The Burger Records Store. Photo Courtesy Pitch Perfect PR
This past Tuesday, Salt Lake was lucky enough to have the traveling hooligan circus that is Burgerama 2013 stop at Urban Lounge. Said circus consisted of Gap Dream, Bass Drum of Death, together Pangea, Cosmonauts, Hanni El Khatib and The Growlers.
For the unknowing, Burger Records is an independent label based in Fullerton, California, and they’re prematurely credited for the upcoming revival of cassette tapes––boasting having sold over 100,000 since its birth back in 2007. The label's MO traverses from indie pop to blues-rock and garage punk—which all typically don a lo-fi matte coating. The label's creators, Sean Bohrman and Lee Rickard, were playing in Thee Makeout Party when they soon resolved that the cassette tape was a viable and cheap (albeit nearly forgotten) medium to release music on. From there, they intrigued the likes of Nobunny and The Go with the concept of releasing old and new material on tapes. Bigger independent labels, like Sub-Pop, were fully on board since they determined tapes weren't viable enough to pursue themselves. Since then, Burger has managed to release music by over 350 artists, while adhering to a strict "no contract" policy with its bands, where they're more focused on working with bands instead of indebting them, thus letting the artists have total leeway over the music. See, Steve Albini? Kids nowadays can babysit themselves. Check out our interview with Bohrman here.
The venue was sparsely occupied in the beginning of the show. The link of merch tables was a buffet of tapes, records, shirts and various knickknacks. Out back on Urban Lounge's patio was a BBQ where you could literally get yourself (are you ready?) a burger! At first blush, I was approximately 90 percent sure Urban would be saturated with LA snobs. Surprisingly, a lot of my fellow compatriots were more or less timid––and in some regards, were a lot more pleasant than I would originally expect out of most show-goers. Free food and a tame yet sociable crowd––life was good and it was only 6 p.m.
My arrival was shortly after Cleveland pop rockers, Gap Dream, started their set. Frontman Gabe Fulvimar nasally belted out one verse after the other atop airy synths and hazy guitar work. Gap Dream is an aesthetically pleasing amalgamation of surf rock and revivalist psyche pop. They proved to be a solid opening act, bringing stoned tunes and an auditory haze that set up a solid foundation for the rest of the night.
The crowd started to thicken as soon as Bass Drum of Death marched on stage. Although Burger's operations are stationed on the West Coast, BDOD hailed all the way from Mississippi, a sensible origin of upbringing when considering all of the blues-rock undertones in the band's raucous root jams. This wasn't their entire forte, though. Every other song would be a fast-paced, frenzied rock track where the lead singer John Barrett (imagine a pre-pubescent, non-slacker Kurt Vile) would whip in feral Segall-esque vocals that remained hidden in his sleeve for most songs. Bass Drum of Death was the middle section of a Venn diagram if you were to combine snarl, shine and grit—with the occasional element of surprise.
together Pangea was formerly known as Pangea, but changed it recently probably for the sake of being uniquely identifiable (convoluted results from a Google search support this). Names aside, this garage punk four piece ripped any pre-existing tranquility out of the venue within the first song. The lead singer's King Tuff-whine vocals matched with the aggressively addicting guitar solos exploded into the crowd like a cannon blast. together Pangea has always been a favorite of mine on recording, but witnessing them live made my previous iPod listens seem so hollow in comparison. Not before long, everyone in the audience started to liven up and move like caffeinated children under attack by a swarm of bees. Even I found myself unconsciously moving closer to the stage in the middle of each song. Afterwards, I regained consciousness and found myself at their merch table forking over cash for a cassette tape.
A somewhat nice reprieve was achieved as soon as Cosmonauts started their set. Unlike the other bands on the roster, Cosmonauts’ brand of luminescent psyche garage was heavier on the atmospheric side. To be fair, most of these songs were off their most recent record, Persona Non Grata, which has oscillating reverb and Prunes-style melodies. The previous album (which was played off of also) was more so Burger's flagship sound––manic rhythms alongside grittily yelping guitar chords. Bands like Cosmonauts are more respectable by successfully being able to change their styles between songs without making sacrifices to either style's integrity.
The blues-stomp style churned out by Hanni El Khatib signaled the end of any navel gazing. Hanni El Khatib's music formula is a basic yet effective one—keep it simple while keeping it loud. The arrangement of raspy vocals, filthy rock riffs and unifying organ sustains makes it easy to believe that Black Keys' Dan Auerbach produced his most recent album, Head in the Dirt. The infectious hooks of the set made it a test of will to keep still. The fiery nature of Hanni El Khatib alone already made me miss the hot summer that we were all complaining about just two weeks prior. Good rock music can make you a hypocrite like that, sometimes.
The floor was a dense sea of bodies when everybody's favorite partying surf rockers took stage––The Growlers. The So-Cal five-piece mostly played off of their newest release, Hung at Heart. Enticing the whole venue with its famous, distinct ’60s garage pop sound, the band blared surfy honky-tonk textures while Brooks Nielsen crooned gloomy, philosophical lyrics in his raspy drawl out at the audience like a sedated street preacher. After a long night, The Growlers was the perfect final ingredient to the night's lineup and left the crowd wanting more.
The show's length may have seemed intimidating at first, but it was worth every fractal second to see six incredible lo-fi acts under the same roof. Those who considered going to Burgerama have every reason to feel remorse and guilt, but there's always next year. However, you can go to Burger's website and listen to their free online sampler to help hold you over in the meantime.