Some small while ago a curious analogy arose from an enlightening conversation between good friends. These persons spoke obsessively and with such adoration about how much of their life revolved around music that it sounded as if they could have been describing about a very tangible relationship. If you pardon the indulgence of hyper-romanticism, it is a comparison that is not without merit. In some ways, attending a live show is comparable to consummating a marriage to music, necessary for a healthy relationship but an event that can become repetitive and dull the more concerts you attend at the height of the season. This is when the term “experimentation” gets thrown around and it is in that vein that an experience such as the night at FRED Wildlife Refuge, in celebration of experimental lo-fi music at this year’s Debacle Festival, rekindles some of the spark.
The venue. Even the most active members of the musical community in Seattle may very well be unfamiliar with the Wildlife Refuge which is a welcome respite from its poorly ventilated and claustrophobic counterparts. The performance area is brilliantly illuminated with twin multi-story adjacent projections that wander between scenes of abstract phantasms and distorted images of dated informational films about dinosaurs (courtesy of the BBC) to the crawl pattern that accompanies the nationwide test of your color broadcast television system. Wires and audio equipment blanket the ground like an invasive ivy. The musicians are level with an audience that is cast in a soft light from a retro chandelier and the merchandise table appropriately favors vinyl records and cassette tapes. The curators of the venue and of the festival are exceptionally gracious. Then there is the audience. This is not an event where random people find themselves after wandering the Hill, a few pints deep in search of something to do; everyone present appreciates the music and is respectful of the ambiance of the concert. There are perhaps 100 bodies at the height of the performance, occasionally seated or excusing themselves for a cigarette which is an act that ambient music is especially forgiving towards. You could enjoy a private intermission ouside and return ten minutes later to the exact same note you left upon. Monopoly Child Star Searchers, the alias of one Spencer Clark, very much set into an auditory trance that seemed infatuated with metaphysical expositions and spacial constructs. Experiments in repetition supersede tradition climaxes in favor of a slow development to a more satisfying conclusion. Clark is relieved by my personal favorite artist of the festival, Seattle’s Brain Fruit, a trio I feel that very much embodies the experience of lo-fi music with austere soundscapes delivered with beautiful control and intent. The audience favorite though may have been their successor, Plankton Wat, a solo musician borne from Oregon who ventures closest to what could almost be described as folk music. The only musician I witnessed to employ a guitar, Dewey Mahood plays to an audience that is wholey swept up in his music, rarely speaking or even moving unless to lean forward to be just that much closer to his articulate reprise. It really is an exceptional experience.