We spent an alternately chilly/beautiful/drunk weekend in Harrisonburg earlier this month and saw some noteworthy jams as part of MACROCK 2017. The annual festival that specializes in lesser-know but still noteworthy acts doubled down on the “lesser known” side which gave tons of breathing room for expectations. Sure enough, we found a number of acts that surpassed our hopes and first up is the best national acts we saw.
Harrisonburg flipped five venues (and a few basements) in honor of MACROCK’s 20th year and among those was the Artful Dodger. While familiar to any Harrisonburg…er, the cute little coffee shop/bar/stage played host to the first (and one of the best) national acts we saw of the weekend: Alex Cameron.
Hailing from Sydney, Australia, Cameron took the red-draped stage around 6 PM Friday night with a simple set up. He swayed and sang Bowie-like in almost every way, accompanied by a pre-recorded synth track and a live sax player for the occasional solo. He crooned out jams that genuinely made me shake my hips, offering a delightfully modern/retro take on a number of dark and depressing topics.
Later that night we headed over to The Gold Pony, formerly Blue Nile (for the curious).
There we caught one of the most intense shows of the fest. Armed with an industrial smoke machine and a series of strobing LEDs, Autins, TX’s Street Sects took the stage and completely nulled my brain as I tried to understand everything that was going on.
Sonically, it was as if early 90s, Broken-era Nine Inch Nails had never stopped and was now dropping tracks on band camp. Visually, the strobes flickered in the smoke-filled room at such a pace it made my eyes, brain and camera lens freak the fuck out.
It was like a sensory deprivation tank where you could only hear the crashing of the beats and the occasional screams from the singer’s microphone – though both were incredibly crisp and minimally distorted creating a surprisingly accessible metal/industrial set.
I came to discover the act was actually two people, but that was AFTER the singer, in the foggy, strobed-out haze, hit one of the MACROCK organizers in the face (allegedly). Not a smart move for a band, especially when you had a house show scheduled for later that night (which was canceled cause you can’t hit the organizer in the face). The singer also revved up a real-life chain saw (sans chain) and ran through the crowd while gas and exhaust fumes filled the basement venue.
It was incredibly dope; so dope, in fact, I managed to get myself together enough to head to a house show they played in Richmond the following Monday – that show also ruled. And I’m not the only one paying attention to these noise fiends – they’ve made Drop the Needle on youtube bow down as well.
Before leaving the venue for some house shows, we managed to catch a bit of Kal Marks, an also brutal three piece, this time hailing from Boston, Mass. Their set was noisy to say the least, but it had a bit more of a traditional indie feel compared to Street Sects (who’s set we were still recovering from to be honest.) We took a few shots and caught the set walking out, but WRIR’s Mike Rutz stayed for the set remainder and said all the harsh energy Street Sects left was replaced with good l’fashioned indie moshing by the end. I was bummed to have missed it, and you should make up for it by buying their record or getting them to come to RVA.
We caught a lot of Virginia stuff that night and the following day (more to follow on that in another write up) but Saturday night we caught some of Lojii’s set. This Philly-based emcee tried his best to relate his from-the-streets beats to the noticeably white and privileged college crowd. His beats were solid, thought playing off a track can be a hard look in today’s world of portable samplers. There was a disconnect that fell on the venue, not the performer, but kudos for making it out and carrying a great message.
Last on our list of notable national acts was LA’s Kraus. While their record might offer moody, soft gliding breaks, the live show more accurately mirrors the sonic torrent of bands like Lightning Bolt. We caught these guys in a crowded basement and could really only hear the drums, but the high energy nature of the set left me wanting more and sure enough their bandcamp was worth diving into.
We caught a lot more local and regional acts that weekend so keep your eyes peeled for the that write up and be sure to check out the acts mentioned above if they come through RVA in the future.
Words and top image by Brad Kutner