Written by: M. Sloves
For an amateur music head, festivals are a pretty failsafe formula. Kickass headliners, serviceable undercards, and a couple nuggets and curiosities in the lower tier. You know there’ll be a few turds but that’s what beer breaks are for, right? Different story when the whole purpose of the festival is to expose you to artists you’ve never heard before. The stakes are a little higher – especially for someone like me who lives in the musical wasteland that lies west of the 405. If I drive from Venice to Echo Park, I want to know: am I going to get a return on my investment? After all, that’s a lot of time, gas, and money to blow just to roll the dice on a collection of randos.
In this case, Derrick (editor of http://www.MusicOfMyMind14.com) offered to let me pick a few bands in case there was something I was super-amped to check out. Unfortunately, I recognized zero performers on the set list. As far as I could tell, there were loose groupings by country of origin – hence the “collide” of cultures: Scandinavia, Oceania, Israel, etc. I could have gone to soundcloud and done some due diligence …but I’m lazy. Best I could have done by the time we got there would’ve been to throw a dart at a map and check out bands closest to where it stuck.
Again, the anxiety of the unknown. Fortunately in this case, Derrick had promised me free entry and a post-show burrito. Since this wouldn’t be the first time I’d driven crosstown for Mexican food, I figured the worst case scenario would be a night of mediocre music punctuated by a case of machaca-induced gastric distress. Fortunately, neither came to pass.
Part I: The set up.
Taix French Cuisine served as ground zero for the multi-venue event. The parking lot was converted into a micro-festival style outdoor stage with concession booths and a few areas to “chill”. Nice old lady that looked kinda like Blythe Danner was selling drink tokens. I don’t really get the token process. But I do get Blythe Danner. Always had a crush on her. I think I still do. Is that wrong? I don’t think so. She’s a geriatric all-star.
Drank my Singaporan Tiger beer (rawr!) and took a gander around the premises. It was early. Not too many people there. Yet there was a conspicuous array of very attractive and very leggy girls hanging out with very schlubby looking dudes. It was as if my Instagram feed had come to life.
Part II: Fractures (<- Click to check out photos)
Main stage was still prepping for the first band so Derrick and I made our way next door to the “Church” to see the Fractures. The “Church” is…a church, so while it’s a decent venue, you either stand in the back or you take a seat. Pretty chill space, but loud as fuck (or am I just getting old…?), so it was chill but not that chill.
The band broke into some ambient vocals that aren’t really my thing but I started to warm up to it. The singer managed to hold some notes in the upper register that were compelling and reinforced the emotional tone of the composition – a pensive, meditative, self-reflective vibe. Definitely not smile-and-make-you-giggle music but neither was it over-tortured gratuitous douchebaggery. Maybe good for a teen-angst TV drama. A montage scene? Guy has perfect girl, guy loses girl, cut to memory of walk on beach, cut to pushing her on swing in park…eh…nah…Fracture doesn’t suck that bad. They actually sound pretty good and their whole vibe grew on me.
The band is a group of pretty young looking dudes from Melbourne and they sound a helluva lot better than they look. When I talk about ‘looks’, I don’t mean their physical appearance. I’m talking more about their stage presence. They’re like high school AP music kids: super-preoccupied with hitting each note right, everyone staring at either their instruments, their fingers, or the floor. In general they all looked like …well… they all looked like they needed to get laid. A little too anal. Zero engagement with the crowd. But I’m sitting in the crowd staring at a book and scribbling notes…which may be the best way to watch them because they really do start to draw you in as they layer slow building guitar riffs over a building keyboard over building drums until it’s a damn powerful wall of music filling the space inside that little church. I was hoping for that crescendo to explode into some sort of sonic face shot but it never quite gets there. Maybe a reflection of maturity and restraint. Or maybe they really do need to bust a nut in order to tap into a less cautious energy.
Curious to see them in a couple years. But not anxious.
