One rock at a time
Palais Idéal builds up four days of experimental music
“Will the venue tolerate/not tolerate the following behaviors: Fire, in the form of rubbing alcohol poured into barrels and ignited; fire, in the form of fireworks taped onto people’s bodies and ignited; fake blood, typically unflavored gelatin with food coloring, typically in conjunction with a simulated disembowelment or beheading, which will probably end up directed toward the audience; potential nudity of performers or audience members?”
—excerpt from an e-mail from Uberkunst’s Jetrock to Jason Cassidy
Jason Cassidy and I have been driving all over the Bay Area since late morning posting flyers. It’s been dark for about an hour, and we’ve stopped at some hokey tourist trap on Haight Street for cactus burritos and enchiladas.
The flyers are for his latest endeavor, a festival that can almost be seen as the next logical step for Cassidy. Besides being calendar editor at the CN&R, he’s on the board of directors at 1078 Gallery and has been a familiar face at some of Chico’s most engaging music events for as long as anyone can remember. With Palais Idéal: A Festival of Adventurous, Strange and Visionary Music, he raises the bar both for himself and Chico.
The fest will offer four days of all things off-beat in the world of music and performing arts. From chaotic noise rock to homemade instruments, folky expressionism to a pirate dirge, if it’s happening on the West Coast and it’s weird, it’s here.
“Out of all the crazy, exciting art that’s taking part in this whole project, the one act that I feel embodies the spirit of what the whole fest is about is my friend Carla Resnick’s Saucebag project,” Cassidy says. “Carla is definitely an artist—she’s a photographer and she used to be the gallery director for the 1078 Gallery—but she’s not necessarily a musician.”
That didn’t stop Resnick from creating electronic looped songs using a computer recording program—and for Palais Idéal she has even assembled a full band made up of some of the most notable players in Chico, including NewmanAmiYumi standup bassist Christine LaPado.
“I really dig that whole idea of just exploring something new in life and seeing what happens,” Cassidy said. “And it’s thrilling and inspiring to see how Carla ignored whatever prerequisites there were and just gave it a try. As a result, something truly new was put into the world.”
Palais Idéal (French for ideal castle”) takes its name from a castle created at the turn of the 19th century by Ferdinand Cheval, a French postal worker. He single-handedly, and with no experience or training, built the castle from strange rocks he discovered on his postal route over the course of 34 years.
The concept intrigued Cassidy, who had already done research on the Internet before coming across some Outsider Art resources. At that point he was still trying to come up with a name for the festival.
“I’ve always dug Frenchy stuff, so Palais Idéal sounded rad,” he said. “As I got into the dude’s story, it just was too perfect. The idea of this guy just deciding to ignore everything in his world and just create something that he saw in his head was so inspiring and just fit so well with the concept of bringing together musicians who, in different ways, are trying to do the same thing.”
And it is certainly fitting—these are people who are struggling to make something that other bands aren’t. Colorado’s Ronnie Cramer will give an elaborate multimedia performance with electronic music set to film imagery. Polly Moller and Lucio Menegon of San Francisco use spoken word, flute, guitar and bass as their medium for an elaborate improvisational show. Daniel Hintz also comes from S.F., with the self-described genre of “turbo-ambient terror-blues maelstrom.”
And convention is going to really get a kick in the pants from Sacramento’s Uberkunst, a band of a dozen or so members who bang on pieces of steel to an occultic drone of heavy-metal guitars.
“I dig being exposed to new ideas, so hooray for that,” Cassidy said. “Also, Chico doesn’t get a lot of this stuff coming through town, so this is a fun way to facilitate introducing a lot of crazy art to locals. I also like the idea of trying to [bring] a bunch of different artists together in one spot.”
“Different” is certainly a good way to describe these artists. Palo Alto makes its mark on the festival with the ambiance of Hyle, a noisy yet soothing performer who makes the most confusing lullabies one is likely to hear. Santa Cruz’s New Thrill Parade puts up a rough and rigid wall of noise, with a live show that includes costumes and audience participation. M.E. and Me, of Olympia, Wash., presents engulfing, mostly rhythmless sounds that could perfectly replace the soundtrack of any Alfred Hitchcock film.
“This will let a lot of bands know that Chico is a good stop between San Francisco and Portland,” said Tom Skowronski, guitarist for Chico anti-music noise duo Botchii, which is also playing the fest.
Some of the performers have even abandoned the use of “instruments” at all.
“There’s Cheryl E. Leonard from the Bay Area, who will be playing her compositions for amplified rocks,” explained Cassidy. “She’ll have bags of sand hanging from the rafters, and pickups hooked up to rocks and bowls of sand. It’s wild—pretty awesome. She does music on all kinds of natural and found materials, like instruments and trees and whatnot.”
In many ways Palais Idéal is on par to force a crash course on experimental music on Chico.
“My big hope is that, not only will fans of experimental or weird music have an overwhelmingly satisfying experience, but that the experimenters will have a chance to do their thing for a whole new audience,” Cassidy said. “Challenging art has its greatest potential for powerful response if it’s not just presented to the converted, but also to those who might not be expecting it.”
It’s almost midnight, and we’re soaring home after a 16-hour day in the Bay. We’ve discussed Cheval’s carting new rocks for his castle in a wheelbarrow, and Cassidy makes a sly comparison, reflecting on the Boat Drags events he put on a few years ago.
Cassidy flashed back to the first Boat Drags event, a traveling art show where a crowd of people followed him from a front lawn to the amphitheater by the creek and to a half-dozen random spots.
“The trippy thing is, to carry all the necessary equipment from locale to locale, I pushed around this wheelbarrow full of stuff. Which is kind of cool.”
So, in a strange bit of coincidence, it turns out that with Palais Idéal Cassidy has come full circle.