VIA Festival 2014

Just over a month ago, Pittsburgh was home to its 5th annual VIA showcase. VIA is a music and arts festival which began in Pittsburgh in 2010 and has since spread to Chicago as well. The majority of the events held are live performances by a plethora of underground music artists, but also include visual craft, experiential artistry, and workshops. Near its inception, VIA mostly promoted electronic artists, but has been taking strides towards diversifying its lineup; the most notable variations this year being indie rock band Real Estate, the hardcore punk workings of Code Orange, and black metal bands Liturgy and Deafheaven.

The main showcases began on Friday, October 3rd at the recently refurbished Hot Mass. Pittsburgh’s very own DJ collective and record label Detour collaborated with VIA to put on one stomping all-nighter. Featuring an impressive index of performers, VIA and Detour doused Pittsburgh’s cultural scene with a shower of deep techno and acid house. (The exposition even came complete with a live web stream to add a little Boiler Room flavor.) Certainly one of the most noteworthy acts of the night however, was TIN MAN’s set. Hailing from Vienna by way of California, Johannes Auvinen has been releasing dance records and mixing tracks since the mid-2000s. For this years VIA however, he opted out of the usual DJ layouts: CDJs, Laptop running Traktor, turntables and a mixer, etc; and instead set up several drum machines and a 303 bass synthesizer to create his tracks live as his set progressed. What resulted was an hour+ array of violent, primal techno that sequenced in much the same way as a continuous stream of consciousness; ever present and constantly evolving. Low ends rolled under pounding bass drums and splintering snares. The presence of subtle melodies from the 303 synthesizer added a cold mechanical touch to clash with the arrangements animalistic tendency. All in all, Fridays assembly produced a hearty night of body-jacking good times, a healthy start to a jam-packed weekend.

With Detour’s Friday presentation being the niche display of house and techno that it was, Saturday’s showcase answered with a rich selection of diverse electronic artists. Running through the roster, there was: the psychedelic soloist Troxum, chiptune artist Diode Milliampere, ‘punk-rocker turned alternative-rapper’ Cities Aviv, Canadian synth-pop duo Blue Hawaii, LGBT hip-hop artists Cakes Da Killa and Zebra Katz, and a back to back performance by Night Slugs co-founder L-Vis 1990 and Geto DJz co-founder Traxman. The music was outstanding with radical optics fabricated by numerous visual artists, one specific to each audio set. The event was held in the basement of Pittsburgh’s Union Trust Building, a grand structure with a bright ascending main hall. Underground however, the setting changed drastically upon entering VIA’s allocated space. Large structural columns ran throughout the expansive room, rising from the slab-like cement floor, which gave the area that classic isolated, hemi-industrial feel, not unlike VIA’s last venue in 2013.

Two of the most memorable acts of the night were those of Zebra Katz, along with L-Vis 1990 and Traxman’s duo set. As is common with performances within the LGBT rap scene, Zebra brought an appreciable amount of energy and showmanship to the stage. His music bears a sort of contained sexuality, locked behind his placid emphatic expression. On stage this carnality is present in his movements and actions, from pouring champagne into spectator’s mouths to climbing and hanging from the scaffolding. Following his spirited performance, came a thumping spread of eclectic bass music; L-Vis 1990 and Traxman certainly put on a good show together. Mixing one track after another, the two progressed through a wide variety of genres, ranging from club to UK to juke and trap, but always in possession of a quintessential kineticism.

Here’s to looking forward to VIA 2015.

Post by Joe Reilly.

Review: Gardens & Villa

When you hear an album from a band like Gardens & Villa, you can’t help but wonder if it’s a really talented and cohesive band, or just a couple of studio wizards slaving away at a soundboard. Both groups can create great records, but the former creates a significantly better live music experience.

Walking into Club Cafe, I really hoped that I wasn’t going to experience a few dudes who were really good at playing MacBook, and not so good at playing instruments. Fortunately, Gardens & Villa is the exact opposite. By the time they launched into their second song, “Domino,” and the lead singer started playing the flute, I knew I was in for something special.

Gardens & Villa is a different type of band from the groups that dominate the indie scene today. With a lead singer who plays guitar and flute, a dedicated synth player with an array of old 80’s synthesizers from companies that must have long since gone out of business, a bassist, drummer and another synth player, there was no need for a MacBook onstage.

As Gardens & Villa played through their two-album catalog, they deftly created a wide array of sounds using simple tools and challenging themselves to think beyond the convenience of digital, utilizing analog instruments like electric pianos and recorders to create a refreshingly original sound.

Gardens & Villa’s glittery and dark brand of synth pop brought a small but passionate crowd to the show. As the night went on, the audience started being more interactive, shouting requests and words of encouragement like, “you’re awesome!” For the last three songs, a few of the audience members who had previously been standing in the back of the show rushed to the stage and started dancing in front of an otherwise seated crowd.

I couldn’t help but get the feeling that everyone at this show had been waiting for years for Gardens & Villa to play a show in Pittsburgh. Upon ending their set, the band couldn’t even make it offstage before being commanded by the audience to play an encore. When they finally finished the encore, the audience kept shouting requests for songs that the band didn’t play, with one fan even screaming, “Play every song you know!”

While Gardens & Villa isn’t the biggest band in the world, or even on the indie scene, they’ve managed to create something very special and unique in a way that very few bands do. Because they’ve taken such a unique approach to making music, they’ve been rewarded with an incredibly passionate fan base that probably checks in weekly to see if the band is up to anything new. Their show at Club Cafe was a true testament to just how talented the band is, and how dedicated their fans are.

Post by Kyle Henson.

Sondre Lerche at Altar Bar (Oct. 20, 2014)

For the last stop on his North America tour, Norwegian singer-songwriter Sondre Lerche brought his own particular brand of rhythmic indie-pop to Pittsburgh’s Altar Bar. Opener Chris Holm warmed the audience up with a soulful vocal-and-guitar set, and then joined Lerche on stage to play bass, along with drummer David Heilman.

Touring in support of his most recent release, Please, Lerche quickly launched into a series of songs from the new album, starting with “After the Exorcism,” followed by the upbeat single “Bad Law.” Lerche’s music is always disarmingly earnest, and newer songs also demonstrate a tendency start simply only to devolve into distortion or exuberant instrumental jamming. This translated well to a live performance, with Lerche and his band ripping through newer tracks, which then provided a pleasant counterpoint to older acoustic material.

As always, the most charming aspect of Lerche’s live performance was his loose, conversational tone in addressing the audience. He engaged in some banter in quiet moments between songs, and was wryly self-deprecating after forgetting the middle verse to an older song. “I have a setlist. I just don’t respect it,” he told an audience member who suggested that he stick to the agenda. “Two Way Monologue” later became an exuberant audience sing-along as Lerche initiated an extended call-and-response chorus. He remained engaged with the audience throughout, launching into “Wet Ground” during his encore based on the shouted suggestion of an audience member. Closing track “Modern Nature” cast the audience as Lerche’s duet partner, ending the set on a communal note. Lerche, of course, stayed long after the end of the set to sign merch and take photos with fans, who eventually dispersed, already looking forward to the next time they would be able to catch him on tour.

Post by Gesina Phillips.

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