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Saturday, January 30, 2010

Adventures in Ghostland

Jan. 30, 2010
Add this to your list of things to do before you die.

When they come in town, I tell my friends that—even if they don't particularly like electronica music—they will not regret going to a Ghostland Observatory show. In the last calendar year, I have seen Ghostland three times (apparently they can't get enough of Nashville's Cannery Ballroom, and the feeling is mutual). The first time I saw them, I clearly remember turning to my roommate Margaret and declaring, “I could do this every night for the rest of my life, and never get tired of it.” It could be built into our nightly routine: we eat homework...brush teeth...go dance around with lasers/balloons/electronic riffs...go home to put our retainers in...then sleep. 8AM anthropology.

By November 2008, I'd happened across a few Ghostland songs on Myspace (, and I liked them enough to buy tickets for two friends to join me at their concert. I'd read very favorable online reviews of their concerts, but nothing prepared me for what I was about to see.

First, Thomas Turner (in his trademark blue cape) comes onstage inconspicuously and plays an intro on his synthesizer, full of dramatic electronic scales, which eventually slow down to a few brief, tense seconds of total silence. Suddenly, frontman Aaron Behrens (in his signature long braids and round, Hunter S. Thompson sunglasses) emerges from stage left, to the pounding beat of “Piano Man.” Also at this moment, stupefyingly powerful lasers shoot out from the stage, moving in perfect choreography with the song. Periodically, a full panel of colored lights stretches out and sweeps over the crowd. The lasers and colors envelope the smoke overhead, creating a visual effect that makes the air look like water hovering overhead. Then the crowd gets an eyeful of Behren's infamous stage moves: something between a belly dancer and Mick Jagger, they are every bit as captivating as the light show (see video below).

For the first 30 seconds of the opening song, my friends and I stand stock-still, looking upward at the spectacle, in supreme awe. Our gaze eventually slides downward to show each other identical expressions of total confusion and amazement – a look that reflected the fact that we were being shown things that we didn't know were possible. (That was when I had the epiphany that, for $18, you can either get (A) approximately one t-shirt from Target that will become worn-out in about six months' time, or you can get (B) your mind blown. )

We quickly regain consciousness and start to really enjoy ourselves. We dance for the next hour and a half, buoyant with happiness, in the inexplicable joy that can only come from bouncing around underneath a sea of changing colors and neon balloons.
All of this from just two men from Austin, Texas, who met through a newspaper ad (Austin Music & Entertainment). Turner creates the beats with his synthesizer and drums, while Behrens plays electric guitar and does vocals (the likes which have been compared to Freddie Mercury [Rhapsody] and Prince [Myspace]). On their Myspace website, it says that Ghostland's influences include Daft Punk, Green Velvet, and David Bowie (there's certainly a parallel between ol' Ziggy Stardust and Behren's own androgynous stage persona).

A Ghostland concert playlist moves fluidly from one song to the next, with only minimal commentary from the performers. The abundance of colorful stimulation coming from the stage makes this acceptable, and adds to the general feeling that Ghostland's aim is to give the audience an experience that is both visually and auditorily scrumptious, and not just to enhance their own egos. This slight detachment from the crowd also maintains a sense of mystery about the identity of these two quirky guys, which is an attractive concept in our world of over-exposed, Twitter-happy artists.

Now that I have seen Ghostland multiple times, I know what to expect -- the three shows I've seen have been essentially identical to each other. This predictability may be due to the fact that Ghostland has toured relentlessly since the release of their 2008 album Robotique Majestique, which means that their song repertoire hasn't been updated in a while. However: even though I know exactly the songs that they'll play, and exactly what the light show will be, I have yet to go to a Ghostland show without smiling for a solid 90 minutes. It may be predictable, but it is still nothing short of delightful.

Some songs are more melodic (e.g. "The Band Marches On"), while others showcase Behren's unique half-scream singing (e.g. "Move With Your Lover"). The lyrics are typically about relationships, love and lust—songs that are not particularly thought-provoking, but simple enough to catch onto, so that even if you're a Ghostland newbie, you'll be singing along with Behrens -- yet another reason why anyone can have fun at this show.

Primarily consisting of twenty-somethings, a typical Ghostland crowd is about 1/3 glowstick-wielding Bonnaroo veterans, and 1/3 non-descript college-aged kids—both categories which are crammed shoulder-to-shoulder up front, pulsating happily to the beat like a glowing amoeba, sweating furiously and unabashedly. The final 1/3 are people who you really don't expect to see – frat guys and over-dressed girls who stand towards the back, so as to not get too sweaty (did they wander over from the Asher Roth concert?). Remarkably, this eccentric electronica duo has begun to boast not only a cult following, but also popularity in more mainstream circles.

As Ghostland continues to take the electronica world by storm, be sure not to miss the opportunity to see them--regardless of whether you like their music on an album, you will not be disappointed by their live show. Their concert is virtually unparalleled, their charisma unstoppable; their songs demand to be danced to, and the experience is, as a whole, ineffably fabulous.

Listen to: “Silver City” (Delete.Delete.I.Eat.Meat)

Video from Dec. 10, 2010 at the Cannery Ballroom (Nashville, TN)

*Ghostland gets its lasers through Lightwave International.
For a GREAT video of Ghostland's laser light show & more info on them, check out

Boone, Lawrence. "Ghostland Observatory." Austin Music & Entertainment. 01 15 2010. Austin Music & Entertainment, Web. 2008. .

