Published Oct 25, 2015Though it's known primarily as a "punk" festival, a credit to Not Dead Yet's success is its ability to see punk music existing on a continuum, an ethos represented more largely and inclusively by the term DIY than by musical style. Having toured previously with Iceage, the headliner of Saturday evening (October 24) at the Garrison, electronic music composer Helm, wasn't that far off from that world. As the night unfolded, it was clear that each act shared strong ties to that same style, both philosophically and sonically.
Chicago's Beau Wanzer's stuttering, dank jakbeat would act as a tether throughout the show, starting the night off and then continuing to DJ between the sets. Wanzer's M.O. is a twisted take on house music, combining it with synth lines beamed in from old horror films and the raw, lo-fi palette of early industrial groups like Throbbing Gristle. Those sounds might seem disparate, but in combining them, Wanzer anticipated the beat-driven qualities of Pelada and Marie Davidson, and the rolling darkness of Crrotting and Helm.
Next to Wanzer's DJ setup on the Garrison floor was a wall of amps, connected to two tables of various effects pedals and electronics belonging to Dan Dunham (Cursed, Shallow North Dakota). Performing as Crrotting, Dunham followed Wanzer and amplified the grim sounds with a flurry of drones that could scramble a brain with their bellowing bleakness.
Montreal's Pelada were sleeker and sexier in comparison, though still confrontational in their own way. Pelada always deliver an energetic set, but they were especially vivacious on Saturday, perhaps because it's their last Canadian show before they make the move to Berlin. Producer Tobias Rochman stood fixed to his gear, while vocalist Chris Vargas rode the intense, often high-tempo electronic beats with tireless dancing that never seemed to lessen the impact of her snarl. The room found their groove and swayed along.
Fellow Montrealler Marie Davidson maintained the dance-y qualities that Pelada introduced and tempered them with material that gradually grew more and more psychedelic. Alternating between songs with vocals and instrumentals, Davidson played only a couple of cuts from her most recent record, Un Autre Voyage, choosing instead to survey the wealth of material she's amassed as a solo artist. As a vocalist, Davidson's spoken word technique allows her to be both playful and authoritative, which helps to embellish the dreaminess of her more psychedelic songs. As precise and cold as drum machines and sequencers sound, Davidson's voice adds warmth to each song.
The structure of Davidson's drum machines and sequencers gave way to Helm's chaotic dark ambience. At first, Helm's music seems benign; performed as one long seamless work, the changes that take place are subtle, and at first hard to detect. But phrases and themes begin to appear, and very slowly, something resembling a rhythm took shape. The music at that point was still cold and distant, but also organic, like a field recording made inside a human body. That stillness was a cloak for a menace that rumbled beneath, occasionally rearing its ugly head before diving back below the surface once again.