By: Anand Harsh
Climatologists speculate that there’s something about the latitude and longitude of the Midwest, which results in a mind-boggling and unique weather phenomenon. There is no Fall. The temperature simply skips from scorching to sub-zero within approximately 24 hours. Where merely a week ago, I was skipping around in the blistering sun in a t-shirt, Knollfest had me bundled up in a baja, a beanie scrunched down over my ears, wondering where I stowed my gloves for the Summer. Down came the rain, and washed this spunion out. Weather will be always unpredictable, even downright dastardly in this part of the country. Thankfully, it did little to dampen the spirits of festivalgoers, bands, and organizers, alike—although it certainly dampened a lot shoes, speakers, and cigarettes.
Festival organizer Lade Akande started Knollfest 3 years ago as a project for her internship with Nuvo arts magazine in Indianapolis, Ind. Her goal was and still is to raise money for the magnet arts high school in Broad Ripple and the Indianapolis Public Schools in general. The aim is to bolster the arts programs of the area schools, some of which have taken an axe to their arts budgets during recent turbulent economic times. Akande’s little festival has been growing steadily, and still acts a fundraiser and model for promoters wanting to put on big benefits.
Named appropriately for the “knoll” between two long residential blocks just south of Butler University’s campus, Knollfest brought together several of the Midwest’s finest jam and electronica acts. Future Rock, Chicago’s premiere dark trance and progressive house trio, was set to headline the showcase, supported by the glitchy duo Archnemesis. Also on the bill was Indy’s own grind-funk (I just invented that label, I think it totally applies) powerhouse, the Twin Cats, fresh off a scorching set at Wuhnurth and an opening slot for Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk. Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio were represented on the electronic side of the jam world by The Coop, Fresh Hops, and The Werks, respectively.
Having never seen the Coop, I was blown away by two aspects: their youth, and their tightness. Lumping them into the jam category is unfair. They are coming from a purely electronic headspace. Breakbeat underlies their sound more than trance or house, quite uncommon for acts of their ilk. Solid drums and bass lay a thick foundation for the Coop. What’s almost as impressive, and certainly worth pointing out, is their saxophonist knows how to lay in the cut. I have always found sax a bit grating in jam music, because most of the time it’s just smeared all over a track. In a live setting, it smothers everything in its frequency range and covers up what could be really technical and subtle beauty by the rest of the band. However, when you cross the stream to electronica, I find it engaging—although cheesy sax on house tracks makes me want to barf. That should be reserved for the fitting rooms at Macy’s department stores. Regardless, sax players like Dom Lalli with Big Gigantic can create lush, sweeping soundscapes that serve to build instead of detract. The Coop’s Jared Shaw shares a similar ability to add texture without overpowering. As an added bonus, these guys actually pull off live dubstep, which can prove to be quite a challenge. The Coop plays a great deal in and around the Second City; do yourself a favor and check them out.
This is the part of the show where the cold starts to get to me, and the promise of minestrone and a warm hotel room starts beckoning to me. In my defense, the rain starting really coming down at this point, and both stages of music had to shut down. Additionally, the late-night show at the Mousetrap featured both Archnemesis and Future Rock, so a quick detour for comfort doesn’t make me a sissy; it means I still have the ability to function logically. From what I gathered later, The Twin Cats, Archnemesis, and Future Rock killed it. Knollfest, though, damp, goes down as a huge success in my book.
Fast-forward a couple hours to Indy’s favorite dive: the Mousetrap, one of those charming little clubs plunked down in the middle of a stretch of strip malls in a seedy section of the north side. There is perpetually a layer ankle-deep of beer and grungy water covering the bathroom floors, an impenetrable crowd at the bar, and the venue’s long and skinny nature combined with a stage barely 6-inches high make for horrible sightlines. Yet, after all that, it’s one of my favorite places to catch a show. It just has an undeniable allure, much in the same way a McRib isn’t real food, but its chemical deliciousness is indisputable.
Due to the rain and its subsequent delays, the Archnemesis set is a bit late, and shivering Knollfest attendees have time to slowly fill the Trap. By the time Curt Heiny and Justin Aubuchon lined up their folding tables and stacked their Macbooks on crates, the crowd had warmed up, and the place was packed. Heiny and Aubuchon later admitted, begrudgingly, that they had to unload a couple of repeats from the previous set, but it made no difference. The fans ate it up. A few tracks from the Archnemesis EP Diamonds and Glass were thrown down, including my favorite, Face to Face, a big, brash, wobbly gem with countermelodies and soulful samples galore. Archnemesis gleefully smashes electro up against dub and spits out grooves that get the dancefloor boiling. Sound troubles plagued a couple of tracks, but it didn’t slow down the duo one bit. Good news has come out of the Archnemesis camp, recently. STS9’s label, 1320 Records, is releasing Diamonds and Glass on Thursday, October 7th. They still have a few more dates lined up before Heiny returns to bass duties for Telepath. Archnemesis will be appearing at the Disco Biscuit’s Halloween show in Charlottesville, Virginia alongside Bonobo. Following an early 2011 full-length debut, expect the Nemesis to have a huge Spring.
For the past four years, I’ve caught Future Rock’s New Year’s Eve shows. Sprinkle in half a dozen appearances around the Midwest, and I feel like I’m fully capable of judging their progress over the past half decade. Bassist Felix Moreno, along with synth-star Mickey Kellerman, and drum machine Darren Heitz have been honing a sound somewhere between progressive house and brooding, bass-infected trance anthems. It seems like Moreno’s electro side project Auto Body is creeping into the Future Rock vibe, as well. The bass is a bit fuzzier, and while Heitz’s drums pound away, Kellerman’s keyboard layers are decidedly more upbeat and friendlier than I’m used to. Of course, the Trap went nuts when they took the stage. Ever known for their stamina, the earlier set didn’t seem to have sapped any of the trio’s energy, crushing jam after jam until they all spun together seamlessly. Future Rock’s sound is starting to evolve, creating a whole new era for the band, and distancing themselves once again from competitors. Color me impressed. Chances are I’ll be catching them as another ball drops at the end of this year.
All things considered, you have to call Knollfest as success. I wish them continued prosperity and, above all else, some better weather next year. That being said, unless it’s moving to Orlando, you can expect the Midwest’s October weather to rear its ugly head, yet again. I’ll try to stay positive, though, and bring some gloves.
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