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Dekmantel days 1 + 2 (festival review by Paul S.)

Last week I flew to Amsterdam for the first Dekmantel festival since 2019. I planned to go last year, but the festival was cancelled due to COVID. I flew to Amsterdam anyway, and it was probably the best vacation I've ever taken. But actually going to the festival this year was amazing and overwhelming, especially since it's a sprawling monster which takes place over several locations throughout Amsterdam and the nearby Amstelveen. The first two days all took place at a handful of venues on the river banks. Wednesday's opening concert was just three sets in the main room of the Muziekgebouw concert hall, as well as DJs in the lobby. Upsammy started the evening, with visuals by Sjoerd Martens. Much different than Upsammy's beat-driven tracks, this was a collage-like audio-visual feast that could've gone on way longer than it did. Next was Gaussian Curve, the trio of pianist Gigi Masin, guitarist Jonny Nash, and DJ/producer Young Marco. They were a surprisingly big draw, the venue seemed packed during their set, and it was a remarkably skilled hour of smooth, occasionally beat-driven ambience. Last was harp goddess Mary Lattimore, who I've been a fan of for years and somehow never managed to see live. Her music has a sublime way of transcending time, and it's easy to just get lost in her delay pedal-enhanced rhapsodies. She shared the stories behind songs like the NASA-approved "For Scott Kelly, Returned To Earth", and generally seemed extremely grateful to be performing. Later in the set, she was joined on guitar by Neil Halstead of Slowdive, her collaborator on the 2020 breakthrough album Silver Ladders, who added an extra layer of space-rock bliss, enhancing an already magical performance.

The Thursday portion of the festival included films, workshops, radio sets and interviews, and performances by more than two dozen artists. Some of them were at Muziekgebouw and the connected Bimhuis, and others were across the river at the Parallel club and the nearby underground venue Shelter. I mostly stayed at Shelter, which kicked off with Sky H1 and Mika Oki, who did an installation-like performance behind a cylindrical sheet which hung from the ceiling, and had light projections. A pretty good slow-burning type of experimental techno set. After that was Loraine James, easily one of the top five artists I was most excited to see at the festival. She's been forging her own brand of glitchy hybrid techno laced with drill and R&B influences, and this was a really intense, in-the-moment live version of that. She played "Glitch Bitch" (from the astounding For You and I) for what seemed like 10 minutes, constantly adding and subtracting sounds and rhythms from the song's sample. Just an amazing display of energy for the whole set. After that, Michigan's John Beltran presented a performance of his 1996 classic Ten Days of Blue, and it was a stunning set of brightly melodic ambient techno, which was full of motion even when it lacked proper kick drums for several minutes. He also went surprisingly hard with a version of 808 State's "Pacific". After that, I walked over to Parallel to see KeiyaA. I was already a fan of her album Forever, Ya Girl, but her performance was on another world entirely. Using a sampler and effects, she twisted sounds and rhythms into haunted frequencies, and her voice similarly stretched words and phrases far past their written form; at one point she repeated an entirely a cappella verse a few times, uncomfortably forcing the chatting audience members to shut up and listen. She also performed her cover of one my favorite lesser-known early Prince songs ("Do Yourself a Favor", aka "If You See Me" by 94 East), which made an already otherworldly set even better. Last, I took a shuttle over to Muziekgebouw to catch a late-night set by Squarepusher. I had already seen him earlier this year at Bangface, performing easily the craziest, noisiest, raviest set I've ever seen him play. This set was close to that level, starting out with some acid techno along with warped bass guitar, and then escalating to complex, multiverse-like jungle matched with a multi-tiered lighting display. Simply unbeatable. And these two nights were just the beginning, as the rest of the festival continued for three mind-bending days in the Amsterdamse Bos forest (review to come soon).

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The Marías @ MoPop (Festival Review by Laura T.)

You could tell that the Marías were a highly anticipated act from the crowd at Mopop. Everyone from the people in the back, to the audience at the barricade, and even the photographers in the photo pit had an air of anticipation. When the band walked out, and eventually the lead singer María, they instantly began to perform their signature sultry indie pop as María waved to the crowd. They started off their set with the song Calling U Back, which was stuck in my head even during the later sets that day.

 

With their heavy bass lines contrasting against María’s breathy voice, the audience sang along to the lyrics in both Spanish and English. María fed off the audience’s energy and vice versa: as she danced and swayed across the stage, the audience cheered and swung their arms side to side. As the set went on, the crowd divided into two: those who continued to sing along to every word, and those (me included) who gazed at the band, almost in a trance from the visuals and María’s dancing. 

 

Even though the band hardly said anything in between the songs, The María’s performance felt very intimate. All the band members shared glances between each other and with the audience, inviting us into the world they created. Their visuals featured María’s face singing and switching rhythmically between different facial expressions, creating a larger-than-life spotlight of their lyrics, highlighting certain phrases of their songs by switching the color or frame of her face. 

