Though a slightly more stripped back outing this time around (2 days/nights instead of 2 days/3 nights) and shifted to the Mississippi Studios, the initial evening last night shows our Sean hasn't lost his flair for booking a crazy-talented, varied, and, really, quite sublime night's entertainment. With Pulse Emitter, Pinks Quieter, Das Fluff, White Fang, and Pink Skull on the docket, there was no excuse for being late so your devoted correspondent indeed finds his way Albina-ward by the appointed hour. Sean is outside chatting with Charlie Salas-Humara, who, I'd only recently discovered, is the driving force behind Pinks Quieter ('Can't know everything' I often tell myself but regardless am abashed at not having known about this lot sooner; more in a moment). A committed impresario driven primarily by the passionate need to get the music he loves not only on his label (Metal Postcard) but as well just out there so everyone else can see/hear how great this band or that artist is, Sean, like yours truly, is a bit old guard, grounded in the fundamentals of the DIY/underground/John Peel school (Hocking is a DJ on the Peel-inspired Dandelion radio), where a sort of music evangelism mixes it up as best it can with market capitalism. Whereas the prospects in this approach of becoming a record magnate are rather slim, it is the only path that allows the type of fierce devotion Sean not only displays in conversation but as well in his commitment to the artists on his label. It also makes for a savvy sense of what works on stage and tonight's a fine example of that. Attendance on the first night was sparse given the surge of talent on offer so I say to you right here right now: DON'T MISS TONIGHT!! OK, let's see what we've got here.
Daryl Groetsch, the one-man band/composer that is Pulse Emitter, has been described as the "undisputed king of planetary scale hypnosis," and I'm not going to do much better at describing the gist of what we're hearing than that. Yes of course it's music, but to be more accurate I'll say it's pulsing washes of soundscape or the emanative breath of the Spheres - it's either and both of those things and no doubt a multitude beyond - ooh, there! That's also what it is, music of the beyond - and it's also a remarkably magnetic way to kick off the second annual SAGN Fest. Groetsch, the Oz in plain view responsible, is the Harold Budd of the future and that future is now. With a persistent subtlety of rhythm, looped beat structures embroidered inside the textural whole like an insinuated pulse and sheets of chthonic melody cascading, tripping, and tripping again, evolving and fading out then rearising as if to prove reincarnation via a slightly multi-phased, programmed synth, it pulls me in time and again. 'Mesmerizing' would be the word were it not so addictively engaging. The early handful of us standing around in a loose tribal trance are the lucky ones, already transported and its not even half past eight yet.
Say, how does experimental funky tropical sound? Well, let me tell you how it sounds: bloody amazing! Pinks Quieter is two drummers (one with a couple of congas appended), a basement heavy bass, a flangeing high life-like guitar, a guy standing behind a little Realistic synth and Moog stack, filling in the sonic cracks, bringing the melody, whatever's needed. Add it all up and you've got a high and righteous racket of the first order. This is punk rock Sun Ra, this is go-go music (the Washington DC-bred Cubanized funk pioneered by Chuck Brown), Portland style, and when the band all kicks in, when Charlie Salas-Humara hits his manic guitar stride, its a noisily transcendent wonder and don't even think I'm exaggerating. Even when a song comes creeping into being, as tonight's second offering does, incipient in it's slowly fraying fabric is a coming fever, a tightly controlled maelstrom of jumping, sometimes skittering, always grooved joy and kick, with a smooth manic improv feel. Out of nowhere Pinks Quieter have become one of my favorite Portland bands, there's nothing like them by a DC city mile.
Portland semi-legends, White Fang is White Fang, an unreconstructed (read: fun) shambles of a rowdy no-holds- barred drunk punk band that is this year's only returning act from last year's lineup, where they just about destroyed themselves putting on a raging show. Taking hedonism to a purer unapologetic level (read: 90's), they couldn't be more of a contrast from the two bands preceding but in frontman Erik Gage they've got a spokesman for a non-generation, he's anti-charisma charismatic if you would and whatever jarringness in the transition gets rolled right over. Plus, oh yeah, their 1-2-3-4-take-no-prisoners recklessness, inside all its crunch and snotty apathy, is an unquenchable pop sensibility, melody keeps tumbling out despite itself. Nothing so well describes what the Fang are all about than Gage's sartorial choice for the evening, self-made denim cut-offs topped by a ripped-to-shit "Yabba Dabba Doo" T-shirt. There may be a cartoon element to their punk but they certainly know what they're doing and know how to shred an audience. Only drawback tonight is a malfunctioning guitar shortens their set, but, y'know, what the heck, they'll almost certainly be back next year for SAGN 3.
'Immediate' is the word that immediately come to mind once Das Fluff hit the stage. Tall yet somehow elfin Teutonic-looking siren Dawn Lintern, resplendent in black faux-feathered headdress, leopard print tights, sequins and lace, captivates from the off. Think Lene Lovich graduating from the Bromley contingent while Christian rocks the hell out of a...laptop? Why, yes, and it doesn't matter one jot, it works, and works rousingly well. "Jolly" (as described by Dawn) song 'Rage' has the singer screeching like angels throwing a tantrum, it's entrancing and un-turn-awayable like that, full of, yes, rage, full of A-side ready hooks, it finishes with Dawn staring icicles before breaking down into a disarming smile. It's clear Dawn gives all of herself on stage here, its her that brings the commanding theatricality, a post-punk intensity with an irresistible soupcon of Weimar decadence. Most surprisingly, most winningly, I can hear notes of (of all people) the Raincoats in her London accent. When Dawn comes down amongst us during 'Lucky Lady,' people actually hide behind their brave companions (even if jokingly) and well why not, the woman is fierce. But as often as not Lintern's voice, when not being dramatic, forceful, full of portent, hits these celestial interludes. Not sweet exactly - bit too spooked for that - but lilting. hypnotizing. Her presence truly is alluring, dangerous, charming, whatever coquettishness edged with menace. Star of the night, there can be no doubt about that, while Christian strikes a stance of Zen poise despite the black Sex Pistols t shirt. Next task for me is to buttonhole Sean tonight and inquire about a CD, an LP, something. Want Das Fluff for Songs From Under The Floorboard post-haste.
Pink Skull are two lone wizards flashing dizzying wrecked mandala graphics, complex programmed synth interplay and a damaged disco slash house rhythm. Ibiza is a Tokyo nightmare, basically, which at first feels a bit calculatedly off-putting but lo and effin behold it soon becomes a seductive miasma of deep grooving, umm, grooviness. Yeah, it's all microchips and well-placed computer effects, it's man commanding machine, but it's nonetheless immutably human, not dissimilar, I should think, to that startling moment when we find out that, yup, robots actually have human hearts. The possibilities of dance in these moments are almost infinite, it's Kraftwerk had they been just that much funkier. It's also an irresistible lure to the kids from the bar, as a trail of them find their way to the living room-like dance floor in front of the stage, Pink Skull topping their night off in style.
So Sean's done it again, brought a head-spinning array of not-to-be-missed talent to a single stage for Portland's exclusive entertainment. And I'm sorry if you missed it - it truly was a terrific night on the tiles, or, rather, carpet - but the cool thing is, you can make up for it!! Tonight it's Seattle institution The Maldives (woo-hoo! I've never seen them), The Cambodian Space Project (who I've been so very keen to see since Sean turned me on to them last year - you do NOT want to miss them) and..wait for it...Ken Stringfellow from THE POSIES!! See you there, then, yeah?