Last Wednesday began a performance series at Vermillion that will showcase musical talents from the Pacific Northwest. The project is the brainchild of Marco Collins, who assembled three talented musical acts of different genres whose sets would transition without a gap—hence the name, Tag. These groups had not previously worked together and one might describe it as something of a sonic exquisite corpse. That concept would dovetail nicely with Night Terrors, the surreal group show then on the walls at Vermillion, but I think Tag works quite well long-term; it better describes the high-energy of the event, which puts three sets back-to-back-to-back. The event was free and at street level but had the vibes—and mishaps—of an underground performance. It got over-loud at times, but the truth is that Vermilion will be a tricky venue acoustically for many acts. Then again, so are most of the underground parties one attends. One off-the-radar venue in town gets so loud that the volume alone may cause you to “BLACK” out before the night ends. (Hint hint)
The sound may not so much be an issue in the future as the system at Vermillion broke the night before and Collins called in the troops last minute to fix it; Vermillion owner Diana Adams was cool and collected; a volunteer engineer came in to do the checks and set up for all three acts before they went on. The performers were kept on their toes and occasionally flustered, but that will always be the case for an event that demands they ease into or out from another performer’s set without rehearsal. It’s a great concept and the whole thing offers an exciting chance for cultural cross-pollination and spontaneity. Future musicians have my permission to be a little more punk about it when things go awry. (How is that for an oxymoronic statement?) Such a project is rare and valuable in a town with a huge and diverse music community that should mingle more often. It will have its challenges, but it will be a lot more exciting for it…not just a variety show.
Of course, the logistics of Tag will get a more polished over time when Collins has a few more events under his belt. I left wanting to hear more from each of the performers and looking forward to the next.
IG88 is the stage name of Seattle-based producer and DJ Branden Clarke. Clarke opened the night with electronica that remained downtempo and chill, mixing IDM with Trip Hop influences and a dash of House. The vibe ranged from lighthearted, to deep and bass-forward, to sweetly longing. The sounds of his opening pieces had the glitchy warmth and full texture of artists from Warp, Skam and Rephlex. (Astrobotnia and Boards of Canada especially came to mind.) Punctuated by colder, metallic elements, it felt like an authentic representation of IDM in the Pacific Northwest, a region that shares cultural DNA with those Northern European labels.
The set wandered, though, and included some surprising and (dare I call them) quirky samples. The mix verged on being inconsistent, but Clarke was able to keep it feeling cohesive and, in fact, achieve a balance that I wasn’t expecting. Riffs from Toni Braxton’s “You’re Making Me High” were a cheerful blast from the past that kept the energy high, complementing the more warmly nostalgic synths that dominated at other times.
Clarke was eventually joined by songstress Jenni Potts. Clarke’s beats and Potts’ tremulous and sweet soprano in the live setting captured the raw emotion and aesthetic of acts like Portishead without seeming an imitation or an homage. I have since listened to IG88’s album and found it much more polished and smooth. I like both the live and studio versions. In fact, having the live experience has enriched my listening at home, which is the sure sign of a successful live show and a reminder why one should be seeking local live music. There is no shortage of it here.
The transition from IG88 to Megasapien was actually quite masterful and both acts deserve credit for making it seem effortless despite having no chance to rehearse it. (Payoffs like this are what justify the challenge posed by the Tag concept.) The volume was an immediate issue for many, as Megasapien is not a quiet band. They are not excessively loud, but there is a lot happening with the six members performing. The production is straightforward and layered, melodically driven by the guitars which coordinate nicely with electronic elements. Megasapien is in the genus of My Bloody Valentine and Jesus and Mary Chain, but with more driving, cleaner vocals from frontwoman Lian Light, whose tenor pipes pack a punch. Lyrically, the band is more cerebral than most pop, and like the other bands I mentioned the sound does not revolve around a single hook in the melody, but creates a more all-over sound. That said, the sharpness of the act allows them to appeal to those who may prefer a pop sensibility, hooks and all.
This illuminates a trend for the evening—or at least a subjective frame of my own. Collins is a legend in the music industry for discovering and promoting some of the top acts in recent decades—not least of all, Nirvana—but a culture of novelty has decade-by-decade created more than a little resentment and scorn for whatever preceded it. There are those who become aesthetically conservative and refuse to evolve with the times, and there are those who try to start from scratch for the sake of mere novelty. (This is a tendency in visual arts, performing arts, every sort of creative act.) The bands that Collins assembled for the first Tag were carrying the baton from artists decades before, not just dusting the Grunge off. There was a respect for earlier work, but a strength and confidence in the performers’ original music that made it all of the moment—and refreshing.
This felt especially true during Megasapien, whose uncynical style and tight musicianship is a fine antidote to a lot of Indie rock that relies too much on cultivating a Hipster aesthetic (all the while denying that is what they are) and too little time rehearsing and making good music. Megasapien are definitely worth a listen.
Megasapien’s energetic and powerful set was well placed at the center of the show, raising the tempo of the night between IG88 and the final act, youryoungbody. This Seattle-based duo create brooding electronic sound in the genus of Siouxsie Sue, Ladytron and Zola Jesus. It is worth mentioning after my little tirade about Hipster fashion that singer Emily Cripe and engineer Killian Brom have cultivated a cool, eldritch style to match their substance. Cripe took the stage looking like a heroine (or perhaps a sinister nymph) from a Grimm’s fairy tale and took some in the crowd by surprise with the enchanting range and tone of her voice. Like IG88, the sounds and style felt true to our region and to the cultural influences here—northern Europe and Japan, especially.
Out of the three acts, youryoungbody had the hardest time with sound in the venue, which swallowed up the complexity of their compositions in the din. Depending on where one stood in the bar (or the outer gallery), they sounded like two (or three) different bands entirely. What was clear was that the music was damn good and just my taste. I have since listened to their album Kurokabi at home and am officially hooked. Seattle has catchy and exciting Electropop and Electroclash, so I thought it odd that there seemed a gap—no pulsing, lyrical blend of organic and electronic elements that our climate practically demands. IG88 brings the lighter side of that with his mellow, picturesque melodies, while youryoungbody takes us into the wilderness, beneath the canopy that looks so inviting on a postcard, but is full of ghosts, moisture, and fecundating decay.
To stretch that epistolary metaphor, if Tag can be considered a love letter to the local music scene, I believe that Collins and company delivered it just fine, despite a few smudges. I am eager for the next.