Monday, October 10, 2011
A waxing gibbous moon began rising over East Liberty to the ethereal echo of Ford & Lopatin bouncing around the concrete outer-shells lining Broad Street for the final day of the VIA festival. The crowd was on the sparse side as people were still trickling in, bracing themselves for an event that wouldn't end until 6 a.m., marathon music consumption. Those present for the first handful of acts - locals Centipede E'st and Raw Blow and Brooklyn resident Laurel Halo -- stood entranced by the visuals of Spencer Longo, or scattered the lot in clusters joined together by conversation.
While local DJ (Adam) Cucitroa played moombah beats during the interlude, the stage was transitioned for Peanut Butter Wolf, hip-hop historian and former label-mate to DJ Shadow. He's a producer but came to the craft by way of DJing, particularly sets deep with hip-hop that stretch back to the beginnings of the sound. His set at VIA offered that very schoolin'-the-younguns vibe as he chaotically wove music videos together. Seemingly no rhyme or reason to his pattern of track choices; further analysis did glean some cohesion.
There were three-to-four song patches that stacked old reggae videos, Jamaican dancehall with rude bwoy chanting, and U.S. originators who borrowed those sounds to make militant gangster rap ripe with political and social urgency. He played Musical Youth's "Pass the Dutchie," Biggie Smalls' "Juicy," and Tyler the Creator's disturbing video for "Yonkers." While most may have been expecting a dance party, PB Wolf was giving a lecture like Pop Up Video minus the bubble captions. The highlight of his set happened when he invited the little tykes who had been dancing non-stop (all of VIA), in their little Steeler jerseys, on to the stage to get down for the whole crowd. PB Wolf admitted a soft spot for the Black & Gold that developed at the age of 9; his set was a dream come full circle.
Local prog rock heroes Zombi blew minds with their conceptual rock-electronic soundscapes paired with the ever-epic visuals of Vade. Austra, yet another hotly anticipated live act, began their set after darkness finally blanketed the evening allowing for Goat Helper's visuals to truly impact the performance. They played the majority of their debut album, "Feel it Break," one spiritually driven pop-dance track after another. Austra's performance was really made marvelous by the vocal teamwork more than anything else. Led by Katie Stelmanis and twin backup vocalists Sari and Romy Lightman, the trio of female voices refreshed ears with angelic and bird-like stylings, a welcome combo after the dark raw-rockness of Zombi.
The final main-stage performance, the most didactic and politically aware presence at VIA, was Detroit techno band Underground Resistance presenting Interstellar Fugitives. Their set was an experience to be remembered as the militancy of their message actually charged the crowd to dance with that much more purpose. Punctuated by the spoken word message of Cornelius Harris, the crew offered hard hitting beats that played with tropes in hip-hop, drum 'n' bass, and tech-funk. Harris spoke not of blatant race and socio-economic politics as one might have anticipated, but of a need to break away from mainstream music bullshit. He waxed angrily poetic on the mind control of radio stations and the need to counter absolute takeover by the media. High-octane, with full crowd captivation, Harris did a call and response that asked for a communal roar of "I am...UR...we will...resist."
The afterparty that ensued, a celebration of local techno collective Humanaut's sixth birthday, provided another line on the VIA-directed linkage between past and present. Moving from the very American sounding UR, Humanaut took us to a more European sound with the modern-day techno producer/DJs Sutekh, Donato Dozzy and Nuel. The festival ended on a tag-teaming set between Italian pals Nuel and Dozzy and driven by the beats alone, a small crowd of dedicated dancers continued to move until 6 a.m.
Glistening with professionalism, good sound and good taste, VIA pulled off their little-festival-that-could yet again. It has grown in a lot of ways and has room for more growth. The event has certainly proven itself to be a bastion of music in Pittsburgh. VIA is in constant flux and built solidly around the philosophy of interconnection with the artists who were influenced by the city on their individual journeys to creation; forward-thinking music for a city that's slowly becoming more forward-thinking itself.