On the second Friday of every month, SLUG brings unique local musicians into the limelight at Urban Lounge to highlight the amazing and often hidden talents of Salt Lake, for a measly five bucks. On Nov. 9, Localized challenges the listener with two groups that push the envelope in the experimental electronic scene, the VCR Quintet and The Soundtrack Scene. Both represent a drastic departure from traditional sounds, songwriting and performance, using an array of nonconventional sources for both recordings and live shows. However, the music produced by both artists retains a tightness and structure that is familiar but nonetheless profound. If that weren’t enough, Orem’s Digitallov will be opening the show with their unique brand of trashy electro-disco.

VCR Quintet
Joe Greathouse – Mastermind of VCRs, layering and effects

Experimental music artists often take creative approaches to their instrumentation, relying on vintage instruments, contact mics, or an array of pedals, producing most often sub-par musical masturbation. The VCR Quintet, or VCR5, is an exception to this rule, creatively wielding an array of VCRs and effects to create a sound that brings to mind the 8-bit energy of Paper Rad with the dynamic soundscape and creative production of a group like Wolf Eyes. According to VCR5’s mastermind, Joe Greathouse, the idea for utilizing VCRs as musical instruments was a natural progression, or regression from the recording process, “A lot of bands record with tape, a few artists have attempted to play tapes live, and the next level seems to be video cassettes, input devices equipped with warm magnetic sound and video, with twice the dimension. I didn’t come up with the idea; I just elaborated and exploited it.” The five VCRs act as a type of multitrack analog sampler, allowing Greathouse to record, playback, and layer sounds, effects, and melodies in much the same manner as a five-piece band culminates to form one sound. A brilliant alternative to the boring shows of laptop musicians, VCR5 is an experience to watch as well as listen to.

Growing up in the midst of DJs, Greathouse was put off by the limited palette in vogue amongst electronic musicians, remixers and arrangers. “When I was a teenager there was this weird prejudice by DJs against tools like delay, sample pads, drum machines, and even computers. I waited patiently until that wore off, but there’s still the same kind of stylistic drama floating around, even though everyone involved claims to be the most open minded person in the universe.” Rising above the trends and fashion of popular instruments or sounds, Joe manages to create a sound that is very much cutting edge without any of the pretension that surround the scene of ‘experimental’ artists. Ultimately, VCR Quintet produces excitingly cutting edge music that doesn’t wear on your brain like some of the more aggressive or loose noise artists out there, although the cacophony remains jaunted enough to keep things interesting.

On the second Friday of every month, SLUG brings unique local musicians into the limelight at Urban Lounge to highlight the amazing and often hidden talents of Salt Lake, for a measly five bucks. On Nov. 9, Localized challenges the listener with two groups that push the envelope in the experimental electronic scene, the VCR Quintet and The Soundtrack Scene. Both represent a drastic departure from traditional sounds, songwriting and performance, using an array of nonconventional sources for both recordings and live shows. However, the music produced by both artists retains a tightness and structure that is familiar but nonetheless profound. If that weren’t enough, Orem’s Digitallov will be opening the show with their unique brand of trashy electro-disco.

Soundtrack Scene
John LaMonica

According to LaMonica, this talent is rooted in the simplicity of the format, not the media: “I’m still writing songs in the pop format; I play guitar a lot, and I’m making an attempt to connect with the audience, so, to me, there’s not a huge difference between what I’m doing and playing in a five-piece rock band, I’m just generating all five parts by myself … and what sounds like bass might actually be a sample of a bus.” While the idea of a five-piece solo project has been tackled historically with marginal success, The Soundtrack Scene looks to expound on using a traditional backing band or prerecording accompaniment, and implement live sampling and remixing into performances. “I want each show to be different, distinct and have room for improvisation,” LaMonica says, “I want it to be an actual performance, not just ‘pushing buttons’ and triggering pre-recorded samples.”

LaMonica has seen national exposure with his musical expertise in the past, DJ-ing the SXSW kickoff party and playing shows at the Knitting Factory in NYC. The Soundtrack Scene is looking to tour this year throughout the Northwest and Midwest with Telegraph Canyon from Seattle. Collaborative efforts are a big part of The Soundtrack Scene. He says, “I enjoy working with artists who also produce and I have had a lot of fun doing remixes.” He adds, “I hope I get to do more of that in the future.” As a result, LaMonica (in one form or another) has completed musical collaborations and remixes with the likes of Lapsed, Manic Project and The Domus (Sweden).

In the current underground music scene there just aren’t many bands that can claim to have placed 24 guitars on a single track, or brought down the house with a Johann Sebastian Bach cover, complete with harmonized guitar solos. Yes, I am afraid the golden age of metal has died, with guitar virtuosity taking a back seat to increasingly harder and simpler trends in metal. Fortunately, The Fucking Champs carry on the torch of metal with international anthems such as “Summer Knights,” “Air on a G-String,” and “Thor is Like Immortal.” Even more fortunately, Phil Manley, guitarist for The Champs (as well as Trans Am), was kind enough to spare our lives at SLUG and answer the deepest mysteries of the universe.

