Seeing a reunited Blectum from Blechdom perform last night at Load of Fun took me back to the good old days of the early 00s (nearly 10 years ago!) It was a time when the whole laptop scene was blowing up– all Kid606, Cex, Tigerbeat6, and Oakland, CA.
I thought of that bunch as being a lot different than the humorless, chinning stroking Warp crowd. The Tigerbeat6 folk seemed like they were having plenty of fun, and maintained an irreverent human take on making electronic music. Most of all they had laptops, and weren’t afraid to use them as live performance instruments.
In the thick of it were two women from Mills College (which has the renown Center for Contemporary Music, with graduates and faculty like Dave Brubeck, Phil Lesh, Laurie Anderson, Donald Buchla, John Cage, Terry Riley, Steve Reich, etc.)
Kevin Blechdom (Kristen Erickson) and Blevin Blectum (Bevin Kelley), masters of the MAX/MSP software, made music ripe with that post-modern (I hate using that word, but I can’t think of anything else that fits) cyberpunk-nerd-prankster ethos. It was experimental music that was funny and never overly serious.
The group split up around 2001. Both continued on solo, but more recently Blevin formed Sagan with husband J Lesser, Wobbly, and Ryan Junell. Kevin is now doing her own unique electro-acoustic performance art.
This was the first time I had seen Blectum from Blechdom, or been to Load of Fun. When I got to there (I got off work late), Jibz Cameron (a k a Dynasty Handbag) was finishing up her performance art piece.
The performance was amusing and clever, judging from what little I saw. Dynasty Handbag was comfortable onstage and the routine was rehearsed and smooth. Unlike so much undergrad art school performance piece nonsense, I wasn’t cringing while watching.
Kevin and Blevin came onstage wearing Asian silk print robes, and headgear. A fur lined bomber cap for Kevin, and this bizarre goat-horn headband with spikes coming from the temples for Blevin. Martin and Drew of Matmos were in the crowd, but that should be no surprise as they are buds with Blevin’s hubby.
The amount of people in the room had drastically diminished, but I guess electronic music isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. There was initial trouble getting a DVD to start, so as to project visuals behind the stage. Blevin was visibly frustrated and worried. Not the best way to start a show. The problem was eventually fixed, and things got underway.
I’ve heard people say that in order for a laptop show to work, you need a really good sound system. Unfortunately, the system for the night was crap. The music definitely should have been a lot louder, but I guess the person mixing was wary of overload (or maybe just didn’t know better). Kevin and Blevin’s vocals could barely be heard (yes, this is IDM with singing).
The set didn’t really gain momentum until the Kevin Blechdom track “Interspecies Love.” When I first heard this song some years back, I swore it was built around sampled vocals from an obscure old 45. But I knew this couldn’t be the case given that the song’s lyrics deal with a girl’s confusion about her carnal feelings for species other than Homo sapiens. It sounds something like a Tin Pan Alley ditty, but with a country twang.
Both Kevin and Blevin remained seated for the entire performance (actually I think that was the first laptop show I have ever seen with seated performers). Kevin started to get into her singing, but it would have been interesting (and a lot more engaging) to see her get up and get into the theatrics of performing. I have the feeling that Kevin was somewhat restrained. For example, during her solo performances she strips naked and covers herself in animal organs.
Also take into consideration the fact that Kevin and Blevin did not speak for some time after the breakup of their group. To my knowledge this reunion is recent, and not necessarily lasting.
Onstage it just didn’t seem like things were firing on all cylinders. The transition between songs was never smooth. Kevin would begin vocals and playing chords on the keyboard, but would be drowned out by the lingering previous track. This happened a lot, and it always took them some time to figure it out. But to be fair, I think this as all due to poor, or nonexistent monitors (I don’t remember seeing any).
For me the highlight of the night was a track that I suspect to be new material from Blevin Blectum. The track was definitely “Foyer Fire,” which I believe will be on her Gular Flutter solo album due out later in April. Man, that track has some serious groove going on. The crowd response began with the head bob, then the body sway, and finally outright dancing. The song just had that bouncy twitch to it. The visual synced up with the track was interesting too, and you can view it below.
Overall a solid night, but dominated by the feeling that plagues any reunion—nostalgia. I feel pretty strongly that electronic music, especially laptop performance music, (I don’t know what else to call it) should always be progressive, not stagnant, and never backward looking. Then again my standards are always too doctrinaire. Blectum from Blechdom seemed, to a degree, to be about goofing off, and making sincere jokes. As an overly serious guy I enjoyed seeing two whimsical women making cool music on their laptops.
Ryan Junell video for Blevin Blectum’s “Foyer Fire” from forthcoming “Gular Flutter” solo album
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