Monday, May 28, 2012

Event: Healing Power Picnic III (Part II)

Healing Power Picnic III – Part II (feat. Guy Dallas / Sex Worker / Psychic Reality / New Civilization)

South Humber Park. Saturday, May 28, 2010.

My rundown for the first half of this day-long event can be found here.

Helping with achieving quick turnovers (and maintaining precious generator power), nearly all of the day's acts were solo performers. That pattern continued with Guy Dallas, which is a nom du rock for Alex Janssen. Janssen can be seen around in a few other groups (formerly VOWLS, currently Cellphone) and didn't look entirely happy to be at the centre of attention. Armed with with laptop and MPD, Janssen's music was somewhat similar to Claudio's twisted disco from earlier in the afternoon, but the underpinning here was a bit more like "Atomic Dog" on crack.

The quick set was just four songs, running a couple minutes each, getting increasingly deconstructed as the set moved along — by the third, it sounded like something from a late 80's Celluloid comp on a slightly-mangled cassette. With a rather self-effacing vibe, Janssen almost looked like he'd rather not even be playing, but supportive friends in the crowd egged him on. During the last song, he actually just pressed play and wandered off, letting the track play out with less on-the-fly reconfiguring, which undermined the performative aspect a bit. But this was intriguing stuff.

Listen to a track from this set here.

The day's out-of-town guests came via connections with the Los Angeles-based Not Not Fun/100% Silk label, with Sex Worker (the solo project of Mi Ami's Daniel Martin-McCormick) first up. Seated on the ground, Martin-McCormick was surrounded with keybs, laptop, walkman and patchboard — tools to power his edgy, squelchy dance vibe. There were a lot of tweaks applied to his keening yowls — with enough stuff going on that Martin-McCormick was sometimes holding the mic in his mouth while his hands were busy twisting dials and manipulatin' sounds. Each of the four songs (that added up to almost a half-hour) took their time to build up and unfold.

And meanwhile, as he played, a fabulous transformation unfolded behind him. Arriving via psychbike, the colourfully-decked-out Halo Halo crew proceeded to brighten up the pavilion in a guerrilla art transformation. Graffiti was covered up, screen-printed posters were hung, and coloured streamers were soon everywhere, not only dangling from the structure up above (transforming it from a UFO to a giant jellyfish), but also looped around the poles and through the many bicycles lying on the grass, as if illustrating the many strands connecting the friends and acquaintances in attendance. It was like the sun was suddenly shining, and all at once it felt like a happening — by set's end, it felt like we were sitting in a different place entirely.

Listen to a track from this set here.

Psychic Reality is the solo project of Leyna Noel, another Not Not Fun-ster and keyboardist in the final incarnation of Pocahaunted. Noel also offered a set constructed of expansively long songs, using the same gear as Martin-McCormick, but wringing a spookier sound — call it Bad Vibe/New Age music.

With Noel's strong voice, there was no need for vocal manipulations here. She did get some weird, unintentional decay effects on her voice during the second (and more dancefloor-friendly) number, when I started to suspect that the generator was starting to wind down and not quite powering everything. And suddenly, it confirmed that with its high-pitched, alarm-type noise that was suddenly competing with the music.

"Can you play in that key?" someone asked as a hastily-convened huddle considered the options at song's end. It turned out that Noel only had one more song to go, so she played over it, which worked effectively enough in injecting an extra note of mechanized worry behind the music.

Listen to a track from this set here.

The day closed out with a reggae set by New Civilization1, a true all-star band featuring Isla Craig backed by Colin Fisher (guit) and Scott Peterson (six-string bass), plus Brandon Valdivia and Eric Woolston switching back and forth between drums and percussion. With incense burning in front of the kickdrum (which was decorated with a picture of Christopher Walken) this was a conscious party, with Craig in facepaint all the musicians decked out in the Halo Halo-supplied colourful banners.

The band played all covers, but many of the selections went beyond the obvious, leading with Barrington Levy's "Wedding Ring" before Craig added some melodica for a lovely take on Yabby You's "Beyond the Hills". The band sounded great, though there were still some strange artifacts from the slowly-dying generator, with the bass amp barely getting by, reduced to blatting out distorted sonic farts before the set had progressed too far. The guitar amp was also quickly going downhill.

That couldn't squelch the joy in the deep cuts by Gregory Isaacs, Sizzla and Wayne Smith — plus a few more well-known sing-along anthems. After the break between sets, the generator lasted about three and a half songs before the low-battery warning started keening again, necessitating a series of adjustments to try and draw less and less power. The distortion fit fine with the rough-and-ready vibe, and the drop-outs weren't always intentional as the set went on, but it was still pretty awesome, and by the last couple songs things were down to mostly percussion and group sing-alongs which fit right into the afternoon's vibe. Ending with the band's eponymous song via Burning Spear, the cries of "New civilization, new civilization / All over this land, all over this land" acted as a sort of summing up of what the day was all about.

Listen to a track from this set here.

Summing up the day's chill communal vibe, there was an analogue "closing credits" sequence by Discolor Festooning (Vic Cheong & Anna Silverstein), whose hand-cranked paper roll gave everyone one last chance to cheer for all the people who had put the day together. These songs, these musicians, these artists, this community: they're all out there. There might not be banner ads and billboards telling you where to find this stuff, but if you sniff around for it, you can join up pretty easily.2

1 Perhaps unsurprisingly, the band remains a loose, informal collective. You can see many of these musicians working together in some other contexts: the bulk of them play in Prince Enoki's Insect Orchestra, led by Peterson. Fisher and Valdivia are known together as Not the Wind, Not the Flag and have also been known to back Craig. And Eric Woolston's reggae bona fides are bolstered with his membership in local roots-rockin' crew Friendlyness & The Human Rights. (Addendum: Friendlyness & The Human Rights have just been announced as one of the bands playing at this year's Open Roof Festival, playing June 21 — on, natch, an Open Roof — after a screening of Marley.)

2 if you want to find this sort of stuff, you should be keeping an eye on what's playing at spots like The Tranzac, Holy Oak Café and Double Double Land. Go check out a show or two put on by Burn Down the Capital. Keep an eye out for new stuff from places like Polyphasic Recordings. Follow recommendations from Mega Bonus. Dig some art by Mango Peeler. And grab yourself a copy of the still-defiantly offline newsletter Offerings.

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