SLUG: What do the fucking champs bring to metal that makes the band appeal across such a diverse fan base?

Phil Manley: Well, we are not “metallers,” “hessians,” or “metalheads.” You could classify the music we play as metal – but even that is a bit of a stretch – we like to call it life metal. There are some life-affirming positive sides to our music that are normally not associated with metal, which is usually doomy and gloomy – there is more positivity, it is more hopeful.

SLUG: While everyone else in making metal that is simpler and harder, why do the fucking champs insist on making music that is more complex and orchestral?

Phil: The Champs write songs as modern baroque music, very ornate. The idea is to make it as complicated as possible while still being able to play it. There is discussion of writing songs that are so hard to play that the band had to break up. That hasn’t happened yet.

SLUG: What is the single best riff in the history of music?

Phil: “Cashmere” by Led Zeppelin – its certainly the most evil.

SLUG: A lot of studio work goes into Fucking Champs songs, for example, there was once a track with 24 guitars overdubbed on top of each other, where did this idea come from?

Phil: For that particular track, it started as a joke, but the joke wouldn’t be funny unless somebody actually did it. It was a very maximalist approach. Which is funny, because you can tell the difference between one and two guitars, and two and three guitars, but after that it gets weirdly smaller – it starts to get blurry.

SLUG: Do you think amateur recording techniques are ruining independent music?

Phil: No, it is a weird double-edged sword. Both Tim Green and I work as recording engineers. We both started as amateurs, were never formally taught, and are still developing our skills. Today, so many people have their computer rigs, and really these rigs have become a glorified four tracks, and bands choose not to go to a studio. Ultimately, you get what you pay for; a lot of crappy recording. I don’t think everybody appreciates going to the studio and the process involved. Bands will record on their computers and wonder why it doesn’t sound like what they are used to hearing, and it is because of crappy recording.

SLUG: Or the band is just terrible.

Phil: More often that is the case.

SLUG: What inspired the Trans Am / Fucking Champs collaborations Transchamps and The Fucking Am?

Phil: Trans Am heard the Champs 10 years ago. We [Trans Am] heard a tape on tour, we called the Champs to ask if they wanted to come on tour with us – and after that the two bands became friends. After touring together, we came up with the idea – Trans Am had a similar studio in Washington D.C., to Tim Green’s studio in San Francisco.

SLUG: So how were the Transchamps /Fucking Am albums composed?

Phil: The champs would send us a reel of two-inch tape, which would have drums and keyboard, or only a guitar part and maybe a click track. We would work on those, and then do the same thing, send them half-baked ideas, and then come together and mix an album.

SLUG: Will there be another Trans Am & Fucking Champs tour? Perhaps with live Transchamps/Fucking Am performance?

Phil: I wouldn’t rule it out – although Trans Am doesn’t tour as much anymore. We have done the collaborative shows abroad in New Zealand and Australia, and once in San Francisco for a new year’s show. Each band would play a set, and then everyone would play together.

SLUG: How well does a live show capture the sound of the Fucking Champs?

Phil: The live show is The Fucking Champs – no matter how good of a studio you have, you can’t capture the wind coming out of five Marshall cabinets.

The Lewis and Clark of the sound spectrum, Animal Collective’s psych-folk noise-rock agenda brings even the harshest critics to their knees. With the group’s roots reaching back to the second grade, Animal Collective’s long and varied existence is an important clue to how the group can work with unique sounds and ideas that are intensely intimidating to even the most seasoned musicians, and create palatable avant-garde compositions. Animal Collective’s four members, Avey Tare, Geologist, Panda Bear, and Deakin, have been working as a group since 2000, producing albums under a variety of monikers and with different combinations of members.

Far removed from the “rock star” persona, Animal Collective strips the idea of the individual from the music; each album becomes its own entity, rather than a projection of each individual—with all of the members operating under different names depending upon the current project. In addition, not every affiliate of Animal Collective is involved in every performance or recording—and each member also performs in their own solo projects and collaborations with outside musicians. It is this flexibility that allows Animal Collective’s consistent delivery of characteristically unique material that is as much of an experiment as it is a reality.

Walking around the bitter cold New York’s lower east side, Animal Collective’s Deakin (aka Josh Dibbs) took time to talk to SLUG about Animal Collective, and the organic loose structure of their music and members.

SLUG: What is your role? what do you bring to the table as a member of Animal Collective?

Deakin: Main instrumentation in the band is guitar, and as far as songwriting goes, my relationship with Dave [Avey Tare] goes far back. He does a lot of initial composing. I work on the harmonic elements and filling out the musical parts of the songs. We became friends through writing music, and this connection goes back to when we were kids. No one ever really writes a complete song and shows it to the group, but presents a loose idea; it’s then worked on by everyone.

SLUG: It sounds like the Animal Collective songs are organic in nature.

Deakin: We try to keep the sound organic as much as possible, although the meaning of organic changes throughout time for us. For example, during the Danse Manatee and Here Comes the Indian era the song structures were intentionally [unconstrained]; they were created with marked points and changes, but the songs had looser qualities than they do now.

