Live Review: The Culture Collide Festival at the Echoplex

Cole Alexander of The Black Lips
Cole Alexander of The Black Lips
Jessica Duston

Last night marked the beginning of Filter Magazine's first ever Culture Collide Festival which will be running until Sunday evening. As festivals go, this is a pretty ambitious undertaking for its first time out. Not one, not two, but six different stages: The Echo, Echoplex, 826LA, Spaceland, Taix French Restaurant, and the Standard would showcase a ton bands from all over the world for four evenings straight with one wristband to get everyone into everything. The very thought of the logistics of how to pull such an event off would send even the heartiest of promoters screaming into the night.

So was it chaos? Were there long lines to get in and short supplies of food and drink? Were all the bands late? Were people thrown out of venues to make room for VIPs? No, actually it was quite pleasant and remarkably punctual. Remaining only in the Echo Park area (because really, who wants to drive to Silverlake or Downtown, find parking, listen to a set, and come back?) I flitted around like a hummingbird from stage to stage trying to absorb as much as possible.

Unlike most festivals where you're fighting giant mobs of fans just to see a fraction of the singer's face, there were only around forty people in each room, so each show felt like a low key private event. The fact that I hadn't heard of most of the bands that evening except for the headliners, The Black Lips, was rather exciting. Each set was a complete surprise.

Naturally not all the sets were good. There were moments where people staggered out of the Echoplex clutching their ears in pain towards the hazy safety of the smoking area, but three bands really stood out. Local kids, Slang Chickens took the stage early at 8:30. Categorizing these guys is incredibly difficult, but imagine a blend of rockabilly with some surf rock thrown in, a good dash of punk for good measure, and lyrics that read like a chapter of a book that's been torn out without context.

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Slang Chickens are good storytellers, but most of the time you're not entirely sure what they're singing about. For example in "Tropics" you learn that a woman quit her job, lost weight, and moved to Japan, but you have no idea why. Or in the thrashing punk love song, "Let's Microwave" the lead singer offers to wake up in your microwave, which sounds difficult, but intriguing. Each song leaves you with the feeling of "I'm not sure what just happened, but I think I liked it." Slang Chickens may be confusing, but they're never dull.

The next band who stuck out was Kordan, a Brooklyn band by way of Puerto Rico, who played a beautiful set of huge fuzzy gazey guitars, delicate synths that felt like neon flickering lights, and whispering vocals with vaguely sinister undertones. The trio was dressed in black from head to toe with harsh red lighting which made them look almost two dimensional. The only problem was that they had only a drum machine to keep time.

What they needed was a living, breathing beast of a drummer to crash over the synths at the right moments, but instead it was a very polite, muted sort of set. To be fair, I asked a member of the band after the set about the drum machine, and he said they had a drummer, but he couldn't make it to the festival. Hopefully next time they're in LA, we'll get to hear their debut album fully realized because last night was full of promise that stopped just short of delivery.

At midnight exactly the terrors of Atlanta, The Black Lips, took the stage at the Echoplex to a throng of cheering fans. Famous for their on stage antics include public nudity, vomiting, urination, eating fire crackers, inciting riots, and making out with each other, there was a lot of expectations put on this show. I mean these were the guys who had to flee India. So was there a riot?

No, it was pretty tame by Black Lips standards, but by anybody else's standards they were the best kind of hot mess. The Black Lips launched into a set of garage punk rock played with a ton of raw energy and vocals that had more passion and volume than talent, which is something they freely admit. "That was awful!" lamented guitarist, Cole Alexander grinning at the crowd. Whether it's singing about being kicked out of school ("Bad Kids") or natural disasters ("Katrina") or short tempers ("Short Fuse") the Lips have a song that makes you want to be sixteen again and bash up against your fellow man in a righteous pit. By the end of the evening a swarm of sweaty kids had piled up on stage and were flailing their limbs about and singing "Bad Kids" at the top of their lungs. All and all a fine way of spending a Thursday evening.

Missed the show last night? No problem. Culture Collide will be on all weekend long calumniating in a free all ages block party on Sunday afternoon.

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