The Wire, a fine British magazine about experimental music, sponsors a truly diverse and frequently odd festival each year at the Empty Bottle in Chicago called Adventures in Modern Music. The festival ran five days; I caught one set on Wednesday, Oct. 3 (R. Stevie Moore) and most of the show on Thursday, Oct. 4.
R. Stevie Moore has reportedly recorded something like 400 homemade albums of lo-fi rock music, finally touring extensively for the first time last year at the age of 59. I can’t say I’m familiar with his oeuvre, if that’s the right word for it, but he put on an interesting enough performance that I’m curious to delve into his recordings … if I can figure out a starting point. His beard was blue. His stage banter included an odd chant about Neil Armstrong and Lance Armstrong.
Thursday’s show was a great example of the odd juxtapositions that are typical of the AIMM schedule. The evening started with an outstanding jazz set by Joshua Abrams and his band, Natural Information Society — well, jazz is about as close a genre label as seems appropriate, but it hardly seems adequate. Next up was the Manchester, England, techno artist Andy Stott, who generated some mesmerizing layered beats with his laptop.
Then came the New Hampshire black metal band Vattnet Viskar, which conjured up the natural fury of a thunderstorm with precise and powerful riffs. Finally, the English experimental duo Demdike Stare sounded downright sinister with pulsing drones.
I feel like I slacked off a bit last week when I missed most of the Wire Festival, a.k.a., “Adventures in Modern Music,” an annual showcase of some of the strangest music around, which the British magazine Wire curates and the Empty Bottle hosts. I’m sure I missed a lot of provocative music during the first four nights of the festival. I did catch the final night on Sunday (Sept. 13). The club seemed less than half full, but it was an excellent night of the sort of challenging music that Wire Fest is known for.
First up was Woods, a really cool band from New York with one of this year’s noteworthy records, Songs of Shame, whom I saw at SXSW. The core of this band’s songs are catchy rock tunes sung in a high falsetto, which remind me a bit of Canned Heat or Neil Young or something from that early ’70s era — but twisted through an experimental, improvisational, psychedelic vibe. Woods also played some extended instrumental jams, building their sound around drones and tape loops. Actual cassette tapes are part of the Woods’ sonic arsenal. Cool stuff.
The next band was the Subarachnoid Space. Never heard of ’em. They put on a pretty impressive set of heavy instrumental rock — heavy metal and art rock without any singing. The music was loud, but it was also fairly diverse within the limits of heavy instrumental rock. The third act of the night, Zola Jesus, was Chicago singer/composer Nika Danilova and two keyboardists, playing chilly techno pop, but with slightly stranger vocal melodies than the usual techno pop.
The headliners were Phantom Orchard, a collaboration between two highly respected experimental musicians, drummer Ikue Mori (who was working a laptop instead of drumming at this concert) and harpist Zeena Parkins. Their music included quiet, delicate tapestries of harp notes dancing over bubbly electronic textures. But Phantom Orchard also cranked up the volume and discordance for some sharp, piercing compositions as well.