Outsiders in overdrive
Local innovators gather for a marathon Deep Heaven 'happening'
"It's nice, but not New York" (or San Francisco or even Philadelphia) is among the worst things said about Boston's counterculture. For the most part it's a sad truism, as much a part of Hub life as early club closings, but a committed assemblage of musicians and visual artists is determined to change things.
They unite for Deep Heaven IV, an eclectic event designed as an Andy Warholian "happening" integrating art with music, music with art. The first three were word-of-mouth affairs held in a Chinatown loft; this, a bigger and more above-ground show, will unfold over seven hours, starting at 6 p.m. tomorrow at the Greek-American Club in Cambridge's Central Square.
As with previous Deep Heaven events, this one has a simple aim. "We want to bring back the psychedelic freakout, the kind of show that could bring on a sensory stimulation overload," says a grinning Daniel Finn, keyboardist for Lockgroove, one of the bands organizing the event.
The event provides ample chance for that overload, at least sonically. The seven scheduled bands and mid-set performers represent part of the music spectrum that doesn't get the same attention as ska and pop. On the bill are Lockgroove, whose dense, full-on sound invites comparison to Brian Eno's "Music for Airports" - as performed by a fighter jet squadron. Six Finger Satellite is a Providence band on Sub Pop Records whose blend of punk and synth-heavy space rock straddles the gap between cute and fearsome. Mining different ground are Cul de Sac, master of ominous atmospheric guitar soundscapes, and Abunai!, whose reverence of '60s psychedelia swerves into a twisted lyrical neverland.
Odder still is the Lothars, a band with three theremins, the eerie-toned granddaddy of all electronic instruments. Tono Bungay and Landed are wild cards: The former is an improvisational drum-guitar-and-turntable-centered group from New York, the latter band is a noisy semipunk confection.
"We're just trying to include everyone we can," said Ryan Rex, Lockgroove singer. "There are so many bands I'd like to see playing something like this. What we really want to do with this is cause a little more scene cohesion."
The second-stage entertainment is as diverse as the main lineup. The always unpredictable Harvard Project for New Music has threatened another wonderfully raucous performance; at the first Deep Heaven, the group unveiled a trash can filled with balloons, then walloped the can with sticks while accompanied by saxophone.
On a more ethereal plane, Chris Mascara and Deb Rubin will play sitar and tabla, the Indian instruments often associated with '60s-era psychedelia.
The original Deep Heaven was largely put together by Eric Arn of Primordial Undermind, who established contacts through the Drone On mailing list, http://www.no-fi.com/droneon-faq/index.html. It's the nerve center for fans of low-fi neopsychedelic rock like Skullflower, Spacemen 3, Spiritualized, Mogwai, and Acetone.
What those bands, and those performing tomorrow, have in common is their healthy distance from the alterna-pop scene, as much a Boston tradition as baked beans and fried scrod. Consider Kris Thompson, keyboardist for Abunai! (which he says is a Japanese exclamation meaning "Danger, look out!") who will also be onstage playing theremin with the Lothars.
Thompson and his fellow theremin player Jon Bernhardt hoped to assemble a six-or-seven-piece theremin orchestra that could perform the same kind of noisy compositional works as a Glenn Branca group. "But we never found more than three so we augmented the sound with a guitarist and an accordion player," Thompson said.
Most people know the theremin as the kooky sound used in countless sci-fi movies, but it can play very recognizable songs, he said.
His more conventional outfit, Abunai!, has been a unit for just over a year. Along with Lockgroove, members of Abunai! are collaborating on Deep Heaven. "We're a psychedelic rock band, more Spacemen 3 than Moody Blues. There are some accents of British folk that we give a psychedelic workover," he said.
Glenn Jones, guitarist for Cul de Sac, believes Deep Heaven fills a void in the local scene. Of the previous shows, Jones says, "There was a real feeling of friendliness and warmth. It really felt like a big party in someone's huge apartment, and didn't have the same cut-and-dried aspect that playing in clubs usually does."
Unlike the crowd at club shows, Deep Heaven audiences tend to come early and stay for the full show, Jones said. "In most cases, people come to see bands that they're into or show up late to see their friends."
This will be the first collaboration between Deep Heaven organizers and the Toneburst collective, a loose confederation of art students, electronic musicians, and computer-graphics-loving pixelheads.
A recent Toneburst installation at the Massachusetts College of Art incorporated live music and video performances with static art forms, said Jake Trussell of Toneburst. At Deep Heaven IV, Toneburst members will be working in a purely video capacity, said Trussell, a music producer and Mass. Art student.
Toneburst's role in this Deep Heaven is primarily as a provider of video and sculptural work, although it's likely that role may change. "At our own shows, we usually come at things from a more jungle and drum-and-bass perspective. We've been trying to incorporate more punk and rock influences into ours, like at Deep Heaven, so I see a convergence happening," Trussell said.
Copyright © 1998 Globe Newspaper Company.