Edgy musicians come dangerously close to New Haven

Giant animal paw promises to be worth the trouble. (Courtesy Austin Sound)

Giant animal paw promises to be worth the trouble. (Courtesy Austin Sound)

For more than a decade, The Octopus Project has been experimenting with a unique and abstract pop-inspired brand of electronica. The mixture of minimalism and instrumental complexity that comprises their dense, plodding, and repetitive-yet-so-well-structured songs is remarkably accessible, despite the lack of any sort of traditional vocals, on all but a handful of songs. With liberal use of programmed beats and a proper drum kit, synthesizers and guitars, and Theremins and glockenspiels, The Octopus Project has been incorporating both digital and analogue instruments to extraordinary success, becoming a favorite in their hometown of Austin. Their two full length albums, 2004’s One Ten Hundred Thousand Million, and 2007’s Hello, Avalanche, earned them widespread critical acclaim.

Shortly after extensive touring following their most recent full length release, the band began experimenting with scoring tracks for films. Sitting down and watching shorts from the last seventy years, the band composed accompaniments to the often-psychedelic films. They performed these original soundtracks to sold-out crowds in a well-known art-house theater in Austin, Tex. Driven by the success of this venture and a desire to continue to push the limits of their creativity, The Octopus Project decided to innovate not only musical production, but presentation as well.

Rather than settle for the audio and video equipment that serves as the medium for traditional audiovisual projects, the band opted to manufacture an entirely new approach to multimedia presentation. Utilizing custom electronics and extensive production software, the band wrote and recorded songs to be played on an eight-channel surround sound system. Synchronized with eight visual projections produced by Austin digital artist Wiley Wiggins, the avant-garde multimedia production Hexidecagon was created.

Existing as both an album and a live performance, Hexadecagon (a sixteen sided geometrical figure), saw considerable critical success following its debut performances at the SXSW music and film festival held this past March in Austin. The band played on a stage in a Whole Foods store with eight synchronized projectors aimed overhead, circled by eight surround-sound speakers, with the audience gathered around this audio-visual centerpiece.

The performance was ranked as one of the top five performances of SXSW by USA Today (topping 2009’s favorite far-too-serious Londoners, The XX). The Austin American Statesman also lauded the performance, calling it, “The trippiest, most elaborate thing the Octopus Project have ever done, and that’s a very tall order.” The Octopus Project immediately went to work taking the production on tour.

Culminating in the Oct. 26 release of the album—since mixed by John Congleton, who has worked with R. Kelly, Modest Mouse, St. Vincent, and Explosions in the Sky—the band is currently partway through a month long tour across the United States and Canada, planning to stop just twenty minutes away at the Daniel Street Club in Milford, CT on October 10th. Until about two weeks ago, however, they were scheduled to play in New Haven’s own Café Nine on State Street.

Only a ten-minute walk away from Old Campus, Café Nine is an oft-ignored venue in Yale’s music scene. In the past, it has served as a regular host to shows put on by Manic Productions, a New Haven based booking and promotion company that focuses on underground and indie artists. Manic Productions is responsible for booking band such as Titus Andronicus, Magic Man, and Jenny and Johnny at Toad’s Place; Jukebox the Ghost, Gregory and the Hawk, Maps & Atlases, and Deer Tick a five minute drive away at the Space in Hamden; and Deerhoof, Xiu Xiu, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, and Dinosaur Jr. at the Daniel Street Club in Milford.

Manic Productions’ owner, Mark Nussbaum revealed in a recent promotional email that, though he had previously been responsible for house promotions, he would no longer be booking shows for Café Nine. Instead, Nussbaum will handle house promotion for the Daniel Street Club in Milford. Whether this may be involved in the change of venue for the Octopus Project show remains unclear. STRFKR, the band co-headlining The Octopus Project’s tour, dropped out of the Café Nine show but no other dates. Nussbaum announced via email shortly afterwards that The Octopus Project would be added to the bill of an already scheduled show at the Daniel Street Club on the same night, featuring We Are Scientists and the two-piece noise-rock band Jerkagram.

The quirky and eccentric California natives We Are Scientists, achieved notable success with their 2005 indie-rock debut With Love and Squalor. They’ve since released three more studio albums, with their latest, Barbara, released early this past June. We Are Scientists have been touring nearly continually since.

It’s unfortunate that such a unique and wonderful concert experience is no longer a short, five-block walk away. It’s even more unfortunate the event was so poorly publicized. It’s hard to criticize Yale for being uninterested in music outside of its walls, because even those who would be interested in making the thirty minute trip have no convenient way of being notified about upcoming shows.

Though Milford is certainly not as easy to get to as State Street, those interested in experiencing a critically lauded and unique concert experience certainly are not without recourse. Milford is less than six dollars and one stop away by train, and the venue directly across the street from the station. Tickets are only twelve dollars, but the show is frustratingly limited to those 21 or older, unless, of course, any underclassmen happen to have any clever solutions of dubious legality.

It’s difficult not to mourn some kind of loss to the Yale music scene. Café Nine deserves more attention for regularly hosting spectacular bands, such as New Zealand’s Ruby Suns later this month, and could have greatly benefited from hosting what will prove to be a spectacular show. I’ll avoid the obvious cliché of pleading for Yale students to be more involved in the New Haven community, as if I could claim to be so cultured. Rather, I’ll ensure that those who choose to make the trip to Milford that they will not be disappointed.

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