Banger-friendly ballet notes
Time-lapse melodies: Dustin Wong approached the stage at Luigi’s Fun Garden late on the night of October 17, his chair and guitar surrounded by a carefully linked half-moon of effect pedals. The former member of the Baltimore art-rock band Ponytail has earned a favorable reputation for the type of performance that was in store that night, departing from the noise pop of his past in favor of dense soundscapes so full of tension and momentum, it hardly seemed to come from such a tidy and efficient display.
After a show-opening set by Sacramento’s similarly ambitious Biosexual, Wong took the stage with Japanese collaborator Takako Minekawa, with whom he released Toropical Circle earlier this year.
Building on a layer of rhythms and distorted sounds, Wong made a show of technical riffs so sly, his fingers hardly stopped long enough to touch the strings, his picking hand existing only as a blur of movement. The prestidigitations continued, adding layer over layer until, at the peak of each song’s volume and density, it was wiped away leaving only the riff of the next song.
As each song bled into the next, Wong’s music seemed like the stuff of time-lapse nature films, its endless flow of pedestrians and cars moving, like the notes, in a ballet of unconsciously coordinated movements.
An artist in her own right, Minekawa shyly greeted the enthusiastic audience in a barely audible and heavily accented whisper. Her music though, played alongside Wong, is humorous, joyful and confident in its intent. With Wong mostly on guitar and Minekawa’s airy voice, the duo relied heavily on a Korg keyboard that allowed them to turn sound samples into notes. The pair’s songs often feature “chords” of what sound like tapping on glass windows or other distorted yet strangely familiar noises. Together, they seem to be making music out of the very world around them, reminding listeners that music is in everything, if only you listen for it.
Hello, Molly: The modern music festival is all about Molly, fuzzy boots, face paint, animal hats and dance, dance, dance. And that’s fine: The collision of deep, bassy electronic sounds and powder-induced euphoria can never be a bad thing.
That’s my take-home from last weekend, my annual foray into the fest scene: Treasure Island Music Festival, the six-year-old October gathering on an earthy bump that bisects the Bay Bridge. Saturday was my third (or fourth?) visit to the island, and each one reminds that the boutique event (a party tucked onto a strip of a former naval yard facing the Embarcadero) is a standout experience.
The day began as most days don’t, with rapper Danny Brown, who’s riding the agitated tunes on his recent album, Old, to even more acclaim. Brown stumbled onto Treasure’s towering main stage, joked about how he was already drunk (2:45 p.m.), then cut into his new single, “Dip.” It’s a killer track, highlighting Brown’s adaptation of glitchier beats and, fittingly, is an ode to MDMA.
Next, Disclosure. The duo’s latest album, Settle, is a banger-friendly powerhouse that also features smoother, soulful moments. What I dig about this band of brothers, Guy and Howard Lawrence, is that they play live instruments, not always par for the course when it comes to electronic sets. Bass guitar, digital drums, synths, vocals—that gives people something to look at other than two dudes bouncing behind laptops.
On the flip side, even guitar music had its place. New York-based Phantogram, a group that local promoter Brian McKenna brought to Harlow’s Restaurant & Nightclub last year, really took me by surprise. Its songs are best described as crushing gulps of electronic rock with equal parts indie melody and minor-key dissonance—not my preferred drink of choice, but quaffable all the same.
Headliners Atoms for Peace—the superstar mega-band led by Thom Yorke of Radiohead and featuring the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ bassist Flea—were surprisingly one of the day’s least-embraced acts. This may have been because of a foggy, vicious wind chill. Or perhaps it was just the dissonant, angsty whine of frontman Yorke and his band’s rattletrap vibe.
Which I personally loved: Flea cut into the bassline opener for “Default,” the single off of Amok, and it charged forward like a neutron dance. Or at least one on Adderall. The band’s set was a primitive, frenzied, sharp live rendition of the album’s digital progeny.
But, damn, the wind was brutal. And so, like the Pinocchio fable, this island of pleasure—hours earlier featuring gorgeous, 78-degree sun, bare flesh, beer buzzes and methylamphetamine mojo—ended littered with sticky plastic cups, mud and thousands of teeth-grinding youth ambling toward dry, sober reality.