Culture Collide 2014

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Last weekend brought Moxipop all the way out to Echo Park, one of the cultural beacons of young Los Angeles, to take part in the food, drink and music of Culture Collide. We had a good time! My neck hurts. Let’s talk about the shows that stood out most:

From The Airport at Taix (Champagne Room), 10.15.14

The first thing I noticed about this Korean duo is that they were wearing sunglasses, not just at night, not just indoors, but in a darkened concert hall. I wouldn’t believe that they could see the keys in front of them, but they played a fine, sometimes even exciting, series of songs. It really only clicked with me when they combined their big pop synths with hard-driving metal guitar, like two guys with different tastes compromising on a sound. Like someone improvised a guitar riff over an otherwise limp Owl City song.

Skyroads at Taix, 10.15.14

A fun band. They are numerous, gyrating, full of life and some sort of disco spirit. The concept of “dance music” was well-represented at the festival but Skyroads was one of the few acts that seemed to capture the joy and exuberance that would put heels on the dancefloor. Their songs have all the right breaks, bridges and shifts. The cool down part of “Beyond the Doors” is a delight, the part of a song that makes their trip from Tel Aviv a gift. They would be a hit with big rooms and big stages.

Until The Ribbon Breaks at The Church, 10.15.14

The first thing I noticed about this UK trio is that they were wearing Ghostbusters jumpsuits. Once I got past my prejudgment, I found that these dudes were pretty good. They play dramatic, drum-thumping, dark trip hop. Think Portishead amped up on testosterone boosters. With lines like “I would kill Romeo and save Juliet,” there’s something overtly Alpha about the whole thing, but it works. It makes them a cool band.

In the middle of one of their songs, Run The Jewels showed up on the projector to drop some bars, and I was confused but enjoying the gall. It wasn’t until I went home that I found out that they’re the dudes singing the hook on RTJ’s “Job Well Done.” Guess it wasn’t just a random “we need a rap interlude” moment.

The Kokoro at Taix, 10.15.14

A keytar, a bass guitar, nylon tribal masks, black feathers, black leotards — awesome, this is going to be weird, right? It’s going to be so experimental you’ll have to make up new genre labels and buzzwords, right? This is going to make Zola Jesus uncomfortable, right? That was my mindset when I saw the stage and so I was, through my own fault, disappointed when it was just regular cool people music. By the first dubstep drop, I was feeling like this art film had turned into Fast & Furious. Which is fine! I love Fast & Furious! I just wanted something weirder, is all.

The Kokoro is another Israeli band, but their dance music is more high octane EDM than groovy dancefloor. Their songs would have been a world-breaker at a giant festival, or even a big nightclub, but in the bar of a restaurant it felt awkward. Every hand clap build up and dubstep drop felt like watching a stage play in the action adventure genre. Sometimes the genre just draws attention to the limitation of the frame.

Cloud Nothings at World Stage 10.16.14

I make no effort to hide that I had a transcendent, great time when I saw them at Bonnaroo this year with a few hundred superfans. It was a different experience on Saturday. I still had a pleasant time, but I fully understand that this was a performance you got most of your enjoyment by being deeply familiar with these songs. This was fully evident by the couple of people gingerly and politely trying to start a mosh pit (which sometimes got to be as big as 6 people!) but was really hard to commit to. I don’t want to say the set just kind of coasted by, but it lacked the high energy disgust that I had come to love.

Bad//Dreems at Taix (Champagne Room), 10.15.14

I went back indoors and found this Australian band ripping it up. Their lead guitar riffs were cutting through the darkness like lightning. The crowd bought into it wholesale — I could see this because the audience was right up in front of the leadsinger. When the stage isn’t elevated even a foot, the way it was in this room, an air barrier of 6 to 8 feet naturally forms between the leadsinger and the “front row.” Call it personal space. By the end of Bad//Dreems, there was none of that.

There was something about seeing them right after Cloud Nothings that felt like a necessary pairing. They reminded me a lot of early, pre-Attack on Memory Cloud Nothings. They could have played “Forget You All The Time” and it would have fit right in.

Bonfire Beach at Lot 1 Cafe, 10.16.14

The furthest and smallest venue at Culture Collide, I’m almost sure some sort of building code was being broken to turn the back closet of this restaurant into a concert venue. It was good enough for Bonfire Beach, where the crowd stood shoulder to shoulder and let them build up some murky guitar scuzz. Their rock & roll was a welcome divergence from the prolific indie rock & dance music that the rest of the festival was pushing. It’s the kind of music that romanticizes these tiny back room shows, dark nights in Echo Park, and gritty shoegaze guitars.

Pup at Taix (Champagne Room), 10.16.14

Oh shiiiiiiit! Show of the festival. This is why you go to these things — to hear a distant guitar wail, wander in with curiosity, and discover something explosive. Pup is like if Joyce Manor decided to make exclusively anthemic rock songs. It’s aggressive, full of sky high harmonies, and they just seem to love playing fucking music. In a ballsy and brilliant move, they closed their set with a cover “because all of our old songs suck shit,” said the lead singer. And it was Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage,” and the crowd went nuts. Just imagine how the screaming part played out with a few dozen newly recruited fans.

Love x Stereo at Taix, 10.16.14

When we did a preview of the festival, I had originally described this band as dance pop-punk, sort of playing on the “dance punk” moniker that people gave bands like LCD Soundsystem. That was totally the wrong image to give now that I’ve seen them live. They’re more like enthralling electronic indie rock with intense vocals. This petite, pink-haired woman was singing her lungs out at each song’s climax, and there were a lot of them. Remember when everyone was tricked into liking that Temper Trap song a few years ago? Love x Stereo have a song called “Chain Reaction” that hits all those same pleasure points, but with that asian pop influence that makes everything sound sweet and adventurous. Highly recommended if, somehow, this Korean wonder band is in your town and you just like to see someone belt it out. SoundCloud will not do it justice.

Rock n’ Roll Radio at Taix (Champagne Room), 10.16.14

Maybe the most boring band name on the bill, but definitely one of the most musically impressive. A Korean dance rock band that really knows how to play the shit out of their instruments. They provided a great, musically fulfilling and complete concert experience. They were the only band that I saw that was pressured into doing an encore.

What was most interesting to me was the band makeup. Everyone was a standout performer, including their lead guitarist who is this burly orange-haired that takes big Sasquatch stomps when dances but has the quickness to knee slide and pop up while rocking a guitar solo. Everyone except the leadsinger, who is this totally normal, soft-spoken, exceedingly polite guy who doesn’t draw any attention to himself on stage or in a song. It is amazing. It is an awesome inversion of the typical frontman/backing band relationship. He is the calm eye in their storm of technically impressive dance rock.

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