Photo by Mark N. Kartarik
Drone Not Drones' 28-hour drone
Cedar Cultural Center, Minneapolis
Friday, February 7 and Saturday February 8, 2014
The local activist organization Drone Not Drones set up one of the most ambitious concerts in Twin Cities history with a 28-hour long rotating cast of drone musicians. It blended individual sets and played off the sounds of their predecessors to create essentially one sprawling song. The show was very tight and well-curated, with music running smoothly and maintaining the vibe no matter the time of the day or night.
See Also: Slideshow: Drone Not Drones at the Cedar, 2/7/14
Some of the biggest local names in the scene came together for an unprecedented and extraordinary night of music, all to raise awareness about drone warfare and military spending. A benefit for Doctors Without Borders and sponsored by Veterans For Peace, the night was a politically-charged artistic expression of resistance.
Note: This was unlike anything I'd ever been to, and I did my best to cover as much as I could. This piece is over-long and under-edited intentionally, and echoes the sprawling vibe of the music. I was able to get what I could considering my own human limitations, but click here for the full line-up
Photo by Mark N. Kartarik
The Prairie Fire Lady Choir opened the night with a haunting vocal performance from 19 women, one of whom conducted the piece, which gradually progressed from sustained choral harmonies to include a section singing lyrics. "Mother Earth will smother her" seemed to be the refrain, a chilling evocation of the night's anti-war theme. A powerful beginning to a long night of combined performances, the choir continued as Erik Winivus set-up behind and slowly integrated the guitars, electronic drums, and effects that made up his time slot.
As Prairie Fire Lady Choir exited the stage to the night's singular bout of applause, the steadily building guitars and feedback matched the vibe of the voices that preceded it. As the percussionist controlled heavily-reverberated drum hits gesturally over electronic pads, the guitar players fluidly moved from pure feedback to light strums using some interesting fingering techniques. Immediately the show presented the range of local acts creating variants of drone, as well as the time span, thanks to Winivus' longstanding presence in the scene as former member of pioneering group Salamander.
It was inspiring to see the first wave of fans, some of whom brought their kids, finding seats in chairs or on the floor, mesmerized. There was little talking and zero dancing. As BNLX took stage and moved the feeling in a new direction using largely the same instrumentation, the sound shifted bigger and riffier, incorporating a standard drum to move into moments that echoed the post-rock stylings of bands like Explosions In the Sky. The vibe never stayed stationary for long, and just as quickly as they burst into the night's first true gigantic moments, they'd shift gears and bottom out with ringing feedback.
Photos by Mark N. Kartarik
Peace Drone, a duo made up of members of Flavor Crystals and Magic Castles, took stage behind BNLX and started to add elongated guitar squeals and what sounded like tweaked vocal samples, and the show's curatorial strength really became apparent. This was a well-oiled machine of a concert, broken up into fifteen minutes sections that barely revealed their starting points but managed to keep things moving. To mark the show as a singular song was a stroke of genius, invoking meditative listening that truly lost the use for time.
Jesse Petersen's bowed guitar added some background flourish as he melded into Peace Drone's set, but soon was the focal point as the distortion grew and everyone else packed up. Noise Quean Ant eventually began their highly percussive set underneath in what was one of the most varied performances of the night. With an array of instruments at their fingertips, the trio used mallets on toms, cymbals, and xylophones to create tight rhythmic sections as the guitarist brought a slight twang with an eerie slide style. They had a tight grasp on loud-to-quiet dynamics, switching up drum patterning and feedback elements to subtly redefine the mood.
Drone as a form really only works when the inherent self-indulgence is masked by a convincing sense of drama, which was sustained throughout the set up until John Zuma St. Plevyn's set. It started as promising as the rest, blending warm-toned feedback and intricate finger-picking techniques with very light keys, but the manic vocal portion felt very overdone and distracting. The style was intriguing when John's light falsetto rang through the guitar's f-holes, but it quickly devolved into squeals and yelps that elicited laughter rather awe. Stage antics which purportedly changed the dynamics of the amp noise seemed more for the purpose of grabbing attention.
Low slowly crept in to perform alongside, shifting back into melodic vocal territory by using Mimi Parker's looped singing as the backbone to a crunchy, repetitious riff emblematic of the group's rawest and most spacious material. Alan Sparhawk sang along briefly -- possibly singing something about "Here at church"? It was hard to make out -- and was ultimately less wall-of-noise drone than their infamous Rock the Garden performance of "Do You Know How To Waltz?" which initially drew attention to the Drone Not Drones campaign.
