CATARACTS Music Festival 2011
CATARACTS, a grassroots indie music festival hosted in four houses in Fountain Square, brought together bands and performers from throughout the state — some sure draws, others more than obscure.
The houses that line Fountain Square’s Morris Street just east of I-65 have withstood the test of time, adapting to new inhabitants coming along with each passing generation. So it's a surprise that when four homes within that nondescript block joined forces to house the inaugural Cataracts Music Fest, not even the horde of regional bands, H&M-clad kids and curious residents could knock down the neighborhood's venerable homes. But they tried — and nearly succeeded.
Each home had a distinct personality: The first one on the block, dubbed Jasona Beach, kept the vibes chill for much of the day, with one band setting the tone: the Mount Eerie-styled Bad Magick. The grill was smoking, the beer was plentiful and the atmosphere calm. A bit of slow dancing took place during Bigcolour’s 5 p.m. Happy Hour set.
Those good times contrasted with the weightier atmosphere of Skull Manor, whose palatial wooden porch, across the street from Jasona Beach, buzzed and hummed with enormous feedback and tempestuous power. Skull Manor hosted one lascivious tumble with rock and roll after another. Fort Wilson Riot, a Minneapolis-based outfit taking a mid-afternoon set at Skull Manor, seemed innocent enough (with its boy-girl duo of Jacob Mullis and Amy Hager) upon initial inspection. But a closer listen revealed a diabolic machine of kitchen-sink sounds. Mullis was a muss of unkempt curly hair and scraggily facial hair, all of it in flying in syncopation with his big guitar sound and array of pedals. Hager may have looked the cute girl next door, but her ability to switch between keyboard, harmonica, trumpet and bombastic vocals found the duo dabbling in Tasmanian-devil voodoo. The energy, despite the sun’s constant heat, never ceased, and the crowd grew more appreciative with each passing song.
Mid-afternoon belonged to The Kemps, who drew one of Cataracts' biggest crowds with a set comprised of new cuts from an upcoming full-length. Darlings of Indy's throwback garage-rock scene, the band is all retro hooks and kinetic movement, with each strum pushing the crowd into a newfound frenzy. The Kemps drew the crowd, but John Rambo and The Vietnam Wars and Vacation Club kept their gripped attention. Rambo is the grizzled sort of band you’d expect to see playing at the VFW — and not in the backyard, in sleeveless tees, for a crowd of 20-somethings.
The Dave Cave was the easternmost house of the group. Led off by Christian Taylor & Homeschool’s whimsical blend of folk and rock, the venue's intensity grew ever so slightly until the newly minted live configuration of Circuit Des Yeux glamoured the crowd with gut-wrenching vocals and a guttural guitar-and-drums attack to match. As Haley Fohr nearly swallowed the microphone, her backing band matched the gnarled melody with equally twisted accompaniment. By the time the double whammy of Florida’s Hungry Gayze (a deconstructed version of overlooked 80s no-wave outfit Missing Persons) and Cop City/Chill Pillars came about, Dave Cave had transformed from sleepy nook into a bear’s den.
Yet Debi’s Palace of Noise and Laundromat proved to be Cataracts’ biggest draw, due to its central location and plentiful beer, as well as the bevy of heavy hitters and up-and-comers that played its backyard shed. The countrified psych of Jerome & the Psychics gave notice of Debi’s catholic tastes. Dave Adamson, donning his DMA persona, filled the confines with layers of effects, guitar, and vocals that bounced off the cinder-blocked walls in every direction. The stoner prog of Learner Dancer inhabited a mind-space all its own; they were five men with disparate taste, coming together to create hazy but intricate music that jammed without being repetitive or indulgent. Debi’s swelled as Apache Dropout took over, with the place packed with just as many Cataracts participants as audience members.
But the night belonged to Bloomington outfit Open Sex. The band’s hypnotic blend of New Wave and modern psychedelia occupies a plane all its own. I have no shame in admitting my fawning over the band; I mobbed members John Dawson and Rachel Weidner after the set, feeling the rare urge to socialize with the band. The band, electric and entrancing, wove a spell that would have been nigh impossible to break.
Considering the lack of bells and whistles, Cataracts proved to be more than enough entertainment for one afternoon. The limitless threads that tie these bands together (be it like-minded music or shared members) prove that Indiana has the talent to cultivate and sustain its own beat. The Fountain Square setting was well-suited to the event's aims, and Cataracts encouraged neighborly behavior, with attendees asked for nothing but a donation and their (mostly) undivided attention.