By: George McCabe
Anyone who has ever organized a festival can tell you: something unforeseeable is going to throw a wrench into even the most carefully constructed plans. Just days before Sonic Bloom was slated to begin, the bald eagle population near Bellevue, CO decided to get a week’s head start on 4th of July celebrations, and camping had to be moved. Thanks to an act of generosity, an alternate area was found, but it still took some meandering on my part to find the place. I settled into the campground quickly, and jumped on a Basics Fund bus that brought me down the Poudre Canyon to one of my favorite venues, The Mishawaka.
I arrived in time for Signal Path, a group who I was told was previously a five piece electronic band but has since boiled down to just two members. Drummer Damon Metzner tastefully moved in and out of grooves with strong drum fills. He routinely faked out the crowd by hesitating for an extra beat beyond the anticipated drop, whipping the crowd into a frenzy when he finally hit it. Ryan Burnett spent most of the set tweaking bass heavy grooves with layers of synthesizer effects and melodic runs. Throughout the set Burnett picked up an electric guitar and laid down jazzy, sparse, reverb-soaked licks that meshed with the dance-heavy drum and bass grooves.
Octopus Nebula disguised themselves as a sinister robot from the future programmed to crush each audience member’s soul by way of ear. When I had seen Octopus Nebula previously at the Tatanka Festival in 2008, their electric sax guest brought some brightness to the sound, but this set had a very dark and menacing feel until they (or it) were accompanied by a special guest, lead guitarist Mike Rempel from Lotus. Rempel scared away the evil robot possessing the band—at least temporarily—lightening the mood with a few happy, uplifting tunes. But the darkness returned as Octopus Nebula finished up their set with more brooding breaks and eerie melodies.
As Zilla fans eagerly awaited the Colorado trio’s triumphant return to the stage, Evan Bluetech, a monstrous force in the world of dub and psymbient techno, kept the audience energy flowing (but reserved) with his tranquil set. Bluetech has no trouble dropping the beat on a dime—his patience and presence testify to his experience. He’s not afraid of extended pauses, letting the space do as much of the work as the gentle swirls and gurgles of the tracks.
Michael Travis (EOTO), Aaron Holstein (Vibesquad), and Jamie Janover (LYNX & Janover) of Zilla looked happy to be playing together again. The set seemed to have more energy than previous shows I had seen. Back in 2006, the band was playing hundreds of gigs in a year—they’d be tired and have a tendency to fall into the same improvisational patterns. Now that the group only does one-offs for special events like Sonic Bloom, Zilla is fresh again. The members haven’t lost their chops since they’re constantly working on their own projects, and the telepathic connection that was still is among the trio. Their signature sound, otherworldly and ethereal electronica, gave the crowd what they were looking for: music that made them get down and dance. Travis is a human metronome—always solid, always steering the ship. Holstein’s bass and samples complement without overpowering, and Janover’s hammered dulcimer generates lush melodies that are equal parts supernatural and spiritual. Every one in attendance was treated by the Zilla set, and as with all the best live electronic acts, the energy was collected and repurposed by the band in the form of thick, densely-wound jams.
Karsh Kale (the inspiration for Jamie Janover to get into electronic music and a huge get for Sonic Bloom) was delayed by transportation issues, but Denver’s S.P.E.C.T.R.E. stepped in to fill the void between Zilla and Big Gigantic. His DJ’ing was simple and precise, everything you’d want from a fill-in act. He kept the crowd going with some choice ODB samples, but his pressing responsibility was to retain the crowd’s energy until they could bring out the hometown heroes.
Boulder’s Big Gigantic brought a renewed intensity to SB. They are nothing, if not utterly consistent. Dominic Lalli (Motet) layers beats and phrases and then rides them to a peak with his sax. Percussionist Jeremy Salken is patient and responsive, and even the casual listener can hear how the interplay between the duo and the crowd effects where the music goes. And of course, Lalli can snap off a nasty solo along the way to a drop.
Despite issues with camping, Kale, and crowding on the buses, you can’t call SB anything but a success. Janover and the organizers of the festival are veterans of hundreds of concerts. They got the lineup correct, keeping the music going with DJs between sets. One can say they definitely read the scene correctly, bringing out the sound of the Rockies, which is live electronic music. Relatively fresh and inexperienced acts got a chance to play the festival and catch some new ears with the DJ at Sonic Bloom contest, which just feeds into the positive mission of any festival, electronic or not. There’s nothing like a well-run festival where artists are in charge, and positivity abounds.
If breathtaking views and electronic music gets you off, I’ll see you in the Canyon next year.
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