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Music is a place: Echoes West Festival in LA

10/11/2012 at 11:35 am

Posted In Arts & Culture, Los Angeles

by hernando buitrago">hernando buitrago

Sasha Vallely - The Silver Chords.

During The Silver Chords‘ set at the Echoes West festival that took place in Los Angeles on September 8, singer Sasha Vallely’s eyes drew me in. As if hypnotized, I listened. For a moment I wasn’t in LA. I was in a place from where I could see haunted castles thick and solid like the sounds coming from the keyboards, dark labyrinths that shifted as guitar, bass and drums moved together. Vallely’s voice swirled over like the sound of a snake charmer’s flute.

American composer Philip Glass has said that “music is a place…as real as a city or any place you have ever been to.”  A place within a place. So was the music in this psychedelic festival. It took me to latitudes as diverse as the scope of the genre. Strawberry Alarm Clock put me somewhere in the California of the 60s, back when their hit “Incense and Peppermints”  made it to the top of the Billboard Hot 100. With Spindrift I was wandering in the desert. Breaking windows with liquor bottles during The Lords of Altamont‘s set. Gram Rabbit… Gram Rabbit was many places at once. I may have been marching in a disco during one song and sailing down the Mississippi on the next one.

Jesika von Rabbit- Gram Rabbit.

Strawberry Alarm Clock.

Spindrift.

Loosely defined as music inspired by psychedelic culture and with many fusions, resurgences, and neo- and post- this and that, psychedelic music can be hard to pinpoint. Nor would it be easy to curate a day long event filled with it. But event mastermind Ms. Vallely (from Spindrift and The Silver Chords) and The Echo / Echoplex venue did well showcasing the music’s sub-genres. From folk to punk and from disco to western, the psych was on.

The audience was made up of   hipsters, musicians, older psychedelic buffs and motor bikers that gathered around tables and drank shots. The venue, currently in its 10th anniversary year, is used to diversity as it features different music genres each night. With bands performing in parallel at the Echo and Echoplex stages, there was something to do most of the time. There was also plenty of socializing in the outdoor patios between sets and artwork and clothes for sale inside.

The Lords of Altamont took the stage after Strawberry Alarm Clock. They had a loud and powerful sound. The songs short and sweet were sculptured to punk traditions. Singer Jake Cavaliere’s irreverent vocals were raw and immersing. The man would not stop moving. He crawled towards the audience, pounded beers between songs and kicked around a whole lot. Also onstage was a belly dancer who you could say added some softness to the overall imagery. I was quickly transported to a riot scene, decadence and broken glass.

The Lords of Altamont.

Like The Lords of Altamont, most bands at the festival turned their music into “real”  places by using visual elements and onstage theatrics. I started wondering if I have seen shows in other cities where all the bands have put lots of effort into their onstage image and still manage to keep a sharp edge on their music. Perhaps its because Los Angeles, being a global center of culture and entertainment, pushes musical acts to define themselves, to brand themselves. Perhaps in today’s artistic ecosystem it is not enough to create a great product but it is also necessary to create a world of images, toy guns and cowboy hats to go along with it.

Even further, for some like Ms. Vallely, being a musician goes beyond creating music and an image to go along with it. It involves bringing a genre’s contributors together to build a community that empowers its members to lead the music into new directions.

More pictures here.

Get in touch with the author @Hernando1.

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