March 17, 2011 2 Comments
720 Records is situated on Butler St. in Lawrenceville, the burgeoning creative neighborhood of Pittsburgh increasingly becoming composite of galleries, quirky eateries, studio spaces and bars with good draft lists and great music. Perusing 720’s vinyl offerings, it was easy to see why the VIA Presents crew chose this little record store to stage an Onra show. The music in the racks was all Chuck Chillout, Graffiti Rock alum, Erykah Badu, and miscellaneous Dilla projects. The store offers vinyl geeks a palette of thoughtfully selected tunes, and threw off those music geek vibes that went along with a crowd of creative dance-aholics. Some were there to dance, others to be inspired, but everyone got what they came for.
Pittsburgh based audio artist, Discuss started off the evening with his sometimes languorous, and sometimes fast paced sonic bravado. His set came in waves of tempo pushing ups and ethereal ambiance that built tension, exploding into blankets of beats and glitches and wa-wa’s. The complex tempo changes eased the crowd from social gabbery into focused dancing and set the mood for the rest of the night. There were moments of piano prominence, a warm glittering homage to the classical amidst the electronic sound scape. The moments that put the ‘I’ in the oh-so reductive label IDM, which should be avoided in a discussion of Discuss, whose very name denotes all-inclusiveness. The undulations of his set propagated a sort of think-motion. He’d momentarily unwind the crowd to the point of near sedation, and then gradually work the collective body movement back up with a distinctly techno backdrop to complex layers of throbbing melody; at once peaceful and serene and simultaneously dance inducing.
The V component of VIA, the visual accompanying the audio, was provided by yet more local talent. For Discuss’s set we got the video art of Laurie Trok whose visuals were more than complimentary to the languid, enveloping sound scape. She worked primarily in black and white as well as shades of grey; not to say that the sounds lacked color, if we can even relate sounds to colors, though trying to do so is kind of what VIA is all about. Her shades of gray video art complimented the note of seriousness in the music. If bright color had been prevalent, the mood might have gone towards kitsch but she kept it subdued and slightly vintage with soft, blur-tinged shapes, a dada-esque geometric montage.
After a brief interlude with music provided by DJ’s Nicerec and Harry Lurker, the electro-pop/chillwave quartet Golden Ages took the stage and as a multi-member act brought a lot more noise, sometimes raucous and sometimes beautifully chill. Their sound has been compared to the likes of Fuck Buttons and Animal Collective but also holds a certain touch of the 70’s electronic sound spread by Neu! Think Nagativ, rock ‘n’ roll strings poking through a wash of cacophonous synth but also picking up the pop and living up to that Animal Collective comparison. Artist Di-ay Battad took over the visuals for Golden Ages and her set was a little more playful than Trok’s as she reached for organic and curvilinear shapes, the images were reminiscent of strange plant life and water droplets, which worked well with the pop tones emanating from Golden Ages’ amps.
Finally, in the stifling heat of the back room at 720 Records, Onra and sonic cohort Buddy Sativa began their set with My Comet, a synth-drenched, throbbing ode to vintage funk and smooth R&B. It declares from the beginning in a robotic sort of way, “I want to hear future funk,” and then breaks open into the smooth waves of Onra’s hip-hop, funk, and electronic blend, keepin’ it futuristic but still old school kind of funky. His set was mostly the instant crowd pleasers, tracks that pay tons of homage to Dilla; songs like Send Me Your Love, which has all kinds of cheesy R&B flavor, note the repetitive use of the word ‘baby,’ but the cheesiness is all part of the fun. It’s still irresistibly sexy and the packed crowd danced all the way up to the track that he played off of Chinoiseries, and then some weren’t sure what to do. It definitely still grooved though, just in a slightly globe-trotting RZA sorta way, a quilt of Chinese and Vietnamese pop music mixed with modern dance beats, an example of Onra as some kind of dance inducing musicologist.
The party relocated to the Bloomfield Bridge Tavern where the second part of the double feature was held. Having fallen on a Wednesday, the night of Pittsburgh’s decade old weekly drum and bass show – FUZZ! gave Onra’s deejay set a storied local significance, Polish Party House meets Vietnamese Parisian producer – globalization at it’s finest. His deejay set proved his massive range of musical tastes that goes from weird to vintage to pop and while he dropped the poppiest song a bass lover would want, Big Boi’s Shutterbug, he backed it up and framed it with tribal bass keeping Shutterbug still very Onra-like.
As an evening of blended together art forms, the audio with the visual, VIA succeeded in creating an experience like no other. It was a smart, thoughtfully produced party that emphasized local talent, and simultaneously introduced music fans to an amazing international producer. Getting Onra as both an accomplished beat maker, as he demonstrated with his set at 720 Records, and also as a crowd pleasing deejay at the Bloomfield Bridge Tavern, was kind of the best way to experience him, both polished and freewheeling. There was no doubt that the crowd loved him as they clung to the dance floor, blissfully unaware that the bartenders had stopped serving. No doubt he would’ve had the BBT rocking for at least three more hours.
Article By: Kate Magoc
Photos by: Lindsay Mullen
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