I recently read about an interview with David Sitek from TV on the Radio, who griped that a lot of indie bands come to Brooklyn simply to attract media attention and obtain recording contracts rather than cultivate a musical aesthetic relative to the influences present in the scene. There are certainly several bands that have relocated to Brooklyn from across the country and Europe (such as Deluca from Birmingham, England and New Politics from Denmark) with a fully-formed style hoping to cash in on the available venues, audiences, and media outlets to promote them. In the face of such pessimism, however, I would like to think that some musicians are attracted to the area for the rich artistic community thriving in and around Williamsburg ranging from old timers like Interpol, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Animal Collective to impressive, younger acts like Sharon Van Etten and my personal fanboy crush of the year, Chairlift. Dragons of Zynth (or DoZ) are probably my favorite out-of-towners to entrench themselves in the artistic influences that abound in Brooklyn and develop a fresh take on its sound.
DoZ have an unusual résumé. The twin brothers from Cleveland – Aku and Akwetey Orraca-Tetteh – front the band that emerged from the Brooklyn indie scene in 2007 with their first release Coronation Thieves, which attracted a lot of attention thanks to the support of some of the members of TV on the Radio (Sitek produced the album). Collaborations with TV on the Radio in combination with their intriguing take on the Brooklyn sound and the fact that Aku, Akwety, and their drummer J. Bernard are African American, often nets them comparisons to the afore-mentioned Brooklyn indie powerhouse. Alas, soon after the release of Coronation Thieves and its subsequent tour, the guys lost their momentum by taking an indefinite hiatus until this year when the band began recording a new album. Aku and Akwety suggested that the reason for DoZ’s abrupt departure from the scene stemmed from their distaste for the corporate side of the industry after being exposed to it with their initial success (in one interview, Aku called the indie rock industry “an ocean of sharks”). I was glad to see their reemergence though when the band announced earlier this year that they had begun the process of recording new material and a planned new disc due out sometime in 2013.
This show featuring DoZ as the headlining band at Glasslands Gallery in Williamsburg began strong and ended strong. Glasslands, which doubles as an art gallery, offers an intimate performance space with more of a community-based feel than most venues around town. On this evening, the environment seemed to be about supporting a group of artists rather than a forum for simply entertaining an audience. As is customary at such small concert spaces operating outside of Bowery Presents (the corporate entity that runs some the bigger venues in town), band members joined the audience to catch the sets of their bill mates and to rub shoulders a little with the crowd.
Kyp Malone from TV on the Radio was present and hangin’ with everyone else in the audience, probably to support DoZ whose members are often identified as protégés of him and Sitek. The artists who performed on the bill are generally linked to some combination of the terms “soul” and “indie” to produce peculiar categorizations such as “indie soul,” “psyche soul,” and my personal favorite “avant-garde indie,” all of which function as shorthand to express the unique “music meets noise” ambiance pouring out of Williamsburg’s various performance spaces.
I love it when super talented acoustic musicians apply their abilities into synthetic media (synthesizers, drum machines, and computers) with Radio Head and Ok Computer representing the high mark of such adventures in relatively contemporary music.
The Brooklyn duo known as The Mast (Haale Gafori and Matt Kilmer) took the stage at Glasslands first and showcased their riff on translating musical ideas into sounds made by machines. Gafori and Kilmer are both extremely capable musicians – Kilmer is a percussionist and Gafori is just about everything else – so their foray into IDM-influenced electronic blips, bleeps, and beats over which washes Gafori’s melancholic vocal maintains a definite artistic integrity. Their set was engaging – the tunes were interesting, and Kilmer’s percussion including an electric African hand drum added some vigor to the entirely electronic performance. Haale’s voice was fine, and often subject to some interesting electronic manipulation as her voice was syncopated and waved into and out of songs. The band came across as a more percussive xx, but I would be interested to see if the duo falls back into some acoustic musicianship with a longer set. If so, the intriguing combination of both faces of this band could propel The Mast into yet another exciting project emerging from the streets of Brooklyn.
Somebody at the show took some video, demonstrating the super cool electric hand drum Kilmer uses.
I’m a big fan of Ava Luna, and they really brought everything with them to this performance. I saw this band live last spring at the Knitting Factory where they opened for Magic Wands. I thought then that Ava Luna put on a fine show in front of a pretty sparse crowd. This time the audience was at least three times larger than that of the previous show, which perhaps added some energy to band’s performance. I also think that Ava Luna has polished its live act in the subsequent months as its members have become gradually more comfortable with the complex material from their 2012 album Ice Level – in fact I doubt they could sound any better than they did tonight with the material.
Songs I’ve been listening to for months since I BOUGHT their album last spring, such as “Ice Level” and “Wrenning Day”sounded new and fresh somehow with their most recent live interpretations. Anyway, anyone interested in indie rock living anywhere in the proximity of New York City must see this band live.
During DoZ’s set, it occurred to me that the evening was the next piece in a process for a band preparing for something big in 2013. I assume with the coming album DoZ will tour incessantly for a few months, and their performance this evening came across as a band looking to synchronize its live performance around some new material. It was certainly a fun set, as it provided a sneak peak at the new album (I think), which I’m anxious to hear, and a view at all of the energy that DoZ notoriously bring live. The outlandishness for which they’re known was tempered somewhat this evening, however, probably to give the band a chance to adjust itself to a slightly new lineup (bassist Fon Lin has regrettably left the band) and freshly recorded material.
The band balanced the set with ten pieces – five songs from Coronation Thieves, one tune (“Harlot Blues”) from an older EP, and four others assumedly from the new album. The set was bookended with some outstanding performances of older tunes, especially “Get Off” (the third song) and “Who Rize Above” (the second to last). Both songs are funky rockers with heavy bass and drums sounding great live. I was impressed with Aku and Akwetey, who made up for the loss of Fon Lin by trading bass and electric guitars with each other a few times during the show. The only setback came in the middle of the set with the performance of new instrumental “We Won’t Land.” Although not a bad song (with a sound similar to the sludgy “Funky Genius” from Coronation Thieves), the tune plodded along way past five minutes managing to release some of the energy in the room. Aside from that, my highlight was “Poisonous,” which offers a 70s funk fest (and heavy bass) leaving me with the impression that I’m gonna love the direction of the new album.
Although I wasn’t as excited as the hipster loudly screaming “what an awesome set” when the show ended and lights went on, but I certainly left with an impressive peek at Dragons of Zynth “Mach II.” I hope they stay around little longer this time. The video below of “Get Off” was taken from a show in Greenwich Village last year when Fon Lin was still performing with the band.
Nate Jones is middle-aged, rapidly balding man with chronic bad breath who writes about culture, identity politics, and sometimes music. His published work includes pieces in Ready Player None: A Ready Player One Fanzine, Old White Dudes’ Quarterly, various want ads seeking vintage Atari 2600 cartridges, and his blog entitled “My Heaven is 1973.”