Day for Night 2017 Rundown, Pt. 3: True American + Shabazz Palaces + N N O A + Demdike Stare + of Montreal + Princess Nokia + James Blake + Faten Kanaan + Lil B

Annnnnd here we are again, y’all. It’s time for Round Three of our preview/rundown things for this year’s Day for Night, which is this coming Friday-Sunday, December 15th-17th at what used to be the old Downtown Post Office but is now the art/performance space Post HTX. The weekend promises to be packed full of all types of music — trending towards the odd, quirky, or experimental, mind you — mind-blowing visual art installations, good food, and friendly people.

Make plans to get on out there, alright? You can get your passes here, and use SCR‘s own super-special code N0F4AAZX get 20% off of General Admission.

Now, if you haven’t been paying attention over here lately, you may have missed the first two rounds of this deal, where we talked about a bunch of cool musician-type people — you can read those over here and over here, respectively.

Before we get into today’s madness, though, we’ve got a few things to note. First up, we’re sad to learn that electronic musician Andy Stott, who we previewed yesterday, announced this morning that he won’t be performing this weekend; apparently he’s had some medical issues recently, and his doctor had advised him not to fly from his home in Manchester over here to the States. While we definitely understand — you don’t want to screw around with your health, especially when you’ll be an ocean away from your home — it’s still a bummer. I really enjoyed listening to his work and was looking forward to seeing him perform live…

On the good side, we also wanted to point folks over to a very cool thing the DFN organizers put up on their Facebook feed a day or two ago; it’s a neat little video map of the festival layout, showing where the different stages and other areas are at Post HTX, which is handy, because it’s a pretty giant compound, and it is possible to get lost, or at least turned around.

Some of the layout looks similar to last year — the Green Stage appears to be in the same place, for one thing, and I think the Red Stage is just pointing a different direction, but from what I can recall, the two interior stages, Blue and Yellow, are in pretty different places and have quite a bit more separation (the Yellow Stage looks to be where the Björk VR stuff was last time). That’s a good thing, in my book; I saw at least one set inside last year where the sound from the other inside stage bled over badly to the one where I was standing.

I’m also glad to see they got rid of the back-behind-the-building stage from last year, where a lot of locals seemed to get exiled — I would be willing to bet that because of its position all the way around the building (and with no way to cut through that I ever found), some festival-goers never went over there, and hell, some probably didn’t even realize there was a stage there. Check it out:

With that out of the way, let’s go:

True American
We start out with a band I’ve been wanting to see since I first heard about ’em a few months back. True American is based in Los Angeles, but the band’s got a serious H-town pedigree, being the brainchild of Dylan Tirapelli-Jamail, the drummer for mostly-defunct Houston band The Manichean; I’ve known for a long time that the guy was one hell of a drummer, but apparently he’s one of those annoying musicians who can play anything.

Tirapelli-Jamail wrote and recorded the band’s solitary release so far, the EP Ghost: The Aftermath of a Love Story, all by himself after a stint in rehab a couple of years ago after his move from Houston to L.A., and the music is about as dark and brooding and melancholy as you might expect given a backstory like that. The songs are shoegazer-y and downcast but still full-sounding and relatively heavy, guitar-wise, with a bit of a resemblance (to me, anyway) to Glasvegas at times, albeit with less of that band’s swagger.

There’re also a whole lot of emo-ish elements here, too, especially the stately, slow-moving guitars (think Elliott, in particular), Tirapelli-Jamail’s somber, meditative voice, and the loss and pain through the lyrics. There’s a crushing sadness to all of Ghost, and the subtitle of the EP is about as much truth-in-advertising as you’re ever likely to encounter. Fans of thundering-yet-solemn, fuzzed-out, downcast rock, this is for you. And me, too. (Jeremy Hart)
[True American plays at 1PM on Sat., December 16th, at the Red Stage.]


Shabazz Palaces
If you’re like me, maybe you’ve wondered what would’ve happened if the whole Parliament-Funkadelic crew had taken a different turn back in the ’80s, shifting away from The Funk and more towards the spacey psychedelia they dabbled in with that whole StarChild business. Oh, and in the process they discovered trippy, smart hip-hop, along the lines of De La Soul or Blackalicious. And a lot of drugs; like, a whole lot of drugs (which, granted, wouldn’t have been a stretch for P-Funk back in the day).

In my head, what comes out sounds remarkably like Seattle hip-hop duo Shabazz Palaces. They’re loopy and heavy-lidded, fixated on all things cosmic and celestial, with instrumentation and beats that drift and float past you so low-key you sometimes don’t even notice ’em until they’re gone. There’s a heavy, heavy debt here to Sun Ra, not to mention more traditional African sounds, and again, a whole ton of vintage psych going on, at least on latest album Quazarz: Born on a Gangster Star. Which, actually, is one of a pair of albums, the other of which is apparently called Quazarz vs. The Jealous Machines, but I’ve only heard the former so far, so that’s what I’m going with.

