Thursday, September 24, 2009

Pymalion Festival in Review

By Matt Stuttler
Photo by peradi

The fifth annual Pygmalion music festival kicked off last Wednesday at the Canopy Club in Urbana, Illinois. The festival consisted of bands mostly within the indie community, with genres ranging from folk to punk to electronic. Pygmalion mixes internationally renowned acts with a multitude of bands from the Urbana/Champaign scene at fourteen different locations within a five mile radius in four days. For me and fellow representatives from Greenville College (Hayley Sutton and Dav Timm), the first show of the fest was an eccentric collective known as the Mt. St. Helen’s Vietnam Band. This band set a precedent for the rest of the weekend with quirky beats, moments of intense aggression followed by soothing bells, and clean vocals. Another stand out artist of the night was a two man act called Japandroids of Vancouver, Canada (which is far from Japan). At first the crowd seemed wary of such a small number of people for the proposed sounds found on their MySpace, but once the rawness and distortion of the singers electric guitar kicked in with catchy yelps from both members of the band, it most definitely made up for a simple instrumentation of just guitar and drums. Owen and Headlights also performed, both bringing to the table their own take of minimalism onto a mostly college age crowd.

Thursday started on a mellower note at the Krannert Art Center, with the sweet folk crooning of Denison Witmer, followed by the funny, yet deadly seriousness that is My Brightest Diamond. Later in the evening, Maserati exceeded the standard set the night before to perform their scathing, quick post-rock with a vigor usually found in old school punk bands. Lucero closed out the night with their whisky drenched guitar licks and raspy vocals, recalling both country and rock acts of an older time, but with a sense of emotion that made their music both relevant to all ages of music lovers.

Friday began with long bearded folk singer William Fitzsimmons. It was great to both watch and listen to the calm, introspective character that had been given a set in a Barbecue shop. After being exposed to many great coffee shops around town and seeing the luscious University of Illinois campus, we caught BLK JKS at the Canopy Club. Hailing from South Africa, BLK JKS fused reggae, world music, and indie jam all into a blender served in a cool, frosted mug. Maps & Atlases took the stage next, with clean guitar shredding galore and insanely high and goofy vocals that came from a long bearded man in sharp attire, which was the typical appearance of most acts. Lucky for us, we were able to catch the semi-local band Oceans’ last Urbana performance. Oceans embodied passionate instrumental hardcore harkening back to the early 90’s scene, with the addition of a violin with loads of effects placed upon it, but not the kind of violin you might find in, say, an over-hyped jam band feeding off mainstream radio rock. The show took place in the basement of the Red Herring, an amazing vegan restaurant that offered pay as you can meals and the opportunity to volunteer for an hour of work to earn a free meal.

The final day was arguably one of the most epic festival dates I have attended in my short yet fulfilling festival attending career, beating the socks off of Cornerstone music festival and making Agape look like a youth group function. After attending another great string of coffee shops, Dav and I hiked across town to Parasol records where we caught New Ruins perform an acoustic set that was really great. New Ruins escapes being pigeonholed into any particular genre other than easy listening, but it was indeed very easy to listen to in the great environment provided by the garage-turned-record store. The room was filled with vinyl’s, magazines, and CDs from almost exclusively obscure and underground scenes, collected to be some kind of haven for those sick-of-the-run-of-the-mill commercial music store. After this nice little refresher, I attended Lymbyc System’s performance in the U of I student union. Lymbyc System displayed exactly what I was looking for, with quick subtle samplings of electronic beats and noises combined with the effort of keyboards, acoustic drums, and a violin. They played pulsing ambient instrumental music, which felt like falling asleep on an extremely comfortable subway car by your lonesome.

I witnessed The Books live production of some of their greatest works from their albums, along with a captivating video show behind the act. Watching The Books was like watching a chopped up, classic, home video mixed with a modern movie set to the soundtrack of sound samples and acoustic instruments in a really fancy theatre filled with both college kids and older music snobs. Following this amazing spectacle was Iron & Wine, the name that Sam Beam has given his work. He was a great performer, reminding me of what it must have been like to see Bob Dylan in the 1960’s. The night then took a completely different path with YACHT, an electronic pop band from Portland that might as well be from Outer Space or from the works of Kurt Vonnegut. Their performance was like watching a reverse youth conference, complete with brainwashing techniques of subliminal messaging in the background, a call for the audience to repeat the words spoken by the leader of the guy and girl dynamic act Jona Bechtolt and pamphlets about the “triad” which YACHT has claimed as the symbol for their band. Following YACHT’s performance was Hood Internet, a team of two DJs that mash up popular rap and R&B songs with indie music to make catchy, sweaty dance music.

RJ D2 closed out the official Pygmalion festival with his set of vintage record spinning and sampling of sweet electronic beeps and beats. The unofficial end to Pygmalion was a house party where The World’s First Flying Machine and Santa played with Hood Internet DJ’ing. The room was humid and made everyone grooving to the tunes drip with perspiration. The show lasted until Sunday morning when the cops showed up and shut down the greatest fun our generation could get ourselves into. Pygmalion is a great experience, showcasing both the sweet town of Urbana and the cool music to be found worldwide.

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