Live Review: oOoOO at Glasslands Gallery, NYC
I just got back from a five-day stint in New York City last night. I visited cousins, ate great food, tried adventurous cocktails, and got in some much needed relaxation time. I had a generally loose itinerary planned—pizza, Central Park, Transit Museum—but one thing was definitely on my must-do list: get out for some live music. I knew that my cousin, R., and his girlfriend, H., would be joining me, so I thought I’d try to expose them to some new sounds, the “weird” music I listen to when I’m alone with my cat. After picking Saturday evening, I browsed the Village Voice website for listings and happened on a witch house showcase. Electronic musician oOoOO was headlining a night at Glasslands Gallery, supported by White Ring, Sibian & Faun, and F∆I†H. Things were bound to get spooky.
Glasslands is a small warehouse dance club in the core of Brooklyn. From the train, a chilly walk took us through a mellow corner of Williamsburg, alternately punctuated by brightly lit grocery stores and rust-rotted Industrial Era relics. Inside, the venue had the ambiance of a crafts supply store coming down from a weekend retreat with Timothy Leary. Matte squares of painted sheet metal were nailed to the wall like a grease-smudged stained-glass window. The stage—just a hair bigger than the Triple Rock’s—was pushed into a corner. An installation that looked like frilly crinoline or crumpled lantern-paper obscured the lights above the stage and added an eerie touch. The fixture looked like a ravenous mold stain or volcanic plume. The air was close with fog.
It was about 10 p.m. when we walked in, and Sibian & Faun were toting their gear off stage. A DJ was remixing ’80s new wave into dubstep scrambles, hilarious and nostalgically fun in the way familiar music becomes newly exciting when it’s reinvented. Both R. and H. are fairly unfamiliar with electronic music—my rare moment as “the expert” in Brooklyn this weekend. I explained how electronic genres are mostly defined by their beat structures and some other classifying factors as we sipped our first drinks. Ultimately, we came to a crash-course: Witch House 101.
“OK,” I started, “so, imagine and R&B song. Try to hear the beat. It’s slow and simple, pretty close to four-on-the-floor, but messed up enough to encourage sexy dancing.” They followed, skeptically, I think. “Over that, add a layer of really immersive electronic sound”—here my cousin puts up his pointer and middle fingers near his ears, “Would you call it a [insert air-quotes] soundscape?”—“Uhhh, I was trying to avoid that word, but yes. A lot of people would call it [insert air-quotes] ambient.” Finally, I mentioned the genre-specific vocal style—an ethereal, feminine, lost-in the wind wailing. Like a witch howling murder to her pagan gods.
White Ring took the stage presently. The electronic producer had a rat’s nest stuffed into an oversized winter cap and looked generally unimpressed—with his drink, the world, whatever man—what I imagine to be the de facto Williamsburg affect. Platinum blond locks spilled out from under the vocalist’s sheer black hoodie-cloak-thing, and her red-painted lips sat on her face like two slender Ferraris parked on a white sand beach. She reminded me of one of my crushes from the third grade: Sarah Jessica Parker in Hocus Pocus.
Like the bellowing of dusty organ pipes in a boarded-up church, synth-tones started swirling out of nowhere, as if they were hidden behind the serpentine wisps of concert fog. When the sound swelled to a rhapsodic peak, a steady beat started pumping and the singer launched into high-pitched chant-coo vocals. A painfully slow strobe light leveled directly at the crowd added to the spectacle. Except for an uninspiring sol0-song by the producer, most of the set kept to this formula. Immediate—perhaps to the point of being emotionally manipulative—but satisfying for its streamlined production, consistent tone, and overwhelming force.
oOoOO defied my expectations from the get-go. Songs like “Burnout Eyess” and “Seaww” seemed to pigeonhole him with his Tri Angle label- and genre-mates—playing aesthetically compliant witch house—something more akin to Balam Acab. But from the first song forward, he augmented the expected haunted synths with sputtering beats and black-hole bass plunges more commonly heard in dubstep. Vocal samples frequently got chopped and recombobulated—memorably, a woman saying, “I need a Coach bag,” over and over. As the oOoOO set wore on, the producer mellowed, choosing grander atmospherics over tooth-rattling glitch. Toward the end of a long synth diminuendo, oOoOO left the stage and let his laptop finish the final song for him. Too cool for applause, man?
The crowd was much less engaged during oOoOO’s set than White Ring’s, myself included. We left Glasslands, and as we walked back to Williamsburg proper, I remarked as such. H. sympathized, but had a good point: White Ring’s set was like audio-visual candy, meant to overload your brain with elating dopamine, whereas oOoOO’s set was more cerebral. On further reflection, the show had an appreciable balance. On one hand, we had a good time with the shock-and-awe polished fun; on the other, we were privy to a talented electronic musician experimenting with two genres that have very quickly become a clichéd. A satisfying end to Saturday night.
—Will Wlizlo (@willwlizlo)