Part III: The Mercy Beat (<- Click to check out photos)
Headed back to the main stage in the Taix lot for another tall-boy of Tiger beer (rawr!) and another brief wink at my cougar crush. Mercy Beats was already playing and the crowd was slowly starting to fill out a bit. These guys were alright. Dude on vocals was hitting a lot of clean high notes over a retro 80s pop rock / new wave kind of vibe. Pretty fun. Light. Very danceable – in a white people kind of way, and the lead guitarist was playing a double necked guitar. So that was happening. What was I feeling? Human League? A-ha? Duran Duran? Definitely A-ha. Dude’s voice was really up there and was channeling a “Take on Me” kind of vibe. Unlike the lads from down under, these guys had some swagger on the stage. Overall, the word that keeps leaping into my head is “fun”. They were good fun. Easy to imagine them turning on a shit ton of people dancing their collecting balls off. There just wasn’t a shit ton of people in the Taix parking lot at 7:45 on a Friday night.
Part IV: Level & Tyson (<- Click to check out photos)
Back to church. This time there were a couple girls on stage, which was pretty rad. I’m always stoked to see some gender plurality in a band. A short-haired pixie on the bass and a tall lanky drink of water on rhythm guitar and keyboards. Really good energy. A fast driving beat anchored a quasi-grunge surf garage sound. The guy on lead guitar in his prison blues and beanie shared vocals with the girl on bass but her voice was a little mousy and was largely lost behind all the instruments. The guy sounded good (he might have been mic’d better) and was hitting some impressive falsetto notes – which seemed to be the theme for the night. Every dude had to venture into that upper register. What’s up with that?
I can’t deny that their set was a little sloppy but I you found yourself rooting for them because even if you weren’t feeling it, you could tell that THEY were feeling it. They were obviously stoked to be on stage – any stage – and that’s how a band should bring it. Reckless abandon, no matter where they are. They even smiled a few times.
The set was dominated by an upbeat spacy twang that reflects the sort of trans-Atlantic surf guitar riffs that I’ve heard creep back into a lot of stuff I’m listening to. And I dig it. Totally in my wheelhouse. Only lost me when the lead singer would go too far into that upper register. Falsetto gave way to high pitched yelps into the mic that sounded kinda like a cat getting sodomized. Some of it was what the band self-glossed as “funky”. Not sure what their definition of funk is. I definitely was not feeling a lot of James Brown or Bootsy Collins in what were fairly aimless walls of noise and distortion. The music wasn’t holding me so I focused on the lanky bassist’s aloha shirt. Not a look that a lot of girls can pull off with stylish ease but she was making it work. Their “funk” was a somewhat lame note to end on after a solid set and while they were far from being the most polished band of the evening, at the end of the night I found they were probably one of the only bands I’d consider going out of my way to see again.
Potential trumps refinement.
Part V: Beat Connection (<- Click to check out photos)
Back outside, the crowd was filling up as another group of young dudes took the stage. They had a Jamiroquai-esque sound but didn’t feel super-derivative. Melodic lyrics floated over a heavy drum beat. Good dance vibe for a crowd that was starting to hit critical mass for getting dancey. What can I reduce these guys to…Citizen Cope meets Tears for Fears…? The drums and keyboard resurrected memories of “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” – a song that takes me back to some good times in my life but also dredges up memories of some really unfortunate haircuts.
But tonsorial misadventures were not an issue for these guys. The lead singer was getting his sexy on and the ladies liked it. Actually, we all liked it. Dude looked like a Gap model but he could belt out some serious notes. Adam Levine would have turned his chair and had an immediate man-crush.
Part VI: Gossling (<- Click to check out photos)
Finally ventured from the parking lot to the inner sanctum of Restaurante Taix. Had a shot of Tequila and moved on down a dark hallway, approaching Taix’s “Champaign Room” and once inside we encountered Gossling.
Gossling is a tall brunette Australian who starts off taking the helm behind a keyboard at the front of the stage. The first thing you notice when she opens her mouth is what a fucked up, cool voice she has. Talking to the crowd, she sounds like an oompa loompa sucking on a helium balloon. Almost a little creepy if you’re a Loveline fan because she has that arrested development squeaky girl voice that always makes Dr. Drew ask “who hurt you…?”…maybe that’s just what Melbourne girls sound like… but when she sings, gawddamn! The oddity and eeriness are what make it beautiful. A really delicate sound that transitions from ambient notes to …I don’t even know what. It’s weird. A little shocking even to look up and see that such a full and complex sound is coming from just her, the guitarist, and the drummer. So rich. I dig this girl. Whole lotta density for a 3 piece. At one point she ditched the keys for acoustic guitar. The guitar ended up being more of a woobie blanket. Couldn’t hear it at all but she looked rad holding it and her voice was still awesome. Sometimes we need a prop to give us purpose on stage, I get that.
