Zum Anniversary Show with KIT, High Castle, Core of the Coalman, Dunes, and More

KIT.jpg
KIT
Zum - Some Kind of Anniversary
with KIT
High Castle
Core of the Coalman
Dunes
Mincemeat or Tenspeed
Dalton Bros.
Huts
August 7th, 2010 
@ 21 Grand 

Better than: Massive summer musical festivals teeming with inebriated suburbanites. 

In the increasingly volatile world of independent record labels, twelve years of self-sustained existence is a feat well worth celebration. In 1998, following the release of a compilation that accompanied the longstanding zine he and his sister co-created, Bay Area native George Chen established Zum as a means for releasing material from an eclectic array of often experimentally inclined artists. Spanning improvised atonality, moody ethereal atmospherics, spazzy neo-punk, and eccentric electronica, the Zum label has become somewhat of a secretive staple for fans of sub-mainstream sounds. Aside from running his own record label, Chen has also played and collaborated with numerous projects, written for various publications, and personally bred life into the Bay Area D.I.Y. show community via his booking collective, Club Sandwich. On Saturday night, to commemorate the 12-year anniversary, Chen and the Oakland interdisciplinary art space 21 Grand hosted seven Zum-affiliated bands, fired up a BBQ, and broke out a few drinks.

Arriving in 21 Grand's converted warehouse-esque space via an alley in an off-the-radar industrial block in Oakland's Uptown corridor, I found the gallery room relatively empty for openers Huts. While the trio -- composed of live drums, electronics, and keyboards -- ebbed from seemingly improvised noisy blips and samples to worldly and complex rhythmic sections, I perused the current art installations. Of particular note was a massive outline of a house composed entirely of photographic slides that was created by Dina Rubiolo. 

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The house of slides, by Dina Rubiolo
Following Huts' set, the Dalton Brothers, both of whom played in the '90s Santa Cruz cult indie act Nuzzle, played an acoustic set that teetered between rootsy Americana and somber alt-pop. While at times coming off as rusty (perhaps because they now reside on opposite ends of the state), The Daltons showcased a collection of songs steeped in sincerity and complemented by impressive vocal harmonies.

As Philadelphia's David Harms, a.k.a. Mincemeat or Tenspeed, setup his table of pedals, samplers, and drum machines, the room began to fill with young, brown bag-packing enthusiasts. I often call certain neighborhoods in Oakland the New Brooklyn, and this show's crowd definitely fit that description. Mincemeat or Tenspeed's thirty minutes began with a pulsing drone, but soon rose into blisteringly loud beats and effect-laden throbs. Some dancing ensued as the sounds climaxed into what felt like a highly distorted and hellish apocalyptic rave. 

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Mincemeat or Tenspeed
Hailing from Los Angeles, Dunes kept the energy up with a reverb-coated set of dark and somewhat gothy, surf-inspired sounds. At times reminiscent of the Cocteau Twins, and at others early PJ Harvey in a foggy summer night's horror film, the trio kept the audience engaged and earned their praise.

The alias of Jorge Boehringer, an Oakland expat who now lives in Prague, Core of the Coalman started off with a heavily layered and eerily beautiful composition consisting of violin played through a series of pedals. His second piece bore mathy classical tones and technical flair, but suffered somewhat due to timing issues brought on by repeatedly looped tracks. As he noted, jet lag from the trip over also added complications to the performance.

The night's pinnacle act was undoubtedly High Castle, which played with unmatched precision and intensity. Spastic and frenzied, the Oakland trio unleashed a prototype of punk experimentation made only for the strong of heart. The band smashed out squeaky screamed call-and-response vocals, tight pounded rhythms, and guitar work that moved from heavy and brooding to screeching weirdness in seconds. The performance fell somewhere in between chaotic and ordered. If you haven't seen this band yet, do yourself a favor and do so.

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High Castle
With the show well into its fifth hour, Chen's own band, KIT, was the last act up. Maintaining the intensity of High Castle, the band thrashed its way through a brief collection of songs with feedback blaring at nearly all times. Singer Kristy Geschwandtner bounced around on the crowd's frontlines while her bandmates delivered frantic start-and-stop rhythms and rapid-fire cacophony and melody. KIT isn't what you'd call an accessible band, but strangely, subtle elements of gleeful pop surface in the band's songs and its members' performance demeanors. As their set concluded I headed for the door, crossing my fingers in the hope that we get another twelve years out of Zum.

Critic's Notebook

Personal bias: I have a lengthy love affair with D.I.Y. labels and show spaces. 

The crowd: Diverse, with an emphasis on the artistically inclined. 

Overheard: A Burning Man/road warrior hippie type discussing his mind-reading credentials. 

Random notebook dump: Even for the most non-jaded of show-goers, seven band bills can be exhausting.

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