It’s hard to believe a year has passed since the last Culture Collide - one of the industry’s youngest BIGSOUND-esque showcase events, now in its third annual edition, put on by Filter Magazine - yet here we are once again, running straight from the airport (and along flight from Sydney) to Los Angeles’ trendy Echo Park area in Silverlake to attend the first night of festivities...
The evening kicked off in fine style at "The Church", a venue as described, with Norway’s Marit Larsen (pictured above), aided by quite the multitasker: a guitarist, backing vocalist and banjo player. The vocals between the two formed quite the interesting dynamic, while the music - with its roots in folk and country - sees her channeling artists like Joni Mitchell and Laura Marling. Though it would be fair to say the latter is a contemporary, and it’s the influence of the banjo that perhaps brings up the comparison, the former was self pronounced by Merit, who described one of her tracks as a “teen angsty version of a Joni Mitchell song I wrote when I was sixteen”. Meanwhile, with age old themes like being in love with someone who loves someone else, this sits her with a pop sensibility that has made Taylor Swift such a success.
Merit is a name who has been floating around circles for many years now, and I would expect that support to continue to grow, if performances like this one are any indication. Culture Collide’s diverse lineup next took me to local rock artist Jared James Nicols (pictured above), performing loud and proud, impressing punters at the festival’s hub, the French restaurant Taix. The venue sees two stages on display at any given time, and meanwhile in the front room, Germany’s Touchy Mob was performing. The solo artist performs ambient experimental electronic soundscapes in a similar vein as Sydney’s Oliver Tank, though not nearly as accessible. It’s something I’d definitely have to give another listen, though in the meantime I will bestow the artist with the “best beard of the festival” award.
Canada’s Of Verona (pictured above) were next in the decidedly rock themed Taix Champagne room. With projections illuminating the stage, the band’s female vocalist Mandi Perkins is a powerful front woman, whose dynamic range and emotional presence immediately ushers in comparisons to Amy Lee of Evanescence. But the two piece that sit behind Mandi definitely make sure you notice them as well, and ensure they aren't lapped into any particular category, with one on the keys and the other sitting behind the kit, offering a heavy drum track. The three piece produced a few standout tracks, with enough of a catchy poppy feel to the sound to make it radio-worthy, without it ever feeling over produced or forced. A band worth keeping your eye on, if you have not been already.
I made it over to The Echo for the last few chords of another rock three piece from Canada, The Balconies, whose enigmatic front woman takes a more arguably traditional rock and roll approach to the band’s sound. Unfortunately I didn't get to see all that much of the band as I got distracted downstairs at the Echoplex by LA based ensemble Seasons, at an unofficial Culture Collide event celebrating the release of The World Record’s new double LP. The group were playing the sort of epic music that has made bands like Arcade Fire such a hit. At least seven or eight people on the stage with drums, trumpets, violins, piles of effects pedals and the sort of music you just can’t turn away from. Definitely want to check them out again.
Back at the Taix’s Champagne room, UK rock duo Blood Red Shoes, continued the rock theme, plugging some high energy tunes straight into our bloodstreams. No pun intended. Reportedly the power went out later in the set which caused a fan to blame the band on the incident for performing with “too much power”. Probably not far from the truth. The band has just announced a tour around Europe with our good friends DZ Deathrays, so here’s hoping they pop down to Australia soon enough. Check out the clip for “Cold” below. Can’t get enough of this song.
Dean Wareham was the performance to end out the night for us (though artists like Spain’s John Talabot (pictured above) would keep things going), back at The Church, playing songs from the three albums released by the all-too-quickly defunct Galaxie 500 between 1987 and 1991. Having once had a roommate who was a huge fan of the band, I was all too familiar with much of their catalogue without even realizing it. Like the original lineup, Dean was joined here by a female bassist and male drummer, and the songs sounded every bit as sweet as they would have some twenty five years ago, especially in the unique acoustics of The Church we had the fortune of seeing this performance tonight.
Highlights of the set included “Tugboat” off of Today (a song I actually discovered through a brilliant cover by British Sea Power a few years back), “When Will You Come Home” and “Blue Thunder”. Whether you know the music or not, the music of Galaxie 500 has reverberated through the years through covers, and a multitude of bands who will cite the band’s music as inspiration (Low, Belle & Sebastian to name just a couple). Now the music lives on through this new live show, which doesn’t feel like a cash in, but rather a response to the appreciation the band’s catalogue has received over the years. And no doubt plenty of new, younger fans are coming out of the woodwork as a result. And there’s certainly nothing wrong with that.
Photos by Larry Heath, except for the header graphic and the photo of Dean Wareham, which have been supplied with permission by the official Festival photographers.