 

The song Spin Me Around was a highlight for me, as the repetition and call and response combined with the heavy reverb created this dreamy landscape where it felt like I was spinning and everything could turn to a haze in a split second

 

Near the end of the set, María asked everyone to join her in their cover of Baby One More Time by Britney Spears. The pared down instrumental–mostly bass, synth, and guitar–calmed down the song, to where I felt like I was a main character of a movie walking into a smoke-filled bar. The song tied a bow around the whole set, wrapping up the hazy dream like experience with a song that the whole crowd could sing along to.

 

Review and Photo by Laura T.

Horsegirl @ Mopop (Festival Review by Laura T.)

When preparing for MoPop music festival in Detroit, I had my eyes on Horsegirl’s set. A Chicago-based alt rock band, the three barely college aged musicians practically define cool. With their debut album coming out earlier this year, I was excited to see how their live performance would match their album full of post-punk, shoegaze tracks. 

Walking on stage with sullen faces, they opened silently with Electrolocation 2. As a trio, each instrument has full space to resonate as there is no bass guitar present in the three-piece. This unusual lineup resulted in bass lines that blended incredibly into the guitar lines, where the music sounded like one big wall that a drum beat pushed slowly towards you. The two guitarists sing in every combination possible, and the endless switching between harmonies, rounds, and solos keep me engaged as they float through their setlist. 

I could only describe their stage presence as grounded, as their concentration and stillness provided a sense of meditation. The crowd seemed almost sedated, transfixed by the artists before them. Of course, this was until Horsegirl began their hit Anti-Glory. Die-hard fans could be seen head-banging, while those who were merely waiting for the next artist were starting to bob their heads a bit. 

The set in all, was a beautiful display of what we can expect from young, upcoming musicians in the future: no gimmicks, just a pure display of artistry where the music is able to communicate to the audience for itself. 

 

Photo and Review by Laura T.

 

Noname @ Pitchfork (Festival Review by Aly L.)

Noname delivered a performance much different than expected but left us wanting more. She was so real and bodied her set around how she was feeling. At one point she stated, “this isn't a normal set, I’m feeling sad and frustrated with the world today”. This was clearly translated through her performance. Pitchfork stated it best on their Instagram saying that Noname was “deeply invested in her interiority and that of the world around her”. She was so in tune with the crowd and stopped several times in the middle of the set to make sure people were hydrated and feeling alright. 

 

Beyond this, there was lots of crowd participation as she taught us call and response parts to her unreleased songs. Noname also reassured the crowd that we don’t need to scream and cheer to appreciate something fully and that there is value in simply listening. A highlight of the performance was when she shared some of her poetry without music in the background as the crowd stood and listened in complete silence. The mellowness of such a large group of people coming together in silence was something I will not forget. Beyond this, the songs “Montego Bae” and “Song 32” were my favorites.

 

Midway through the set, she brought her mom out on stage and wished her a happy birthday which was so heartwarming. Her band members were on point. The bassist was especially eye-catching and her outfit rocked my world — leather patchwork pants, an oversized black button-up, and a red bucket hat. I often found myself focusing on her over Noname. 

 

 

She played several songs but none of them all the way through — she made great use of her set time and covered lots of ground from her older songs from 2015 to her newer music from 2021. Set ended early which was a little disappointing. It felt like she was encore-baiting the crowd because she walked off so suddenly after her last song. Her live vocals had me doing a “diddy-bop” of my own. They were smooth yet slightly imperfect rasps which made the songs that much more exciting. I would highly recommend seeing her live if you’re given the opportunity! Her music is fantastic and seeing it brought to life was a highlight of the day. 

Toro y Moi @ Pitchfork (Festival Review by Aly L)

Toro y Moi!! The crowd buzzed in anticipation after waiting in the pouring rain for Toro y Moi (Chaz Bear) to hit the stage. This was the best performance of the day. The energy of the crowd matched the energy on the stage. It was the kind of performance where you did not need to know any of his music to have the time of your life. At the beginning of the set, Bear stated that it was his first show back since covid hit, and boy you could tell!! He was so happy to be there — he seemed to be doing a lil jig at every possible moment. The crowd was lively even after just being heavily rained on just prior to the start of the set. He walked out in a beautiful white suit with a mustard yellow shirt underneath and quickly lost the jacket as it was restricting his brilliant dance moves. 

 

As I said above, this was the best set of the day. Even though this is a concert review it is difficult to put the feeling into words. The swell in my chest, the itch in my throat from singing along, the cramps in my legs from dancing so hard. Clean vocals paired with synthetic chords and hard drums made for the perfect pick-me-up in between Earl Sweatshirts (painfully) slow set. The stage setup was different from what I’ve seen before; the bassist, the keys player, and the synth (?) player were all in a tight circle in the middle of the stage. Bear’s mic was at the front of the circle but he pranced around the entire stage. During a couple of the songs, Bear would join the other musicians on stage and play their instruments with them which was so funky!! 

 

From ballads to dance music Toro kept the crowd engaged. The bounce during “Ordinary Pleasure” to the swaying back-and-forth during “Girl Like You” to the mosh pit during “The Difference” showed his set diversity. I’ve seen a lot of concerts in my time on this here Earth and this one has made its way to the top of the list. I am still thinking about this set and am so determined to see him play live again. 