SLUG: So how does the group approach and rehearse these loose songs and ideas?

Deakin: Practice for Animal Collective is an extension of our creativity. [This includes] trying new sounds and ideas; an intensive workshop for the songs. We know the essence of the song, it’s just a matter of finding it. Practice for us is finding out what the song is supposed to be; not counting on our own ability to just sit down in a studio and record. Playing the songs live continues the process of finding what a song is supposed to be—again and again in different situations and in front of different crowds. For example, I’ll tell one of the guys, ‘Every time we play this song and you make that sound it gives me chills. I don’t ever want to not hear that.’

SLUG: Do you ever record live?

Deakin: Live performances and the studio are very different things. When we play live, what we are performing is a lot more of our focus. In the studio, we have the chance to hone every sound and make it what we want.

SLUG: Animal Collective has wide array of different sounds going on, I imagine the studio helps you isolate and capture the full spectrum of sound.

Deakin: Yes, even being able to EQ individual tracks makes a huge difference. Lately, a couple of bands have been asking us for recording help, and I find myself in the position of the older, experienced dad figure. It makes me think back to what we have been doing and what we are doing now. I have been recording my own music since I was 13—at least it was the first time I recorded multi track and tried to mix it. For the first few Animal Collective albums, we recorded everything ourselves and now everything is so intuitive. At this point I know enough about what I want that I feel collaborative with the studio and I don’t feel that I have to look to them to get the sound I need; I can feel comfortable telling them exactly the sound I need.

Animal Collective will play Salt Lake on May 22 at In the Venue with Sir Richard Bishop.

Director: Dominic Murphy

For those who are familiar with Jesco White, or have seen the documentary featuring the eccentric hillbilly – prepare to be surprised and shocked. Dominic Murphy’s White Lightnin’ takes Jesco’s story and ‘extrapolates’ the story to a level of psychopathology in both story and presentation. A stark, desaturated presentation gives the film a depressing and hopeless feel – almost essentially black and white, a palette of exclusively cool colors sets the mood for a life of struggle and mental illness. The constant narration was punctuated by extended blips of solid black screen, further pushing the uncomfortable tension of the film. One issue I had with the film is the depravity hides the humor that exists in Jesco’s real story – the seriousness of the film creates an uneasy, uncomfortable, almost David Lynch feeling. Jesco White, the infamous dancing outlaw is portrayed as a simple man driven by his own quest for vengeance accompanied by a gas huffing fueled psychopathic rage – a rage the real Jesco White dreamed of but never realized. The film also hides any deeper elements in Jesco’s life or relationships preventing the audience from understanding Jesco as a real person rather than a mechanism for revenge. In many ways, the film is an alternate reality and interpretive exaggeration of Jesco’s real story.

One of the highlights of the film is the music and sound design. The soundtrack of the film is stunning – hillbilly music gone completely schizophrenic. The music fits the film in such a phenomenal way, it is reminiscent of A Clockwork Orange’s pairing of Walter/Wendy Carlos’ synth driven classical – bizarre yet fitting.

– Ryan Powers

A late night party sponsored by LIVEstyle Entertainment featured legendary trance/house DJ and producer Paul Oakenfold, LIVEstyle is one of the largest event producers at North American film festivals, and usually brings out big names and sponsors for their live events – this year they presented the Bon Appetit supper club, the Film Lounge Media Center, and the live series at Downstairs, a bar turned crazy dance club. Although by most measures his style is a bit old school, (mostly ’90s-style warehouse party music and mainstream trance), the party was one of the best at Sundance in terms of crowd, music presentation and of course, the open bar. Oakenfold’s composition is beyond the abilities of most DJs – each song a mere part of a larger composition flowing in key and in tempo seamlessly for hours. Fortunately for me (or my taste anyway) he played a majority of house as opposed to trance or techno. Bloghouse Serato hipsters, take notice: it helps to know how to compose and produce – most of you have A LOT of catching up to do. There is a reason EVERYONE knows who Paul Oakenfold is. Pictures soon!

Common’s performance at Harry O’s was a refreshing and invigorating, the seasoned rapper played many of his familiar hits, bringing the crowd to a near frenzy of hip hop arm pumping and hip swiggling ecstasy. The club set up helped his presentation, the soundsystem had enough bass to nearly make me sick to my stomach, and the lights were reaching that epileptic state reserved for raves and Whitesnake shows. Personally, the highlight of the show was Common’s freestyle – focusing on the goings-on of the club, including the impromptu lap dances, his theft of water from the waitress walking by, and other Sundance jokes and rhymes. The man has got some serious chops – definitely bringing a new energy to his live show not seen in his Gap commercials. Right up front was half of the University of Utah’s undefeated football team – in jerseys and all, living up their 15 minutes with the horde of photographers popping flashes left and right.

Unfortunately for many people, especially my UK friends who had accompanied my, Macy Gray had cancelled her performance, leaving Common to his own devices. – Ryan Powers