Words by Vincent Dijkema
State-X New Forms :: 12.15.2006 :: Paard van Troje :: Den Haag, The Netherlands
With a line-up that included Sonic Youth and Danielson, the first night of State-X New Forms was a promising one. State-X is a two-night festival dedicated to the more experimental side of contemporary music.
Dutch band Masonic Youth opened the festival and immediately set a very experimental tone. In their visuals and stage set there was a strange letter "M" that seemed to refer to both McDonalds and MTV. Sadly, what exactly was intended by all this was left unexpressed. Dressed in big black outfits with enormous, strangely shaped masks, the band produced a deeply ominous sound, mainly consisting of very low electronic drones and a few distorted shrieks. The music was very monotonous and the musicians hardly moved. Put briefly, they're probably the weirdest band I've seen in my life.
In the basement of the Paard van Troje (The Trojan Horse), the venue where the entire festival took place, I watched the No-Neck Blues Band do their thing. This free rock formation from New York City played a set of very psychedelic, constantly morphing, mostly noisy musical landscapes. The seven musicians would go from one instrument to another - ranging from drums, cello, flute, electronics, guitar, vocals and all types of percussion - to bring forth improvised sounds at times hypnotizingly groovy, at others utterly chaotic.
No-Neck Blues Band by Martin Morissette
In that same basement the Italian duo My Cat Is An Alien played a set of improvised music. They had set up two tables, on which they had laid two electric guitars with a lot of effect pedals. One half of them strapped a toy-sword to his guitar, so the pick-ups amplified the futuristic sounds it emitted. Meanwhile, the other musician furiously played a small xylophone as his guitar produced lots of feedback. It was kind of fun watching the two of them freak but the constant stream of noise they created couldn't compete with the more varied improvisations of the No-Neck Blues Band.
State-X New Forms :: Paard van Troje :: The Netherlands
All the experimentalism I'd encountered was interesting but I was glad to hear something a little closer to ordinary pop music. A seemingly very drunk T. Raumschmiere, the host for the night, announced Danielson, saying he'd "never heard of them." The New Jersey band entered the main stage in their Navy style outfits, in line with the concept of their latest CD, Ships. It was no surprise then that they mainly played songs from the new album, which they did brilliantly.
The nonchalant playing contrasted nicely with the way lead singer and songwriter Daniel Smith passionately sung his unusual lyrics, his squeaky voice reminiscent of Frank Black. He tried to get the audience involved by suggesting a "snap-a-long" to the goofy "Bloodbook on the Halfshell" and a clap-a-long to closer "Five Stars and Two Thumbs Up," which only worked for a little while. Even when playing "Did I Step On Your Trumpet," the funkiest song on Ships, the crowd hardly moved, which was a shame given the excellent performance.
An hour later, Sonic Youth played the same stage to a more warmed-up crowd. The hall was so packed it was very hard to move at all. This year's Youth, with former Pavement member Mark Ibold on bass, might be getting a little older but showed it still knew how to rock. The songs from their latest record, Rather Ripped had an extra raw edge in the live setting. Renditions of numbers like "Reena," "Incinerate," and "Jams Run Free" convinced even the harshest skeptic of their latest work. The sheer power of old favorites "Mote" (from Goo) and especially "The World Looks Red" and "Shaking Hell" (both from Confusion is Sex) made the crowd lose its collective mind. It sincerely felt like a privilege seeing this legendary band at work.
The post-rock band Mono from Tokyo also delivered a very impressive show, although it's always hard to play a stage after a band like Sonic Youth. The songs the Japanese musicians played were mostly from their recent album, You Are There, produced by Steve Albini. As with Sonic Youth, the music came across even better live than it already sounded on record. The band played long instrumental compositions, in which the parts for two guitars, bass and drums were inventively constructed. Most notable was the concentration and intensity of the musicians, who seemed to be totally immersed in the beautifully dynamic soundscapes they created, which brought the audience along with them.
Mono by Teppei
As a whole, the Friday night of State-X New Forms was a great experience. The organizers deserve a lot of praise for the great job they did putting together such an adventurous line-up, and for not shying away from booking some extreme musical acts. This festival is definitely the most original one in the Netherlands, and we can only hope it will continue for years to come.
JamBase | Europe
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