Photos by Mark N. Kartarik
More guitars and a sitar aligned on stage left as Low slowly shifted out and Peace Drone returned, followed shortly by former Low bassist Zak Sally and his group the Hand. As dark, understated electronic drum elements evoked the beats of Kill the Vultures producer Anatomy, giant distorted accents found the structure playing tug of war with the song's atmosphere. The long set slowly shifted into simple hollow tones from ambient electric artist Transitional Species.
By the time 6000 Sux brought guitars back into the mix it was 2 a.m. and the crowd had dwindled to 15 or so fans, still going strong, many prepared with blankets for spending the night. Dirty Knobs began repeating a vocal sample ("The greatest threat to the privacy of Americans is the use of the drone") again tying the sounds directly to the night's theme, after which Chatham Rise played some airy shoegaze with guitars and a sitar, including elements of Spaceman 3's "Sometimes."
The four-piece American Cream utilized a number of different pieces of equipment during their hour-long set, finding the harmonics in atonal feedback by layering melodic elements on top to create a warm-yet-tense soundscape. One player lightly stroked his face-up guitar with brushes to tease out tones which were run through a sea of echoes, and he eventually picked up a harmonica to add a new texture to the same droning blueprint.
I think I may have fallen asleep at this point, but woke up to Gabriel Douglas, etc chord delays bleeding into Jon Davis's electronic pulses and teasing noise bursts. More beat-oriented than anything so far, Davis's gear table produced both the tightness of steady drum machines and the chaos of blistering static kept just within his finger's control. Danny Surreal set his table up at stage left and joined Davis as the sun came up.
At about 7:30 a.m. I called it a night (so to speak), rested up and returned for a portion of the set the following evening. At 5:30 p.m. the following afternoon, Flavor Crystals brought a four-guitar sprawl and a drummer patiently playing little to nothing. A screen for visuals and a smoke machine were added at some point which heightened the atmosphere. Not sure what was improvisatory here, but it certainly seemed like the sparse lyrics ("I was born with half a body / Float into me") were.
While Michael Rossetto set-up to the side, looping incomprehensible vocal samples swirled among the sounds of teapot whistles and other hissing. Paul Fonfara joined with a sax as Rossetto laid down intricate banjo licks that dissected the twang and left behind floating string melodies that felt barely there. When he switched to guitar to play along with a drummer and bassist, the tune become more bluesy than I'd heard so far, occupying a space not unlike Chris Isaak's lite-desert rock yet more desolate and dragged out. The unprecedented swing worked in context, keeping the drums simple and the bass heavy. Just as quickly as the song took a more rockist structure, it bottomed out to return to pure feedback, the controlled quiet that defined much of the guitar work previous
Trio Improvize eventually brought up a pair of cellos and a violin, which each displayed different textures and meandered through a riveting sustain that lasted their full 45 minutes. Shifting between long drags of the bow, finger-picking techniques, contained scale exploration, and affected noise, the sound was cinematic and evocative. JT Bates set up in the back at a drum kit which he later ran through a series of pedals and effects to create some piercing, difficult squeals that lasted for minutes on end, giving the feeling of late-stage tinnitus. The tools at his disposal, such as amplifying tubing ran along a snare's face and striking drum heads covered in various metallic objects, were interesting and reflected the adventurous side of noise music creation, but was often hard to listen to for long periods. Eventually he moved to more straight-ahead subdued drum patterns as the next group set up. The night continued after work required me to be elsewhere.
The night was unique in many regards: The quiet appreciation of the audience, the option to dip in and out as desired, the dedication of an unfathomable amount of artists to a singular vision, and the curatorial difficulties which must've existed but were never evident. Definitely one for the local music history books, it was a powerful night of meditative, beautiful sounds that will stick with me for some time.
Personal Bias: I was one of but five people who managed to stay overnight, and so I was rewarded a wristband that allowed me to drink for free the whole next day.
Random Notebook Dump: I liked that you could treat this as one long show or multiple little shows, and could expect to hear some cool shit no matter when you walked in the room.
The Crowd: It takes a certain kind of devoted listener to challenge themselves to a show like this. A range of people, different at different times, often seated and contemplative.
Overheard In The Crowd: