Sunday, October 9, 2011
Day two of VIA was set up Friday on Broad Street in East Liberty, a place lined with empty buildings and infinite potential. Video screens flickered inside of multiple buildings while the main performance area was filled with festival-goers and lit up with the constant presence of quality video art.
The early evening began with D.C. residents Protect U. They're sound was psychedelic, trance-y and, yes, very pretty. You could hear the babel of Detroit techno and Chicago house veiled in their DIY punk roots. That may sound like an odd combination, but it was simply electronic music, a product of the fragmented influences. It was pastiche, montage, a blend of influences that made up some energetic and undulating combinations of beats and pulsating rhythms. Aurora Halal's visuals accomplished the VIA goal of ocular and aural interconnectedness as it draped the space in blended hues and pushed the sounds further into the field of psychedelia.
Until Extreme Animals, visuals functioned as beautiful reveries that floated in the background and on the sidewall of the performance space. Not to say that they didn't work in tandem with the paired artist; VIA’s curatorial team made sure that that was never a lost factor. But the video art of Extreme Animals (a full-fledged a/v set) was a tapestry of pop culture commentary, an experience aside from the languid, otherworldly coded creations of some of the other visuals. It was humorous, shocking, schizophrenic and oh-so hard to look away from. They spliced YouTube clips into montages of brightly colored iconography that overlapped and collapsed into a pool of WTF. While the screen pumped out mind-bending exgesis, the guys, Jacob Ciocci and David Wightman, wove heavy metal guitar shredding with junk electronic beats.
Extreme Animals punctuated VIA's tendency toward smarty-pants electronic music with the brash yet charming humor of a couple of pop culture players. For anyone who says VIA’s bookings were pretentious and overly abstract, Extreme Animals is proof positive that the festival really isn’t taking itself too seriously. No subject was off limits and their bold humor was hit home with the last image left on the screen, that of a flaming copy of Harry Potter. Sounds grim, but context was everything and the crowd laughed and danced with touchés to their off-the-wall sense of humor.
A shuffle in the lineup as a result of Toy Selectah falling ill led to RVNG Intl. affiliates Pink Skull to be pushed up to a slot before after-hours. The time slot mattered little as the legendary indie-punk-dance influencers would've had an attentive crowd no matter what. They are another one of those difficult-to-define outfits that blends live instrumentation with synths and other electronic beat machines. While electronics were present, they weren't always at the forefront of their sound. In the essence of true live rock music they entered into discordant sections with touches of somber ambiance. The drone of the synths gave way to that very familiar sound of a straight drum-kick to high-hat cymbal clash. Certain parts of their set begged for that very rock-concert cliché of holding your lighter in the air. A. Bill Miller's visuals riffed on the splintered musical inspiration that drew from indie rock, deep drum 'n' bass and punk rock roots. His visual rendition of Pink Skull’s electroclash came across as scenic urban landscapes meshed with pixilated eye trick color blocks.
They were followed by a sound almost totally contrary, Light Asylum, brash, industrial and lyrically in-your-face. Comprised of Brooklyners Bruno Caviello and Shannon Funchess, who were both wearing Austra t-shirts (props to the electronic songbird featured Saturday), Light Asylum pummeled the crowd with an incessant concordance of booming beats and fluttering synths. Funchess' stage presence was really the most captivating aspect of their performance. She held the mic and sang her oft-indiscernible lyrics with an angst that fused with the throbbing strobes and pulsating bass. While her words didn't always come across with clarity, the wrath that they collectively emitted did enough to pick up where clarity was lacking.
The entire look of the stage -- two industrial-sized fans backed by surging yellow-tinged lights clouded up with smoke -- set the scene for whatever it was that Funchess was sing-yelling about. Thunder Horse Video was responsible for the atmosphere that, in a lot of ways, made Light Asylum's performance.
More strobe lights and yet more aggressive beat patterns followed Light Asylum's demanding performance with the "King of the MPC", beatmaking phenom Araabmuzik. The crowd was at its peak for his set, and as a Pitchfork darling and dominating force on blogs the Internet over, his reception was expected though his performance was actually quite shocking. As soon as he took his place behind MPC, everyone pushed forward so as to see his hands more closely. He played with an anger that his album Electric Dream steers totally clear of. With the exception of "Streetz Tonight," the first single off the album, his whole set seemed to be improvised. He worked sections of hip hop-inspired, beat constructed melodies in with sections that led him into pure show-off mode. If it weren't for the camera positioned behind him allowing a live stream of his dexterous fingers to project onto the three screens on the wall, we all might've gotten bored.
The afterparty let the night fizzle into the bravado of ravishing techno production offered by RVNG Intl artists Blondes and Tim Sweeney. Come 4-something in the morning, a crowd who didn’t want to stop dancing continued to stay locked in front of the stage, unwilling to go home and rest up for the excitement of day 3.