At the end of the day, is this hip-hop? Yep. But it’s also something else entirely, something truly strange and wonderful. (Jeremy Hart)
[Shabazz Palaces plays at 1:20PM on Sun., December 17th, at the Blue Stage.]


Electronic music, yeah, but hardly EDM; that’s the key thing when approaching N N O A, who prefers to call himself a “sound artist” rather than a DJ. And hey, I get that — the music he’s making isn’t just a bunch of club beats and synths and “woo-yeah!”s, but rather is all about the atmosphere, and the atmosphere in question is dark and mechanical, industrial-sounding, and almost melancholy. It’s like the sound of a lonely robot, working all by themselves in a mostly-abandoned, dirty, unlit factory at night, playing little rhythms and making noises just because they can, with the “instruments” available.

I keep thinking of a description I heard once of dubstep being like the sound of building-sized robots (okay, it was Michael Bay-style Transformers in the original, I’ll admit it) having sex. This isn’t that, no — it’s way more intimate than that, more low-key, more personal. If dubstep is robot sex, this is…robot poetry? Maybe?

The surprising thing, really, is that N N O A’s compositions are truly captivating, for all that they’re sounds a decent percentage of the population would probably hesitate to call “music.” There’s a beauty there, in among the clanks and scrapes and glitches, if you’re only willing to give it the time and attention. Trust me — it’s worth it. (Jeremy Hart)
[N N O A plays at 5PM on Sat., December 16th, at the Yellow Stage.]


Demdike Stare
Alright, so we don’t have Andy Stott this weekend, but we do have labelmates — and, seemingly, like-minded spirits — Demdike Stare, instead. As with Stott, duo Demdike Stare’s brand of electronic music (as with N N O A, above) is less for the dancefloor than for the darkened, ruined, industrial-wasteland spaces of the modern world, grafted together from murky, spooky choir samples, scuttling drums that always sound like they’re just about to slip the leash and go berserk, scratchy, glitchy drum-and-bass breakbeats, and atonal bass thumps.

There’re bits of Squarepusher in there, and bits of darkstep, and bits of straight-up digital hardcore a la Atari Teenage Riot and the like, as well. And then there’s some more playful, lighter elements, which is good for a bit of a breather, but even that lighter, less-aggro, less-harsh side of the duo (Sean Canty and Miles Whittaker) takes that lightness and twists it, bending it into something weirder, something just slightly “off.” Beats repeat just a little too long, or warp in weird, unsettling ways, and washes of sound mutate and creep into distortions of their earlier selves.

It’s engrossing music, and that’s pretty much just from the pair’s latest release, 2016’s Wonderland…which is supposedly a friendlier, less bleak, less intense step for the band. Demdike Stare’s definitely got me wondering what the hell these two guys sound like live. (Jeremy Hart)
[Demdike Stare plays at 2:30PM on Sat., December 16th, at the Blue Stage.]


of Montreal
I’ve got to be honest here: I’ve never really given much attention to of Montreal. The weird part is that I don’t even really know why; I think I heard a few of the band’s songs long, long ago (I mean, they’ve been around a full 20 years now, for Christ’s sake), and something about ’em just rubbed me the wrong way, and I just didn’t give it a second chance. It’s not even that I was anti-pop or anything — I pretty voraciously listened to every other Elephant 6 band out there and am still a big fan of several of ’em.

So here I am, a few decades on, giving a serious listen to of Montreal’s 2007 release, Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? — itself a decade old now — which frontman Kevin Barnes and his cohorts will be playing in its entirety. And y’know, I am liking it, despite my misgivings and earlier dismissal. It’s far more ’70s glam than I would’ve guessed, considering that most of what I’d heard of the band early on was far more psychedelic; in fact, I can’t help but think of the ’70s-glam-pop glory of The New Pornographers when tracks like “Suffer For Fashion” or “We Were Born the Mutants Again with Leafling” come on.

Hissing Fauna covers far more ground than just that, though — it sticks a toe into funky electro-disco, falsetto-ified Gary Numan-isms, delicately twee indie-pop, and even once or twice into what sounds halfway like it belongs on the Rocky Horror soundtrack, and all of it is pretty damn good. I’m not fully sold yet, maybe, but this has made me realize I owe a closer look to pretty much all of the band’s catalog. (Jeremy Hart)
[of Montreal plays at 1:50PM on Sat., December 16th, at the Red Stage.]


Princess Nokia
With new album 1992 Deluxe, NY-bred artist Princess Nokia, aka Destiny Nicole Frasqueri, flips things around damn near completely, and it’s impressive to witness. See, if you’d heard her about three years back, when she released that year’s Metallic Butterfly, you’d have heard electro-pop tracks that sounded like Everything But The Girl or Portishead but were about dragons and butterflies and Taino warriors. Then, a year later, she shifted gears for Honeysuckle, with the defiant soul-blues manifesto “Brown Girl Blues,” which she released under her own name, Destiny, and wrote in part as her own stand with the Black Lives Matter movement.

