Hopscotch, Night One: Anticipation and expectations | Music
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Friday, September 5, 2014

Hopscotch, Night One: Anticipation and expectations

Posted by on Fri, Sep 5, 2014 at 11:11 AM

click to enlarge Thurston Moore: not your average cocktail party fare. - PHOTO BY JEREMY LANGE
  • Photo by Jeremy Lange
  • Thurston Moore: not your average cocktail party fare.
In large part, the reputation of Hopscotch has depended on the festival’s desire to deliver the unexpected—to engage experimental music enthusiastically, to coerce different styles into the same space, to rupture the sense of ease that a general-interest, expensive-ticket event can foster. Last night, during a two-hour, pre-festival party limited to those who indeed bought the priciest tickets or boosted the festival with corporate sponsorships, Hopscotch flaunted that side of its personality without shame. It was wonderful.

An hour into its opening night VIP fête, Sonic Youth co-founder and avant provocateur-at-large Thurston Moore walked onto the stage of CAM Raleigh, the venue he’d return to several hours later for a much different set with Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley. Just a few dozen feet away, chefs Ashley Christensen and Scott Crawford passed out fancy finger food. And several more feet behind and below them, a half-dozen restaurants, breweries and vineyards doled out generous cocktails made with smoked tea and wine from Tar Heel grapes. Though Moore has released several broadly likable albums in the last few years, including a folk-rock disc with Beck, no one had asked him to provide the score for a small-talk cocktail hour.

Backed by New York drummer Ryan Sawyer, Moore ripped through a half-hour set of high-impact noise, strangling and mangling the notes coming from his guitar before they could reach the crowd through a series of pedals, stomped zealously. Moore’s improvisations can sometimes be maximalist overload or, conversely, checked-out tedium. But he fell into mostly perfect form with Sawyer, the two ricocheting off of one another in a sort of electrically charged game of pinball. Moore stopped shy of playing too much or too directly, instead flipping through tones and volume levels like he was trying to find some undefined space between the concussions of Sawyer’s kit. Despite the party favors, a thick crowd assembled in front of Moore early into the set, but watching the audience thin was like watching an unexpected posse run a physical gauntlet. Some loved it, fists in the air, behaving like they were at a proper noise show; others retreated to the far corner of the art museum. Maybe it was a brave move for Hopscotch, maybe a foolhardy one—it’s OK to be both at once, too.

The same logic applied to Sawyer’s second set of the night, several hours later in the Fletcher Opera Theater. Sawyer played with IIII, a massed drums-and-electronics piece that served as one of the festival’s hallmark risky endeavors this year. Some 14 drummers split into grids across the wide stage surrounded a duo with an array of synthesizers and assorted electronics. IIII, then, looked impressive. And when the entire ensemble got loud, as they did during a colossal opening drone, they sounded that way, too. But there was something a bit hollow about the piece itself, as though the empty space between the drumheads were exactly that. The stacked rhythms didn’t possess the tidal, mesmerizing effect of Rhys Chatham’s Guitar Trio, an obvious touchstone for this kind of work, or the prismatic wonder of Steve Reich’s Drumming, another. Instead, it felt like a drum circle played with full drum kits, rhythmic movements goaded by the electronics at the center—the brain controlling the operations of the metaphorically big, dumb limbs at the side.

Just a few hundred feet away, in the small black box of Kennedy Theater, one man with a mixer and several five-gallon buckets of charisma proved to be more powerful and less predictable. Montreal producer and DJ Lunice has worked with Kanye West and Azelia Banks, Angel Haze and Rick Ross; with Hudson Mohawke, under the name TNGHT, he made one of my favorite EPs of the last decade. Last night, for a small but avid crowd, he provided a workshop on partying. He steamrolled through sequences of his productions and remixes, occasionally leaving his secret cluster of technology to bounce along the front row, arms in the air and mouth shouting out the words to every song.

At one point, his computer shut down unexpectedly, forcing him to reboot everything in front of an already-hyped crowd. Instead of getting frustrated or simply ending the set, Lunice patiently pushed the necessary buttons and improvised a sing-along for the crowd about restarting his Mac and rebooting his Ableton software. It was an unexpected, instant bit of community-making, where everyone in the room tacitly agreed to stick with Lunice until he was ready to go again. As the clock neared 2 a.m., the room was as half-full as it was when he started, a testament to the volume and the thrall, his attitude and his skill.

And, hey, it was raining. 

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