Posts Tagged 'electronic music'

World Class Music Festival road trips

Just another day at the DEMF...

One of the best things about living in Michiana is our proximity to a plethora of great music festivals. In fact we are short road trips away from some of the most unique musical happenings in the country. Sure there are the well-known hits like the Jazz festivals in Chicago and Detroit, and of course the Chicago Blues Festival. For traditionalists wanting to watch the greats at work, they are outstanding. Music lovers with more eclectic musical tastes have it just as good however. There are several lesser known nearby music festival gems worth seeking out.

Milwaukee’s Summerfest happens June 25th to July 5th. The largest music festival in the world, it is less than 4 hours away on the beautiful Milwaukee lakefront. Summerfest has been the crown jewel of Milwaukee’s countless annual lake front festivals for years. For 11 days straight on 11 stages you can check out 700 bands of every conceivable variety. The sound is excellent, the stages top notch, and the line up has something for everyone. I love Summerfest for its blend of big name arena performers, excellent roots musicians, up and coming new acts, and classic crowd pleasers. There is plenty of good food, arts and crafts vendors, wonderful play areas for the kids, and more beer than should be legal. Milwaukee itself is one of our most underrated cities and is full of great stuff to do. City highlights include the Public Museum, the Discovery Center, the Art Museum, Brewers games, the Mitchell Park Domes, and plenty of hip neighborhoods to explore.

Chicago’s African Festival of the Arts is one of the best-kept festival secrets in America. Each Labor Day weekend participants soak up the African spirit in an amazing variety of creative manifestations. Various cultures of the African Diaspora are well represented here. Jamaican, Cuban, Puerto Rican, Brazilian, and Creole food, music, art, and dance happen alongside rich African and African American creative expressions. It is an extended family reunion of sorts and one of the biggest and best organized block parties on Chicago’s vibrant South side. Festival organizers book a range of acts as varied as they are inspiring. Three distinct stages host diverse African descended musical forms, including big band jazz, afro beat, Brazilian, Chicago blues, old school funk, gospel, classic hip hop, reggae, zydeco, cuban jazz, soul, and Puerto Rican salsa. The massive and amazing drum village drum jams are worth the price of admission alone. With an affordable price and relaxed atmosphere, the hospitality and warmth of Africa permeate this event.

A new addition to the Midwest festival scene, the Rothbury Festival in Rothbury, MI made a huge splash with 50,000 music lovers last Fourth of July weekend. Featuring a spectacular natural location, weekend camping, great food, and a huge variety of jamming music, the first year Rothbury Festival cemented its place as one of the best new outdoor music festivals around. While somewhat targeted at the jam band hippy scene, Rothbury transcended the usual clichés with a diverse range of rock, reggae, hip-hop, and electronic acts. It was as if someone had remixed a reggae festival, a dead show, the Burning Man Festival, an environmental conference, and an outdoor underground dance party. The visual effects production was top notch and the good vibes were flowing all weekend. Rothbury is more than entertainment though. With a plethora of innovative and sustainable environmental practices and workshops, Rothbury broke new ground in the greening of festivals.

Danceaholics seeking the ultimate party fix can find it Memorial Day weekend at the massive Detroit Electronic Music Festival (DEMF). In its 10th year, DEMF continues to be a living odyssey into the past, present, and future of electronic dance culture. Each year people from around the world travel to the birthplace of Techno music to see the originators, innovators, and elevators of house, techno, hip hop, Dub, nu soul, future jazz, and that unique Detroit concoction, booty music. Those who think electronic dance music has no soul have not been to the block party like atmosphere of DEMF. The Detroit dance culture is as influenced by funk, soul, Gospel, and jazz as it is by Kraftwerk and the depth and dimension of the local scene proves it. At the same time the festival features the best international acts of the genre as well. The after parties are just as fun as the fest and the people watching is unbeatable. Detroit is filled with incredible people who have persevered through the toughest of times. The unstoppable creative work ethic, love of music, and spirit of community there is unmistakable.

An Evening of Electronic Music at Ernestine M. Raclin school of the Arts, I.U.S.B.

I.U.S.B hosted an ear opening evening of electronic music in its Recital Hall on January 17th. The first half of the evening consisted of pre recorded completed compositions from students of the I.U.S.B. music program being played rather than performed. The second half was a live electronic group improvisation from I.U.S.B.’s long running Plato and the Western Tradition Ensemble. For fans of electronic music this was a welcome and rare diversion for the Michiana area. While this was not the most exciting music to watch, it did offer listeners a ticket to intriguing sonic dimensions seldom traveled around these parts. As someone who has appreciated electronic music my whole life, I didn’t hear anything earth shaking or innovative here. What I did hear though was some very creative composition, evocative musical interplay, and musicians who were unafraid to try new things. Overall it was a solid evening of music with a few stand out moments.

Two compositions that impressed from the first half of the evening were “Rasa” by Josh Bonham and “Learn to Reason” by Mike Nolan. Both had excellent use of exotic percussion and fit right into the decentralized poly cultural music of the 21st century. “Rasa” stood out particularly not only for its creative production but for its amazing viola work performed by the composer.

The second half of the evening picked up the pace a bit as three creative musicians performed together as Plato and the Western Tradition. Marie Fryar, Mike Nolan, and ensemble founder David Barton wove a sonic web of effortless spontaneous creation. The performance never turned into a raging fire but smoldered nicely as a variety of shimmering atmospheres came into being and then vanished into ether. A few of the synth voices sounded dated and trite, but overall the group succeeded in creating a fresh and unique if not overly adventurous or impassioned soundscape. Some densely packed passages did leave me wishing for more sonic breathing room. Too much harmonic speculation can leave the listener confined to the narrow space between being and becoming. Still it is unusual to see an electronic ensemble employing musical and technical theory this evolved this creatively. This was a stripped down version of the ensemble as certain members were unable to attend. Nevertheless the well executed performance left me wanting to see the group in full force.

For events like this that lack a dramatic performance aspect I usually close my eyes and drift off to inner realms to soak up hidden nuances of sound often obscured by vision. If I can lose myself in the space between the notes I consider the music successful. Overall I have to say this was a night with many of those enjoyable moments.