By Patrick Cavanaugh, Features Editor
Usually, local bands perform in some dark basement at an off-campus house full of solemn, scruffy college kids wearing plaid shirts and skinny-jeans. No one can really move or see the person next to them, but no one really cares.
Local shows allow disillusioned scenesters to experience music at its purest: up close and personal.
When bands gathered for WESN Radio’s Far Left Fest, a local/Chicago band showcase, on Thursday, March 29, the environment felt completely different.
The bright lights and open space of the Hansen Student Center initially made the show seem too distant and too professional. The stage separated bands and crowds, and spotlights blinded performers accustomed to dim concrete rooms.
But the Hansen Student Center turned out to be a fine venue for the festival. Seven bands, four from the Bloomington-Normal area and three from Chicago, entertained Illinois Wesleyan University students and community members with a wide variety of musical styles, ranging from noisy punk to somber trance.
If the well-lit stage felt unusual to them, none of the bands showed it. They provided five strong hours of music, challenging audience members not to enjoy themselves in some way.
Avant-garde noise act Hastas (known as Illinois State University student Kyle Riley by day) opened the show with a brief but engaging drone set.
Staying true to form, Hastas’ performance didn’t feature a set of conventionally constructed songs. He looped heavily distorted synthesizers and improvised pedal configurations on the fly.
His experimental styling created a rich landscape of entrancing sound. It seemed formless, but not without purpose, existing somewhere between the realms of music and simple noise.
After a quick tune-up and mic-check, Ghost Pope lead guitarist Steve Howe declared, “We’re Ghost Pope, and we’re here to rock.”
He wasn’t lying. Ghost Pope’s mixture of blues-inspired riffs and punk signaled a clear departure from the noisy haze of Hastas.
The audience left their seats, gathered around the stage and began fervently head-nodding to the music. Some mild moshing may have started, but it ended quickly (safety first, kids).
The band put on a high-energy set for onlookers to “rock out” to, breaking strings and bouncing around without a care in the world. The use of a stand-up bass was a nice touch, too.
This Is My Mess
Known around the local music scene for their intense garage rock, This Is My Mess played a surprisingly mellow set. The group ditched the conventional four-piece band set-up in favor of a calmer, acoustic style.
Lead singer Paul Nolley switched between playing an acoustic guitar and beating two drums throughout the performance, all the while loudly singing each word with eyes closed. His two band-mates complimented his impassioned vocals with a mixture of trumpet, bass and ukulele playing.
Without a doubt, This Is My Mess featured the most eclectic mixture of instruments of the night. The band’s acoustic set was an interesting change from their usual style and provided a nice break from the loudness and intensity of the other acts.
Oshwa is the brainchild of Alicia Walter, a former IWU student who transferred to Columbia College in Chicago a couple of years ago in her quest for eternal glory.
More importantly, Oshwa is awesome.
Walter began the performance alone, showcasing her guitar expertise and powerful voice. She skillfully looped complex guitar lines to create unique melodies and harmonies.
Her voice seamlessly soared from booming deep notes to a high falsetto and she displayed a clear knack for holding together intricate rhythms and irregular song structures.
When she invited the rest of her band onstage, the show only got better. With the full band playing, Oshwa suddenly became a mixture of Animal Collective’s bright, rhythmic psychedelic freak-outs and Tune-Yards’ mighty vocal stylings.
Though I was unfamiliar with Oshwa before the Festival, Walter and her band instantly made a fan out of me.
Heavy Times, a loud punk group from Chicago, wasted no time on formalities, dropping into a relentless set of extreme distortion and hard-hitting drums.
The band reveled in its devil-may-care attitude. The drummer played the entire set in plaid boxers, mercilessly beating his drums and nonchalantly throwing away broken drumsticks. No one could really hear the vocals, but no one cared with the guitars’ harsh, unyielding riffs blaring around them.
At one point, one of the guitarists had to tune his guitar, resulting in the set’s only down-point. But one of the band-members didn’t hesitate to fill the gap by reminding students of the bleak future ahead of them.
The band never let go of its image and never let the energy die.
It’s difficult to learn about the Bloomington-Normal local music scene without hearing the name “Teaadora” dropped at some point.
Teaadora, the alter ego of local artist Matthew Donovan, has made his mark on the local scene through his trademark style featuring high-pitched, eerie vocals and soothing guitar lines.
For Far Left Fest, Teaadora became a group project. Other musicians joined Donovan onstage, including IWU senior Alex Kim on cello.
Out of all of the bands playing that night, Teaadora is the only one that can lay claim to a pseudo-hit, the entrancing “Don’t Expect A Stradivarius.” Donovan and his group played this song, as well as including moments of improvisation.
No matter what Teaadora played, though, the audience remained captivated throughout the set.
Though many people had left by the time Chicago psychedelic rock outfit Radar Eyes took the stage, the band’s set didn’t disappoint.
With loud guitars and driving bass lines, Radar Eyes kept the audience head banging and dancing long after they should’ve been worn out. The band’s liveliness proved incredibly infectious.
At one point, the lead guitarist/vocalist ran off stage and joined the audience. He backed into audience-members, who coalesced around him, while maintaining the intensity of his guitar playing. Radar Eyes kept the show alive to the very end, providing a perfect closing to the festival.