So I rolled up to the White Rabbit for the Cataracts-sponsored side project night at five after ten, paid my five bucks, and headed straight for the couches in the back just to post up. It was not, to be fair, strictly speaking or officially “side-project night,” but all three locals on the bill were tracking the outer limits of some other, more established band. Exploding Head Scene was Sonny Blood from Apache Dropout and The Bloody Mess, MK-II was a couple dudes from Raw McCartney including Mr. Cataracts himself Jacob Gardner, and Sedcairn Archives, looked at under the right light, was probably, almost definitely, David Adamson a.k.a., DMA.
Music hadn’t started yet when I got there, but the whole stage was already set up. Three stations: left, right and center, lending a little ad-hoc, collaborative, creeping-from-the-basement vibe. That’s cool with me because usually when I’m inside the White Rabbit I don’t think “ad-hoc-up-from-the-basement,” I think “weird stuff I saw go down at Real Talk.”
Soon enough, some dude in a wolf mask and graduation robes took to the stage and everything started. The guy whipped pitch-shifted funk jams out of an arcane little pile of gear. This was Exploding Head Scene, though I wasn’t positive at first because I couldn’t tell for sure it was Sonny Blood underneath that fake (probably?) wolf hair.
He started harmonically spare, a little tentative, not immediately sure, it seemed, how far into the White Rabbit’s speaker system he could push. Soon enough though he was ice-picking his way straight through. Jangling tape-hiss shredded the air as his cut-ups tripped on forward. Personified, the music would’ve walked with a slight leftward limp.
A few minutes into the set Sonny, who stayed mostly hunched over his pile of electronics, was joined by two women dressed up like forest sprites. They littered the stage with greenery. They lilted and swayed in a manner about one step removed from being precisely “with” the music (which, with its collagic fragments, did not always give them much to be “with” anyhow). Samples seeped out of unseen crevices for the length of it, stacking scores of jolts, little surprises and flashes of insight or understanding until it all hit the ceiling, the dancers left the stage, and Blood leaned back to pull at the wolf mask.
Next up it was MK-II, or, if you prefer, half of Raw McCartney hammering minimalism as loud as you’ll ever hear. Aside from the insane, busting depth of the sounds they eventually made, MK-II was notable (I guess?) for being the only group to use a guitar in any capacity at all. They also came closest to sounding like an “actual rock band:” drum pattern (drum-machined though it was), bass groove, guitar chords, some synth in there for flavor, and so on. But where the sonics and the pieces were, yes, more traditional, the form itself bucked against the easy listen.
When you say a word enough times it starts to feel funny, almost inert, but also shockingly strange. This is the place MK-II takes you. The grooves were huge, full, loud and locked in loops. Repeating, repeating, repeating. Fully mesmerizing. No choruses, no verses, no bridges, dynamics only minimally and primarily as an on-ramp to full speed ahead, and above all a pulse, a feel, a motorik hum, abiding.
At 11:11, I watched the stage set up get changed around and thought about the White Rabbit’s soda situation. Everything comes out a little flat, if you ask me. I polished my glass off anyhow just as I I’m Eye My — on tour from Philadelphia and with fresh tape on Not Not Fun called 7 Transmissions — started up. Both Exploding Head Scene and MK-II were insistent in their own ways; I I’m Eye My leaned back more. The eighth notes in MK-II’s set were straight where I I’m Eye My’s were swung. Exploding Head Scene careened toward peaks; I I’m Eye My were all about carving out divots.
I’m talking in terms of comparisons because so many of the pieces from the first two locals were present again, just twisted a different direction. Long-form, looping beats and krauty synths, distant melodies, and sprinkles of noise. Still, somehow, it felt totally different. Fully individual and engrossing. Part way through their set, someone turn on the disco ball, and somehow they seemed to be playing in time with its rotation. It was beautiful.
There are bass frequencies, which, played at sufficient volume seek to suck the air out of a room. The long waves reflect off each other to fill the space completely, canceling out, it seems, any room reverberations, and stranding every listener in an individual headspace. I learned that from Sedcairn Archives’ set, the last one of the night. With his DMA and Tuffblades projects, Adamson wrenches the sounds of hip-hop and footwork until they roll end over end. Sedciarn Archives takes those same sounds and textures further off toward the fringes.
Instead of boom-baps or bangers, the physical characteristics of the sounds did most of the work, vibrating with the room more than any simple kick-kick-snare. This was the most patient, vibing set of the night, driving not for sheer volume, but for maxed-out, almost-out-of-the-range-of-human-hearing gut punches. There was a dude who spent the whole set leaning right against the stage left main and I don’t know how he did it. The music was free-form and winding, seemingly improvisatory. It traced the sounds of hip-hop as they spiraled out and out, getting constantly more distant from any clear, beat-driven center.
Pretty much right after Adamson clicked off that mysterious little CR-68 in his rig, I was out the door. For some reason this show had put me in the “drive around with the windows down listening to something kosmische sounding” mood, and I wanted to get at it sooner than later.
Professionally: it was worth the five bucks.