Last Sunday was truly incredible. Six of North Carolina and Florida’s most innovative electronic acts all under one roof. The audience stuck around for the whole thing, dancing and cheering to sounds that rarely grace Asheville venues. But there was a noticeable distance between the acts/audience and the space itself. While the acts continually thanked the establishment’s lone bartender for letting them play, the man himself was oddly absent. As is often the case, a confession to Facebook revealed the reason. Said bartender posted a picture of the drinking room, not a soul in sight, and made sure to include his nearly empty tip jar in the shot. “Not the most awesome night at work,” he bemoaned. “At least scene kids are in the other room.”
To me, the night couldn’t have been more eclectic. The usual faces of Asheville’s budding electronic and experimental scene were there, along with folks just looking for a night of good music. The audience couldn’t have been more varied, and the performers certainly covered the gamut of avant sounds.
Brian Kinkade’s solo project Sheets of Paper opened the night in place of his project with Joe Moresi (aka PLAENS) called Subtle Body. After that was Difference Clouds showcasing the extreme ambience of Zach Smith. Niether act would be out of place at Mike’s Side Pocket (RIP), but it seemed odd to witness them in this location. The concrete floor and hissing machines, however, seemed to further connect with both acts’ drones leaving the audience primed for a night of something wonderfully unique. Closing the opening was new NC resident (by way of Gainesville) Vir. Like a southeastern American version of hauntology, Vir took the tones and synths of mid-20th century educational documentaries and merged them with a throbbing beat. His skills on keys and later guitar, along with his constant headbob, made for an infectious live electronic performance.
It was still early in the night when the final three acts began. Certainly one of the main draws, Gainesville’s Hear Hums hit the floor next, marking their third appearance in Asheville (in the span of a year!) and one of the last dates on their most recent tour. Their mix of tribal polyrhythms and male/female abstract vocals, all paired with looping guitar and keys, makes for a powerful performance. The duo’s atmospheric psych permeates the space before members Mitch Myers and Kenzie Cooke attack the series of floor toms and various other percussion they have at the front of their set up. It’s music for dancing and vibing, usually all in one swirling song. And the sight of the two Floridians ferociously pounding on the drums while their wall of sound blooms behind them is something you don’t want to miss the next time they come through.
The final two acts both straddle Florida and North Carolina as well. Two People Playing Music have made quite a splash in Asheville since they relocated from north Florida a few months back. This instrumental duo blends Sean Sullivan’s jazzy drum work with Chase Hudson’s groovy and spacey melodies (created by his armory of keyboards and synths). The fact that something so tight was proclaimed as all-new material towards the end of their set by Sean was all the more impressive. The night was brought to a definitive close by Judson Rogers’s house music project Sumsun. With Mitch from Hear Hums joining in on drums, the whole front of the crowd couldn’t help but dance, a sight always welcome in Asheville. Despite moving back and forth between West Palm Beach, FL and Hendersonville, NC for the past four years, this was Sumsun’s Asheville debut. Those in attendance made sure to tell Judson afterwards that his music (and more like it) is sorely needed in this town. There are plenty of people who want to dance. We just need more music worthy of dancing to.
Aside from highlighting all of this incredible music, I hope this demonstrates how varied the night was. And despite it being Sunday and there being six acts performing, the audience stuck around. Something that rarely happens around these parts. So why was the lone bartender so displeased? Why paint the audience and performers with such a comically broad brush? The answer can be found in that photo of the empty drinking room and tip jar. This particular venue generally thrives on rock and folk acts, like most of the town. And while there are certainly those with merit in said genres, the plethora of them in town means they’re usually nothing more than background entertainment for drunk tourists. The establishment in this town treats music as a novelty that separates their bar or brewery from the dozens of others, most right down the street. There are those that want art for art’s sake, but unfortunately most of them don’t run venues. So while smaller locations will accept the idea of free or cheap shows with occasionally interesting line-ups, they do it with the understanding that they’ll make up for the loss at the door with all the money people spend on beer. And while some of the crowd last Sunday night did indeed drink, all of them spent their time in the other room watching the music, and not mixing it up at the bar, dropping wads of cash into the jar the more intoxicated they became chatting with the jovial barkeep.
The people at Sunday’s show were there to listen to music, and they did the entire time. It was a beautiful sight to witness in this town, especially in the middle of downtown. Despite my reservations about the location and personell, I was truly happy to see such a wonderful reception for such incredible and different music. But not everyone feels that way. Some people just want to hear some shitkickin’ good ol’ boys play the same stale tunes from the past hundred years while they focus most of their attention on getting drunk and socializing. Despite the fact that it’s 2012, that electronic music is older than rock ‘n’ roll, and that the Moog synthesizer factory is in this very town, the people here want to live in their anachronistic utopia. They grunt and huff and puff when a group of people are enjoying something they consider strange. They’ll call us scene and hipster, and probably emo and goth, because they have only a tentative grasp on language and pop culture.
Spooky and I started SWAMPING because we wanted a place where Asheville’s odd and experimental could thrive. Lacking the funds for a venue, we came up with something more abstract: Unifying said music and art under one umbrella, so that what was once spread so thin across the underground could be honed and focused. Because despite Asheville hijacking Portland/Austin’s slogan, Asheville isn’t weird. It’s full of novelties for tourists to be sure. But you wouldn’t call a circus weird or quirky, so why should a guy dressed as a nun or 20-somethings playing bluegrass be considered unusual? When something is truly different in this town, it’s shunned and ostracized. It’s kept to the margins, struggling through on occasion when someone is willing to take a chance or simply doesn’t care. But we care. And we want to live in a town where electronic music can thrive. Where noise isn’t looked down upon. Where hip hop isn’t a four-letter word. There will always be those who oppose. There will be venues that refuse us, and audiences that berate us, and bookers who post snide comments on Facebook. But we will prevail. The world outside Asheville has changed in the past ten years. We can’t keep pretending that fake Appalachian accents and Steve Zissou hats are relevant representations of where art is. It’s time to move on Asheville. A new wave is coming. Hell, it’s already here. And we’re not going anywhere.
- Christian Church