, but I found my way to the stage where the source of fragmented, avant-garde noises rung throughout the space. Like a siren sound, calling me to the stage, Genetti’s voice mimicked the employment of a wine glass instrumentally in the context of a pagan ritual. What I heard left me standing in between two places, where I felt a power in the entropy of experimentation and the intrigue with the discipline that Genetti takes with language, sound production, and music.
A large crowd gathered at the North stage for Hogg. I approached the barricade cautiously as the monitors growled and cracked like a belly of the beast. The Chicago duo that makeup Hogg proudly stood on stage with a stance that emitted a sense of anarchy the crowd was hungry for. Erupting into chanting backlit with light humming, and drumming intense enough to conjure a spirit from the grave, the audience and I were mesmerized with the consistent fervor of performance. Hogg played much of their set from their most recent album, “SELF-EXTINGUISHING EMISSION”, released back in May of this year. Watching them perform tracks from the album felt like participating in a celebration of the apocalypse, sinister and beautiful all the same. I would die just to let them resurrect me at a Chicago DIY show with those animated growls, howls, and drums.
For Bruce’s set, the fog-cooled off and the lights on the stage made it easier to see what he was doing, and for the audience’s sake, that was for the better. With having a few different instruments on stage, and a pedal board, I was really looking forward to how this set was going to go, especially having not listened to him prior to the performance. Picking up the tenor saxophone on stage, I was wondering if Bruce would be similar to Colin Stetson, but I was actually pleased he had his style with a saxophone. Performing ambient loops with a saxophone, Bruce Lamont then proceeded to add ambient vocals, and before we knew it, it was a very full, and sensual listening experience. Later in the set, Bruce appealed to the indie-heads in the audience with bringing out an acoustic guitar. Playing a simple minor chord progression with a loop pedal, Bruce Lamont built every song from a raw, singular instrument, to a full and beautiful experience that had members of the audience sitting and in peace.
Katherine Young/Erica Dicker
First and foremost, Katherine Young and Erica Dicker are phenomenal classical instrumentalists. Using these instruments in such a way, regardless of the genre they produce, carry a socio-economic power and taste that elicits attention from the crowd. Even more impressive, are the ways that these two women render these instruments flexible. Precise plucking and straining of cello and violin strings come out lulling and tactile. As I stood by the speakers next to the stage, I could feel the bass shaking the cement beneath my feet and more than anything I felt grateful to be able to see two accomplished musical academics teaching me something new outside the institutional realm.
Fire-Toolz undoubtedly had the most engaged and largest crowd of the earlier sets in the night. Angel Marcloid is a Chicago based composer, producer, and vocalist with the capacity to transcend the complexities of genre. She has this amazing ability to combine glitchy audio, black metal, darkwave, vaporwave and jazz into something not just digestible but tasteful for the most exclusive of listeners. If you liked Crystal Castles and want to avoid supporting Ethan Kath, then listening to Fire-Toolz (and Alice Glass as a solo artist, who speaking of which would be a great collaboration with Fire Toolz production and Glass’ vocals) is the move. Marcloid also brought out a lighter side of the very dark, experimental sounds that overwhelmingly took over the night. An amalgamation of Windows XP inspired projections, some jazzy Arabic saxophone elements, and music box tinkering made for some lighter melodies and tones complimented the set nicely. I came to Drone Activity not knowing what to expect, but I can definitely anticipate seeing Fire-Toolz again soon (and I suggest you do too & check out her really amazing Tumblr page).
Matchess was one of the sets I was most looking forward to at this event. Having been a fan of their music for the past year, and having been an idiot and not getting a ticket to prior shows, me experiencing this performance was long overdue. Coming out to a small and minimalistic set-up on stage, I was ready for this performance. A soft, lulling performance was expected and was delivered. Though the venue was big and open, the sound was captured and made the crowd sway as if it were an intimate show. People were sitting down, eyes closed, and at peace with their inner-self. The only take away from this performance was with how the venue was designed, the sound from the explosive Fire-Toolz set encroaches on the crowd at Matchess.
ONO is one of Chicago’s best bands, and from what I heard in the crowd post-performance, they delivered one of their best performances to date. Starting out with an Afrocentric poetry introduction, in addition to a building wall of sound, the tension in the room could be felt a mile away. During the set, I felt as if I was having an out-of-body experience. With the yellow strobe lights flashing, the deep routed bass, and the dramatic and powerful vocals, it was hard for me to not feel like I was floating above the crowd. With the different moods in the performance being shared on stage, the lead singer, Travis, constantly changed their outfit and took on and off a white wig that had lights in it. Now that the band is back after 30 years of disappearance, I highly recommend you check them out when you get a chance before it is too late.
I remember when I first discovered TALsounds, meandering the aisles of Reckless Records. One of Natalie Chami’s tracks played from her solo album “Lovesick” out to the shoppers, and I had to know who and what was playing. I was hooked on the Ontario born, Chicago based gal ever since. The Lebanese artist previously was apart of Good Willsmith and toured with Chicago act Circuit Des Yeux, but gained notoriety on her own. Utilizing a plethora of synthesizers, pedals, and oscillators to make ambient noise with delayed, dreamy vocals TALsounds puts its listeners in a trance. Maybe it’s the ethereal and ephemeral qualities of her production that are much akin to shoegaze, or maybe it’s the meter and tonal instinct she exhibits; TALsounds stands on her own two feet as a conductor of emotional essence and consciousness Chami’s delicate nature in choosing sounds and adjusting instruments had a reverence that rendered the audience at attention. Every single pair of eyes were glued to her, the audience collectively posed in a hypnotic gaze. Chami’s performance was a nice, calming nightcap to my evening, and any evening at that.