Sherburne, Philip. "Ghostland Observatory." Rhapsody Music. Web. .

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A Night at the Exit/In with Bassnectar

Jan. 15, 2010

If you're in this band's audience, you're caught in a dance mob of hoodie-clad

twenty-somethings; you may or may not be wearing a costume, and chances are, at any given moment, you're wondering where the ganja smell's coming from. Even if you aren't under any sort of influence, you're definitely smiling uncontrollably, because you're in the middle of the most mind-boggling two hours you've ever spent (not counting the time you saw that movie Fight Club).

Enter Bassnectar, a team of visual artists and musicians. The collaboration's creative leader, Lorin Ashton, and his computers are the centerpiece of the stage, but the audience's attention is drawn to everything else around him – especially the lights that project laser beams over the crowd, and the gigantic LCD panels emitting a constant stream of dreamlike visuals.

At the Exit In for my first Bassnectar concert, I'm surprised to find a distinctly Woodstock-esque vibe in the crowd. In the corner, a bowl is passed around and shared amongst concertgoers. When I run into a former classmate, he introduces me to his giggling friends, and then whispers amusedly, “Don't mind them, they're all on acid.” Later, someone asks me if I'm on ecstasy; not waiting for an answer, he says benevolently, “I have some extra in my pocket, if you want any more!” As I start to politely decline, he disappears – only to return a few minutes later with a Dixie cup of water, explaining very seriously that it's important to drink a lot of water to stay hydrated. I am not on any drugs at all, but all the same, I appreciate this general spirit of camaraderie. Thanks for lookin' out for me!

This sense of community is appropriate for a Bassnectar concert, since (as Ashton himself says), the group represents an endeavor to not only “merge music, art, and new media,” but also “social involvement and community values” (“”). This makes it difficult to place Bassnectar squarely in any one genre, but it is a form of dub music called “dubstep,” which carries on the Jamaican reggae and dub musicians' tradition of reflecting a belief in the importance of social community (in fact, Bassnectar makes an homage to dub music's origins with the song “Kingston”).

Bassnectar's songs are complicated and vary in their structure. They're melodic, but with such heavy bass that, as the Nashville Scene warned concertgoers before the October performance, "this double-dose of way-out EDM [Electronic Dance Music] is bound to rumble your lower GI in ways you never thought possible" (Maloney). There are usually no lyrics in Bassnectar songs, except those that are sampled.

As you might guess, technology is a major part of the Bassnectar experience. The music itself requires computer technology that welds together different genres, creating sounds that closely mimic those that might be heard during an acid trip. Aside from that, the light show uses powerful instruments that project the laser light show far into the crowd. And of course, there are the LCD panels that complete the Bassnectar concert, which generate non-stop visuals, of everything from Discovery Earth-like landscapes, to animated breakdancers, to giant floating bubbles in fluorescent colors (see video below). Bassnectar's ambitious pursuance of new media has produced results that are as intriguing as they are delightful.

On Bassnectar's Myspace website, Ashton cites his influences as ranging across Nirvana, Run DMC, Frank Zappa, and native American flute music. He explains that his music is “an amalgamation of every sound I've ever heard, mixed with ultra wicked basslines.” Bassnectar allows Ashton the flexibility to combine any and all genres, with the option of pulling music from every nook and cranny of musical history. His samples come from a wide range of older music (for example, his dub with the Pixies' “Where Is My Mind” got a huge reaction from the crowd at the Exit/In), yet he also incorporates original ideas which come from his many collaborators. Almost every genre has been represented in Bassnectar's repertoire, which now includes eight albums. Some of the instrumentation that this includes is acoustic guitar, keyboards, theremin, snare drum, bass, and sequencers that make any other sound possible. The combined usage of these different sounds creates a texture that is sometimes described as a “soundscape.”

There are certainly some parallels between Bassnectar and earlier acid rock – Bassnectar's concert is enough to make a completely sober person feel like they're on hallucinagens (without any risk of nausea or heart palpitations! *thumbs up*) With complicated structures and lengthy songs that are usually entirely instrumental, Bassnectar is a DJ sub-species of the jam band. Like other jam bands who are descendants of the fathers of acid rock, Bassnectar is dedicated to enhancing its live audience's experience, through visuals, light shows, and danceable music.

The appeal of a live Bassnectar show is huge today, at a time when people have a great appreciation for affordable ways of being uplifted. Go see Bassnectar and you'll be immersed in an environment where people believe in the possibility of positive change and human fellowship. And you needn't fret about what to wear to the show, since your dance partner will probably be wearing a dinosaur costume or a onesie—regardless, no one will care about your outfit, because everyone will be happily hypnotized by the spectacle on stage. This year, many of us were looking for an escape from term papers, the monotony of minimum wage jobs, the stresses of navigating a desolate economic climate. This is how I can justify spending all of my extra money on live music (that is to say, the money I don't spend at Smoothie King, which I could devote another entire blog to). The Bassnectar experience was beyond impressive, it was inspiring; which is why I've named this blog after a Bassnectar song.

Listen to: "Bomb Tha Blocks," Bassnectar (Underground Communication)

Video from Oct. 7, 2009 at the Exit In, Nashville, TN

"Bassnectar Profile." 2007., Web. 14 Nov 2009. <>.

Maloney, Sean L. "Bassnectar & DJ Vadim at Exit/In." Nashville Arts. 01 10 2009. The Nashville Scene, Web. 14 Nov 2009. < exit-in/>.