Terrastock 7


-Departure-> | The pilgrims gathered in fabled sound hub Louisville, Kentucky. They traveled from near and far to meet in the sacred space for 4 days and 4 nights, seeking multicolor visions, ecstatic states, and the nourishment of the soul. Another terrastock festival, mecca for the psych rock devout, has commenced and wound to a close.

Terrastock 7 was held in its latest, semi-annual instantiation at the Mellwood Arts Center from June 19th through June 22nd. It is curated by and for a singular community of musicians, music writers, music geeks, and many many college radio DJs. You know you’re at terrastock when you overhear conversations in the parking lot about limited run Bardo Pond spinoffs and the tension between ambience and noise in the recordings of Nurse With Wound. Not a pound of hipster fat to trim anywhere — not that hipsters have any.

The religious analogy is a cliche, but it works so well here. Terrastock attendees are comprised of the enthusiastic fringe, who go out of their way to show the utmost respect, reverence, and worshipful attention to the performers on stage. They’re the kind of audience who maintain a pin drop quiet for the duration of the set, only to explode into a vigorous standing ovation after the last note has had time to exhale.

When Matt Valentine and Erika Elder took the stage on day 3, they recounted a story of how the Christians holding a convention at their hotel had invited them to play. Matt quipped that they were there that day to rock one out for God, and someone from the audience raised voice and testified: “THIS is our church!” Amen, brother.


Terrastock is like a good dive bar. A rotating roster of visiting bands, with some reliable house regulars. And everybody knows your name. It becomes a question of who is going to be outstanding this year, who is going to be just OK, and who is going perk your ears up, whip your head to attention and make you ask yourself, “Why didn’t I notice this band ever before?”

My impressions of the outstanding, ear-perking bands are as follows:

Pelt| The music nerds were all a flutter about the appearance of Pelt on the terrastock lineup, and with good reason. Pelt are legends for their sound innovation, with experimental playing techniques rooted in Indian influences and psychedelia.

For their highly anticipated late Sunday set, they stirred up a buzzing, shape-shifting drone, suspended in stasis even as the moving inner parts of it curled and uncurled.  They swept us in to the eye of the drone and guided us back out again with the quiet pitter clatter of brushed gong, bells and bowls, whispered chants, and bowed cymbals.   The sound became an evolving chorus of pitched humming from resonant boxes alive and dead.  It blanketed the room with a density of sound that laid thick on your skin and settled deep in your throat, vibrating there.  This is music that brushed the physical while speaking to the mental, activating multiple senses at once–a double conduit to the sublime.

Parlour | I was pleasantly surprised to see this band resurface, as they had seemingly dropped off the map after putting out an enjoyable album almost five years ago. I wondered, had they heard terrastock was coming to their home town and reunited just for the festival? As I explained to a friend, Louisville does have a scene. (It’s kind of a big deal.) So does Providence, Seattle, London, and all the other terrastock host towns who have imbued the festival with their local color over the years. Parlour represented their scene well, with their locomotive, circular brand of post rock.


Oneida | Oneida cracked open the day on Saturday with their pummeling, Neu-inspired jam, spinning a tight circle of roiling riffs over a repetitive, high-energy beat. Everyone thought their whole set would be one, long unbroken block of that single pounding groove, gaining steam until they exhaust the audience or themselves. We were mistaken. The opener lasted 20 minutes, instead of the whole 40.

Abunai! / Swing | Night 3 found us at a dive bar enjoying the sounds of a local jazz band, with dancing to boot. The directions to this late night rendezvous point were scrawled on the back of a paper and passed around for memorization as people finished scouring the merch room and trickled out in search of Act II.

Swing Kids

As we enjoyed the sounds of Django Reinhardt covers and the athletic spins and dips of the swingin regulars, plans stitched together for an impromptu collaboration. After the swing kids took their bows, a house full of musicians traded turns on tag team instruments, shuffling through several formations that included Abunai! members Kris Thompson, Joe Turner, and Brendan Quinn, the local swing guitarist, Chris Barrus and KZSU’s own Your Imaginary Friend.

In its final formation, they gradually settled into a deep psych jam, a perfectly crafted krautrock gem lifted from time and appreciated anew. I later learned that they had improvised their way into a piece of a Can song, which they later morphed into something from Spacemen 3. Required listening during the wee hours of the night, proving again that the festival surrounding the festival is half the value of it.

Windy & Carl

Windy & Carl | My favorite performance was given by long time terrastock regulars, Windy & Carl. They played on the indoor stage, illuminated only by the spackled light of the projector, as all other lights were extinguished. As the sequence of heavily shadowed, dimly lit nature abstracts flickered upon their silhouetted figures, they put pick to string and began to make the rain fall. Their narcotic instrumentals are both clear and murky, with a pure, swollen guitar tone, laden with tendrils of echo that will never find their way home again. It’s music that drops your center of gravity and draws out the tears. It makes you heavy, drags you earthward, grounds your person and reverberates through you like a struck tuning fork.

After absorbing the great majesty, beauty and depth of their music, it was such a contrast to hear how humble and self-deprecating the chatty Windy Weber is between sets.  She apologizes for imperceptibly messing up the song, even as they just finished destroying you.  Do they know that they’re incredible?

Mokoto Kawabata | Mokoto Kawabata of Acid Mothers Temple played a solo electric set for the final night of terrastock. He was a one man eruption of sound, taking us on a decibel journey that reached the loudest peak of the festival as well as swooping back down to scrape out the softest low. It was a stroke of genius programming him last. He blew away everyones mind while blowing out their eardrum with music that even in its sound had a crushing finality to it — a fitting way to conclude the festivities.

The set was both scathing and beautiful, and beautiful not just in the cerebral, detached, art fart sense. These sounds were beautiful on an instinctive, visceral level. Full, amorphous noise, so huge and dense as to be experienced both aurally and physically, an anvil of noise that rumbled the feet and pulsed in the head. And over that foundation of noise, an unhinged electric wail, clear and supple and undulating in its feralness. A sound picture of the heavy enormity of the ocean with the siren’s call cutting through. While swimming deep in that ensconcement of sound, I felt a second embrace, as warm as the first. As my feelings soared, I experienced a perfect agreement of hearing and heart.

-Arrival-> | A complaint that I have heard others mutter about multi-day music festivals is that it makes extraordinary bands ordinary. That you exhaust your capacity for elation by the end of day one. I have to disagree. Terrastock is designed for the multi-orgasmic. It is a relentless, four day high that leaves you spent, happy and exhausted. As it is, four days is just barely enough time to detoxify the mundane of the other 361. It nourishes your need for transcendental heights and the simple joy of familiar faces and collective passion.

This article was recently printed in the KZSU Summer Program Guide 2008.

My full photoset and short video are on flickr at http://www.flickr.com/photos/nariposa/collections/72157605692076584/

Several full length videos appear at http://youtube.com/narikiri


1 comment so far

  1. Andrea on

    looks like a great time!
    I agree that music festivals make extraordinary bands seem ordinary. You get desensitized.
    Great article, I like the last 3 sentences, they are right-on.

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