HOW TO DESTROY THE UNIVERSE FESTIVAL PART 5 WITH BLIXA BARGELD, SAVAGE REPUBLIC, THE CENTIMETERS
at the Echo, January 27
An “extreme music, art and performance” festival organized by former Savage Republic/Death Ride 69 member Ethan Port, HTDU Part 5 was billed as “a who’s who of the best industrial, noise, punk and left-of-center culture,” presenting disparate artists (within the “extreme” sphere) on one stage to encourage a questioning of, uh, things we’re biased about, culturally. For some context, refer to Burning Man, with all the shamanistic big-metal-can whomping, poetry-prating and fire-dancing that might conjure. Tonight did assemble three highly contrary representatives of such creative realms for the juxtaposing pleasure of a large, weird mélange of people, including nostril-flaringly intense L.A. art-punk aficionados in trench coats/eyeliner/blond-dyed quiffs; many even more pallid goth kids with pointy black forelocks and Max Schreck faces; several Sansabelt/zits art-school dorks gone to even greasier seed; and a few fu-manchu’d old ponytails at the bar.
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An opening set by L.A.’s infamous weird-for-weirdness’-sake Centimeters was followed by an interminable wait while the reunion of the reunion version of Savage Republic set up their equipment; the L.A. industrial/tribal/punk/whatsit veterans finally came on to tremendous nostalgic huzzahs and proceeded to thrash away for about 45 minutes. It was very weak; the band (consisting of post-1983 members Thom Fuhrmann, Greg Grunke, Ethan Port and Sterling Fox) did mention at the outset that they hadn’t played much in the last 20 years, but I doubt more rehearsal time would’ve improved these slack, hokey desert/space jams and explicitly political bellowings.
Blixa Bargeld’s intelligent high-concept and rather menacing charisma wiped the slate clean. His set of vocalizations and storytelling through four sampler/delay tootlebugs achieved sustained intervals of shivering beauty and absorbing detail. The “godfather of industrial music” (a title earned with his groundbreaking former band Einstürzende Neubauten) used a variety of percussive vocal tones and textures to produce virtual orchestras, sampling/looping the audience as well in a particularly enchanting “scale model of the solar system.”
Bargeld clearly demonstrated the exhilarating possibilities that the original “industrial-punk” hybrids implied; Savage Republic seemed locked in a sketchily thought-out I-punk stance of yesteryear. When it comes to challenging cultural assumptions, it’s probably best to start by checking your own shit.