Not long after she grabbed the guitar, she introduced a song called “Words that Have No Sound” which was a critique / reaction to social media trolls.
Part VII: Cloud Nothings (<- Click to check out photos)
Eh… pretty generic brat pop. Everyone on stage was wearing a flannel. Sort of a poor man’s Social D… but not. Can’t really compare them to anything because the only thing I find less memorable than this band are the bands they sound like. Little surprised that this was a headliner.
Part VIII: Nina Persson (<- Click to check out photos)
Back to church to hear that broad who fronted the Cardigans. She sounds good. Not pop. Channeling some Chrissie Hynde type of energy. Speaking of which, check out a clip of Hynde on the Colbert Report. That lady is still bringing it strong. And by bringing it, I mean all of it. I thought she was going to eat Colbert. As for Nina, this woman can belt it out. Talk about presence! Compared to all the falsetto twink 20-something little duders in skinny jeans who’d been on stage all night, she was a veritable lioness, a fine wine blending hints of Florence and the Machine with aromatic accents of The Bangles. And like Susannah Hoff, she may be a tiny lady but she’s gorgeous and one hell of a pro jock on the microphone. Like her or not, she was in full command of that room and it was no coincidence that she was the first performer of the evening to fill the church hall.
Part IX: The Kokoro (<- Click to check out photos)
Things were wrapping up at Taix and the Church, so Derrick and I hiked up the street to one of the satellite venues: Lot 1 Café. Caught the very tail end of Dorine Levy who was playing to a packed house. As she wrapped up, we realized that the house was packed because it only held about 8 people. Perfect for a couple Israeli groups because it felt just like a shitty Euro/Tel Aviv café where you might hear an incredibly talented singer playing to a half dozen people. The Kokoro was next and The Kokoro was… a trip.
Waiting for them to set up was painful. After all, Derrick and I had been there since before 7:30 and each minute we waited for The Kokoro was a minute spent not eating burritos. At long last, the trio that is the The Kokoro was ready. The band is fronted by Lee Triffon on lead vocals and guitar and Adi Feher on keytar. Yes, keytar. Bonus points already earned. Approaching the microphone in full-body spandex jumpsuits and Wonder Woman meets Battlestar Galactica jewelry, they both fit the stereotype I have in my mind of a crazy-attractive (and/or crazy, attractive) Tel Aviv woman. The music was pretty intense shit. Heavy electronic pageantry with heavy breaks underpinning Triffon’s strong vocals. At times the whole thing was really hot. At others, it felt like an EDM version of Nora Dunn and Jan Hooks doing the Sweeney Sisters on SNL. Kinda rad but also kinda comical when they break into these eletro beat brown notes, ditch the instruments, face each other, and start gyrating and jerking around as if they were at some post-IDF Koh Phangang full moon beach party. Remember, the venue was the size of a walk-in closet. But that’s part of what’s so captivating about The Kokoro. They seem totally oblivious to the limitations of their surroundings. You wanna say they belong in Burning Man but I get the feeling that what most people would call The Playa, they would just call …Tuesday.
Part X: Wrap it up … in a tortilla
Unfortunately, I was not oblivious to the gyrations of my stomach. After a couple songs, it was burrito time. And so we made our way to Burrito King to commit violence upon our guts and to debrief the five hours of music we’d just experienced. All told, Culture Collide was pretty dope, although, I don’t know how many cultures were really colliding. I mean, with bands from Norway, Sweden, UK, New Zealand, Australia, USA, and Israel… it was really, really… really white. I guess there were a couple Latin American and Asian bands in the mix but we didn’t have the pleasure. Nonetheless, still a good chance to catch some acts that would otherwise remain under the mainstream US radar. Would I have crossed town and actually paid for a ticket? Nah. There were a couple bands I liked but no real game changers. Gossling really impressed me in the moment and a few other bands were fun but nothing grabbed me by the nuts and said “Yo! You gotta see this band again….” Made me feel like I just HAD to see them again. But under similar circumstances, sure, I’d do it again.