Now, on 1992, she’s gone back to her roots, literally. As the album title implies — it’s the year she was born — this is all about Frasqueri’s childhood, growing up on the streets and courts of Harlem, partying with friends, obsessing over video games and comic books, getting stoned, listening to Sublime and ducking classes, and it’s all set to grimy-yet-shiny NYC hip-hop beats that are as real as real gets. It’s street-level but inarguably real, not some made-up wannabe-gangsta bullshit designed to impress. This is Frasqueri/Nokia, no excuses or complaints, and it’s fucking great for that. (Jeremy Hart)
[Princess Nokia plays at 3PM on Sat., December 16th, at the Green Stage.]


James Blake
Brit James Blake is a man who wears many hats — singer, songwriter, producer, musician — and sometimes all at the same damn time. It’d be easy to dismiss him as just another dramatic, moody singer, like Sam Smith with darker beats (although truly, the reverse is more the case), if it weren’t for the fact that the singing is secretly secondary to the rest of the guy’s sound.

I mean, there’s no question Blake is a damn talented singer, with a weirdly Nina Simone-esque timbre to his voice, and yeah, I dig it quite a bit. But it’s what he’s singing over that’s the really impressive thing, the thing that sets him apart. Unlike the aforementioned just-another-dramatic-moody-singer stereotype, Blake carefully creates these layered, dense beds of rhythms and keys, halfway between trip-hop and ambient, that evoke a darkness that’s not scary but familiar, even if it’s uncertain.

The end result is remarkably like EDM-based chorale music, to my ears; it’s the kind of sound you’d expect to hear in a gigantic, vaulted space built of stone and faith and history. Appropriately, the title of one of the tracks off last year’s The Colour in Anything, “Modern Soul,” provides probably the best description of all. Modern soul is what this is, soul music for a semi-dystopian, connected but disconnected, sleek but glitchy age. (Jeremy Hart)
[James Blake plays at 7:30PM on Sat., December 16th, at the Red Stage.]


Faten Kanaan
One of the best things I was fortunate to see and hear at last year’s Day for Night was John Carpenter and his band performing parts of the scores to the various movies he’s made over the years; it was immensely entertaining, and I loved the old-school synth sound — the sheer moodiness of it, the sense of foreboding that almost seems to be built into it. Or, now that I think about it, more likely built into me, at this point, after a late-’70s/early-’80s childhood spent absorbing scary movies with soundtracks performed using those synths.

Whatever the order, I’ve found myself appreciating that sound a whole lot more since, which is partly why I’m finding myself drawn deeper and deeper into the spiraling, unraveling/building compositions created by Faten Kanaan. The tracks twist and evolve, steadily-yet-subtly shifting and changing from one thing into another, and holding tight to that eerie feeling of impending doom, of menace, of the monster lurking just around the corner, the whole time.

I’m not sure how Kanaan’s performances work in the real world — I’m told she builds these songs as she goes, layer upon layer and sound upon sound, looping her synthesizers in real time without resorting to more modern electronic gadgets like sequencers. There’s something cool about that, to me, about building this retro-ish music using strictly retro tools; it’s like it’s a challenge to the musician, with rules established to keep things pure and true. I can get behind that. (Jeremy Hart)
[Faten Kanaan plays at 2:30PM on Sat., December 16th, at the Blue Stage.]


Lil B
So, um. Lil B? The Based God? Yeah. I’ve largely dodged him up to this point, I’ll admit, but when the Magic 8-Ball made him last in the list for this particular bunch of previews, dammit, I had to give it a shot. And that’s why I’m sitting here listening to Lil B’s latest, Black Ken, and feeling like there’s some sort of crazy-ass Andy Kaufman-esque joke going on, and I’m the one being laughed at.

I mean, Lil B can rap — I’ve seen it. The guy actually isn’t bad, believe it or not, and when he focuses and gets serious, it works pretty damn well; see the video below if you don’t believe me. But then when he takes on his Based God persona, apparently, he spits the most inane, repetitive, lowest-rung crap I’ve heard outside of a high school talent show, and he does it over backgrounds that alternate between pretty synth melodies and seriously retro (as in the ’80s) beats, with goofy little skits in-between. Seriously. I mean, there’s a song called “Go Stupid Go Dumb,” for crying out loud.

Hearing that particular track was the tipping point for me, in fact. Suddenly it hit me: is this guy the hip-hop equivalent of Andrew W.K., playing loud, dumb, tongue-in-cheek, wide-grin-on-your-face music that’s specifically trying to not be smart or smooth or whatever the hell else? Is Lil B watching us all react to his half-assed throwback rapping and laughing his ass off? I dunno, but it seems like it’s at least a possibility. (Jeremy Hart)
[Lil B plays at 4:10PM on Sat., December 16th, at the Green Stage.]


And with that, I’m calling it for this installment. Hopefully we’ll get at least one more round up online before this thing hits, so keep checking back…

(Photos: intro photo by Theo Civitello.)

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