 

Photo and Review by Aly L

Doug Lofstrom: Music for Strings (album review by Christa V.)

Lofstrom is a composer from Chicago who has been the composer-in-residence at the Metropolis Symphony Orchestra and the musical director of Chicago’s Free Street Theater. You can easily hear the influence of the theater in his works, the swelling of the strings clearly designed to invoke certain emotions in the listener and convey a state of mind. Here Lofstrom collaborates with the Russian String Orchestra to present some works that he has been working on for decades as well as new pieces written for the occasion! Of particular interest is the contrast between the upbeat pizzicato sections and the soaring lyrical moments in track 3, and the dramatic opening of track 7. Track 11 is a perfect way to round out the album with a dark opening that gradually opens to the light of a new day, and fades away. Favorite tracks: 3, 7, 11

Norah Jones @ Frederik Meijer Gardens (concert review by Nick S.)

I've loved Norah Jones' music since childhood, and when I got the opportunity to buy tickets to this show at Frederik Meijer Gardens, a beautiful music amphitheater in Grand Rapids, MI, I couldn't pass it up. Fortunately, getting to see Norah Jones live in concert at one of my favorite outdoor venues was nothing less than a dream come true.

We arrived an hour and a half early hoping to secure prime seats at the sold-out show. Thankfully, this effort paid off and we were seated only a few rows back from the stage, dead center. After waiting for about an hour and taking in the gorgeous views offered by the pristine horticulture which decorated the front of the stage, we were then greeted by Norah's opening act, singer-songwriter Emily King.

To say that both I and everyone in the crowd were blown away by Emily King's immense talent would have been an understatement. She walked on stage with two other musicians who provided a minimalistic backdrop of keyboards, percussion, and guitar. This arrangement allowed King's personality and most of all her incredible vocals to take center stage. King's set consisted of around seven or eight of her own songs, which were separated by a beautifully arranged and performed cover of Fleetwood Mac's "Landslide". In between each song, King provided anecdotes about each song she performed and repeatedly acknowledged her gratitude towards Jones for giving her the opportunity to perform with such a legendary artist. After seeing King perform live, I'm astonished that she isn't more well known given her incredible vocal talent and sharp songwriting skills. Though I would have expected nothing less from the opening act at a Norah Jones concert, I was still stunned by King's effortless talent and stage presence and I will most certainly be checking out her entire discography in the days to come.

After King performed her final song, the entire crowd was clearly just as impressed as I was, giving her a raucous applause. We then waited patiently for Jones and her band to grace the stage, enticingly eyeing the assortment of instruments which were neatly placed on the stage. About a half an hour later, Jones and her band walked out, launching directly into the first song of the night.

Though the tour was officially commemorating the 20th anniversary of Jones' debut album, Come Away With Me, the setlist was incredibly varied and balanced across Jones' entire discography. With each song, I eagerly waited to see which instrument each of her band members would switch to. Her bassist switched between a bass guitar and a double bass multiple times over the entire night. Similarly, her guitarist switched between an electric guitar and a pedal steel guitar which offered an interesting variation in instrumentation between the live and recorded arrangements of some of the songs Jones performed. Jones also frequently switched instruments herself, playing both electric guitar and piano with stunning virtuosity alongside her impeccable singing. Emily King also came back on stage to sing a duet with Jones during her song "Tragedy," much to the awe of the crowd as their vocals perfectly complemented one another.

Jones was also quite candid and eager to engage with the crowd, seeming surprised at the thunderous applause which followed each song she performed. In the dead space between two songs, she even received a lighthearted song request for "Man of the Hour", which she happily obliged later in the set despite admittedly not having played the song in quite some time. We wouldn't have known otherwise.

As the night grew darker, fireflies came out during Jones' performances of some of her most well-known songs. She received a standing ovation from the crowd at the end of "Come Away with Me" and (of course) at the end of her performance. Strangely enough, I don't think I've ever seen a crowd more eager to see and engage with a performer onstage at such a large venue. As Jones and her band took a final bow, I was reminded of how perfect the night was. Ever since I was young, I've listened to Norah Jones' music and seeing her perform these songs in front of me was almost surreal. She's one of those artists that sounds better live than in the studio, and the addition of Emily King to the ticket was the cherry on top of an already stellar performance.

 

review and photo by Nick S

E. Doctor Smith, Edo Castro Woodhouse, and Michele Walther: Trio Electrique (album review by Christa V.)

This album brings together the eclectic trio of Smith, who works the electric elements and loops; Woodhouse, who plays the string rhythm section elements; and Walther, who specializes in the electric violin. The result is an experimental album that brings together elements of jazz and improvisation with electronic dance music with loops and hooks. The electric violin is beautifully featured in most of the tracks. The opener, “G.S.E.,” starts it off with a bang and a screeching violin melody. However the violin can also be more delicate with tracks like , “A Loose Hang.” This is a group and a repertoire unlike others! Favorite tracks: 1, 3, 6

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