Ferndale-based X! Records snuck up on Detroit in 2005, patiently unveiling CD-Rs and 45s from such then-unknown local outfits as the Frustrations, Fontana and the Terrible Twos — bands that trafficked in the same surrounded-by-shambles aesthetic desperation that fueled the greatest punk, garage rock and space music of the past.
Over the course of three years and a baker's dozen of releases, X! has turned that energy into a brand of Detroit-based chromosome-deranged punk noise that can make us all proud. It's at once intensely Midwestern and yet connected to an otherworldly inspiration based on escape and release. The label came along as an organizing unit at a time when the Detroit scene was in the kind of above-ground creative doldrums that are often ended by the emergence of new tones of home. It's not that the bands weren't out there. They were, albeit in back yards, basements and co-op parties. But a label can do wonders for bringing together artists under its banner and introducing them to audiences that might not have known what they were looking for. In other words, the X! banner is a freak flag par excellence.
Scott Dunkerley, the mainman who guides X!, has gathered the most engaging bunch of smart alecs, nihilists, artists and fartists on the fringes of Detroit's music culture for this year's celebratory festival (see highlights below). For the third year running, the sweat and beer will flow in equal measure; minds will be warped, ears will be shot, music-making machines will surely be broken, a new compilation LP, Shiftless Decay: New Sounds of Detroit, will be unleashed ... and Detroit will be a slightly better place for it.
TERRIBLE TWOS (Saturday)
Run into a wall, smack your nose on the brick, grab a friend and put 'em in a head-lock, jump up and down like a fucking maniac just to see who has the balls to call you crazy, drink a pot of coffee straight from the urn, grab a live wire on purpose, pass out, get up, do it again. This is what it sounds like when you channel that through five dudes with guitars, drums, keyboards and shredded vocal cords. So rad.
It's tempting to call these dudes "goofy," and maybe that's the right word, But their straight-up take on basement hardcore, punk and other snotty rock sub-genres has a shade of gravity to it and a rhythmic propulsion that elevates them above mere goofballs. So wonderfully free of pretense, it's hard to think of a party that wouldn't benefit from these dudes' presence.
The first edifying band on the X! stable, their sound's described thusly: "buzz buzz skronk skronk skronk." But that doesn't do justice to the No-Wave-but-fun end of their repertoire. Nor does it encapsulate how they're able to capture that special feeling when August turns desperately boring and there's nothing to do but self-medicate with noisy riffs. Their debut LP, Glowing Red Pill, is out on vinyl now via X! with the CD apparently not far behind.
As if narcolepsy and epilepsy were rolled together and played by an inspired supergroup comprised of Bad Brains and the Monks.
SIC ALPS (Friday)
This San Francisco-based duo ambles in a fuzzed-out sound world all their own that calls to mind British psych, hushed folkie daydreams, noisy bouts of lovely introspection and other left-field combinations of tones and tales.
One of three Columbus, Ohio outfits playing X! Fest (kindred rustbelt affinities!), this quintet's eerie, claustrophobic dynamics evoke a sort of new wavy dub offspring; then they open it up a little more and embrace the rawk a wee bit and then change it up all over again. An awfully-good way to feel sonically off-kilter.
Friday: Doors open at 8 p.m. Tyvek, Sic Alps (San Francisco), the Frustrations, Psychedelic Horseshit (Columbus), the Mahonies, Heroes and Villains
Saturday: Parking lot BBQ at 6 p.m. Music starts at 8 p.m. Terrible Twos, the Guinea Worms (Columbus), Fontana, Necropolis (Columbus), Druid Perfume, Timmy's Organism, THTX, the Beekeepers
Friday and Saturday, July 25 and 26, at the New Bohemian Home, 3009 Tillman, Detroit; 313-737-6606.Chris Handyside is some guy who writes about music. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
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