Soundwaves: Night One of Waveforms 2.0
If the first night of Waveforms 2.0, Aligning Minds’ month-long residency at the Asheville Music Hall, is any indication, the rest of October will be filled with world-class artists descending upon Asheville to electrify the music scene. Both the quality and variety of the sets made the night one of the more memorable that I personally have seen in town. The efforts of the venue’s staff, Aligning Minds, and the other artists came together to manifest an evening of music that was almost seamless, allowing the quality of the acts to shine through.
Asheville Music Hall is a good setting for these shows. Its smaller size (it fits a maximum of 360 people) allows for an intimacy between the audience and the performers that might have been lost in a larger venue. This more intimate feel also made it possible to get a glimpse of the collaborative relationship between the musicians, reminding the audience that one of the main goals of the event is to build a synergetic community of artists in and around the area by bringing their immense talent into the same space. The interior is fairly minimalist, with the stage and an open dance floor flanked by stools at the front of the building. A bar to one side faces the artist merchandise table and there are a few tables with seats in the back. The basic aesthetic makes the venue a blank slate, allowing for a high degree of visual and aural customization by the artists.
The night began with Robert Manos, who uniquely combines his own vocals with innovative danceable beats to create a satisfyingly smooth musical experience. While Manos is fully engaged with generating cutting-edge sounds, he overlays them with soulful lyrics about love and heartbreak that give the music a mellow quality with an R&B edge. In the hands of a less deft musician, some of the lyrics (“That story that I gave you sounds more like a movie scene;/ the kisses that you gave me stayed in my memory”) might come across as saccharine, but Manos brought everything together in a performance that was truly from the heart. The set included new tunes and collaboratively-written work, including a song co-created by Manos and Synkro. The combination of music and lyrics resulted in songs that were exercises in harmony, as darker beats were alternately enhanced and softened by Manos’s fluid vocals. Other songs had a pleasantly dissonant quality, refusing to strike a balance between the music’s complex, layered beats and the emotionally-driven lyrics. Besides his sensual, clear vocals, Manos is also a startlingly good whistler, a quality he put to good use in several songs. He also brought in a little dancehall flavor at the end of the set, showcasing his versatile range of styles and influences.
Next up was Panther God. It was a tight race, but Panther God shares the title with Machinedrum for my favorite set of the night. A perfect follow-up to the opening act, Panther God immediately kicked things up several notches, taking us from Manos’s more tranquil and harmonious sounds into a deeply intelligent and inventive set that a fellow audience member described as “industrial, but with fairy music in the background.” Combining dark and dirty beats with touches of artfully-placed higher-frequency auditory baubles and blips, the music had a bass-driven, energetic quality that highlighted Panther God’s immense talent and playfulness.
Being immersed in the set made me feel like I was watching a magician reveal a new trick with every song, as if he were opening a series of boxes filled with unique, tiny sounds that came together in to create an aural constellation. Panther God’s sound is constantly breaking barriers and reconfiguring expectations as he moves through prismatic, cerebral beats that refuse categorization. Arguably the most charismatic performer of the evening, he played several songs from his newest LP, Golden Changes, as well as new material, ending with “a bit of a new house track” that highlighted his ability to effortlessly move between multiple subgenres of electronic music.
Aligning Minds, the third act and co-headliner of the evening, kept the energy high after Panther God’s set, inviting the audience into songs characterized by an expansive quality and a deep attention to detail. Mike Folk of Aligning Minds was joined during the performance by Robert Manos, who returned to the stage on vocals. The combination of Aligning Minds’ music and Manos’s lyrics added a new spin to the innovative sounds of the group and gave the set an organic, improvisational feel marked by experimentation between two highly talented musicians. The music flowed through seamless transitions that brought us down into full embodiment after Panther God’s more mental energy. Aligning Minds have always created unique beats that invite listeners into the group’s open expressiveness, which reverberates through their songs as well as their musical philosophy. Their illuminated take on IDM is both unique and widely appealing, and the night’s set was no exception. Aligning Minds ushered in a deep groove that continued with Machinedrum, the final act of the night.
Machinedrum, who also did a workshop at Moog earlier in the day, brought the night to its climax, creating some of the most creative and dance-worthy beats of the show. While the music was of course the main feature of the set, praise needs to be set aside for the artist’s outfit – a black sleeveless button-up shirt and gold chain which functioned as an anti-fashion statement and an expression of Machinedrum’s irreverent stage presence and approach to music. Throughout the set, Machinedrum combined elements of experimental, house, jungle, and dancehall beats with samples from sources as varied as Kanye West and Autechre to create totally new sounds that completely transformed their individual elements. Machinedrum was the perfect act to end the evening, combining the mental play of Panther God with the more embodied energy of Aligning Minds. Robert Manos also joined in on vocals during a few songs, once again adding a new layer of complexity to the performance. The set moved between and within the dark and the whimsical, constantly surprising the audience while keeping them fully entrenched in the sound.
The first night of Waveforms 2.0 set the bar high across the board. The incredible variety of sounds speaks to the caliber of musicians invited to perform and highlights the rich complexity of electronic music being produced right now. There are four more weeks left of Waveforms – make it a priority to be in attendance.