Seeing Dan Deacon and So Percussion play at the Ecstatic Music Festival reminded me of all the times I was young and joined drum circles down by the piers of Southern California. It’s the only real place where business guys on their lunch break can hang out with homeless dudes floating through the afternoon on acid. The drum circle offers equality because there is no real head or tail. It’s an inclusive space for all walks of life to join together to rattle and bang out sounds. The main objective is to share rhythm by tuning into each other and ones self. Drum circles offer space for group consciousness to grow so that a collective voice can emerge from communally shared rhythm. Most of the drum circles that have snared me into a prolonged afternoon lull, coupled with a joint or five, have been full of amateur drummers banging out simple beats that could be easily followed. Usually there’s some cool-experienced-guru type with a few extra drums or rattles willing to share with the estranged passerbyers so that they may partake in “becoming one with the universe” through the experience of banging on shit with a buncha strangers. Unlike drumming groups and troupes, the drum circle is an end in itself rather than the preparation for a performance. The Dan Deacon and So Percussion segment of the Ecstatic Music Festival brought everyone in attendance together similarly to a drum circle in different kind of communal, rhythmic experience.
So Percussion started the night with five songs improvised in conjunction with absurd short videos friends of the band created. For those not familiar with So Percussion, they experiment with drums, percussion instruments and found objects that make interesting noises, using them to explore the realms of improvisational performance. They invited a couple friends to join them for the evening, having them stand in for a missing bandmate at the hospital with his wife and newborn baby. Their set opened with a pretty straightforward drum circle and then then welcomed the audience into more experimental work. Their second song began with the audience helping band members sing “Happy Birthday Elsie” into a cellphone to newborn Elsie. Congrats! And lucky Elsie got the song and video “Toothpaste Bit” dedicated to her. The song “Toothpaste Bit” incorporated such varied instruments as an electric toothbrush, drums, a computer, a metronome, and an electric guitar. In keeping with babies and the starry eyed quality of being young, they next played a video of an infant playing with an orange balloon, about twenty or thirty orange balloons were tossed to the audience and I watched as young and old audience members alike swatted the balloons back into the air. Much of their work is exploratory, and band members explained that they try to use the places they go – airplanes, hotel rooms, cars – as guideposts to make music from. They closed their opening set playing along to a video of one of their inspirations, Martin Schmidt (of Matmos fame), wearing a white shirt and black blow tie, playing with shakers, blowing buzzers, and shaking rattles in unsuspecting intervals.
When Dan Deacon took the stage he returned the audiences attention back to cellphones by holding two cellphones together so they could create feedback, showing us how we were to do this when we reached a certain point of the evenings next activity. He then had score sheets passed out to the audience so everyone in attendance could form an ensemble, encouraging everyone that it was going to be a big show with a large audience and even though we hadn’t practiced we’d do great. Once everyone got their score sheet we began to conduct “Take A Deep Breath.” Dan had everyone present synchronize their cell phone times and then set their alarms to 8:21. At 8:21 as everyone’s phone alarms sounded we all began enacting the 24 step instruction sheet for the new experimental noise band we all formed.