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Music Production: The Stem Cell Liberation Front
01/22/2003 The Stem Cell Liberation Front: Live performance at Club Cafe

Announcement
Continuing the Club Cafe After Dark adjunct to the upcoming 100 Bands in 31 Nights festival in January, I also have data on January 22nd's show:

Once again, this will be a late-night thing, starting at 11:00 PM. There's also no cover and there's a half-price menu after 11. Sheesh, what more could you want? How about sets by the following:

8cylinder
Manherringbone
Sugapablo
Powder French
The Stem Cell Liberation Front
and a collective improvisation between the evening's performers

Once again, a hip excursion of Pittsburgh's electronic-based music, and an environment of modern swankerie.

56-58 South 12th Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15203. 412-431-4950.

Report
An even better evening than the last one, although we did have some moments that gave us pause. I came down on my own, and had pretty good parking karma this time, being able to park in the square around the corner from the club. I saw a few people I knew, but no other performers. Given my previous experience, though, I wasn't worried. Powder French showed up, then Russ, Manherringbone, and Ryan. We were missing only 8cylinder, whom I didn't know previously, but when he showed up I knew it was him. Our only problem was...that the band headlining the 7-10:30 slot went long. Very long, actually, and we didn't actually get started until quarter to midnight with 8cylinder's set. As before, we decided that it would be best for the next act to set up during the previous act's set, although with Ryan's expanded drum kit, we also thought it would be best if Ryan set up from the beginning, giving him ample time to get the kit in place.

8cylinder's amped-up (and occasionally hot and twitchy) Gameboy and PC pieces are very interesting and engaging (to my ear, anyway), but in this context, coming on the heels of a loungy rock band that ran late, much of the audience chose to file out rather than stick around for the other acts. Had the previous band ended on time, we would have started at about 10:45-11:00, early enough that some people wouldn't be ready to go home. But 45 minutes or so later, I suspect that a lot of these people felt the evening was over. It was also a very cold night, which may have contributed to people's nesting instincts. 8cylinder did his thing for about 20 minutes, and we lost a fairly significant chunk of audience, sadly. There were some die-hards in the house, however, and during this set we witnessed something that you'd only see with electronic music--an audience member getting up onstage to look over 8cylinder's shoulder and to ask him questions about what he was doing.

Powder French was up next, doing his waves of deep, calming-yet-unsettled ambient noise. The audience largely held steady, although we may have lost a few there. At what felt like it would have been halfway through the set, I was out of the room, and heard the music stop. Over already? Hurrying back in, I learned that the sound guy had moved a monitor to give Ryan more room, and had...unplugged Powder French. His set was involuntarily over. (The sound guy did buy Powder French a drink, which was certainly the right thing to do, but it was unfortunate that his set was cut short.)

Sugapablo took the stage next, and while he had confessed some disenchantment with the emptying room, while he played, people actually came in--and stayed! It was a bit of a gamble having him in the middle rather than be the crowd-friendly face at the beginning, but at least we gained back some people by this point, and the set went well. I took a few shots of him with the digital camera he'd brought (and he'd taken shots of everyone else), and the vibe took a decided upturn.

I helped Manherringbone load onto the stage--in a stroke of inspired planning, he'd assembled all his stuff offstage on a table, and all we had to do was lift it on. His waves of noise were quite engaging, and the audience hung in there. I'd forgotten his incorporation of the microphone and feedback to generate more layers, and I thought these worked very well. Another good set.

Ryan and I were up next. At this remove, I realize that being semi-in-charge of the evening was using some of the energy that I'd been depending upon for musical focus, but at the same time I'd been sticking to drinking water all evening, which balanced it out somewhat. Ryan had had a cocktail, however, and later felt that it blunted his edge a bit. We'd had some brief discussions about the set list in advance--probably the first time we'd ever discussed it before going on--and (surprise!) we couldn't come to any conclusions, and decided just to do some improvs. It was a bit difficult to make decisions about a short set like this one, though. So we launched into the first improv, and while we played well, I didn't feel as though we really took off, probably from a combination of losing that small, marginal percentage of attention that makes a difference. Nonetheless, people seemed to dig what we were doing, and we did two more. Listening back to the recordings, they were all largely dissonant pieces--no really "guitary" pieces like "Blast" or "Tragic Rock Epic," although I certainly played a lot of guitar (mostly through the ring modulator). When we're really on (like at the Quiet Storm show), these can take on a rhythmic complexity and level of engagement that makes them work for people even with the dissonant content. These pieces worked, too, but they didn't quite blossom in the way others have. The fact that we were also playing last, and so late, may also have contributed. There are moments throughout the set that I do like, however, and Russ has said that he particularly liked the last one.

Afterwards, we did have time for a collaborative improv, and this time we had everyone involved, plus Oscillator, who'd come with his PowerBook specifically to join us in the jam. The soundcheck took a little while (or it felt so at the time), but we put in a 12-minute block of ambience, with Ryan contributing most of the rhythmic content. I wasn't sure how that would work, but it did, and it was quite a lot of fun to play. I noticed that Powder French was also using BackToBasics for triggering samples, and it was kind of an interesting challenge to figure out who was making what sound. I wasn't quite sure, given the density, how best to contribute, but finally settled on some shortwave noise, a few speech samples, and some loops of heavily tremolo'd volume swells. As we faded out, I also triggered my "Thank you" speech sample, which the audience--and there was indeed an audience still there--seemed to appreciate.

We broke down our gear, said our goodbyes, and I hung out with Ryan as he took apart the kit. I saw somewhat late that Fredrik of Vampire Nation had come out to see us with a date, and I heard the date talking into a cell phone about having seen me there--she apparently knew me from somewhere, but I unfortunately couldn't place her. But it was very nice of them to show up, and to stay for the whole evening. Later, as Ryan and I began to load out, the bartender called out to me, and let me know that the Pittsburgh Electronic Musicians were being paid...for both nights! Regrettably, someone at some point in the evening had broken a candle and an ashtray, but it didn't result in any tariffs. We split everything equally according to the number of people who played each night, and it was a nice bonus for everyone, particularly as none of us had expected to be paid at all. (At this remove, I still have to pay Powder French and Jeremy Boyle, but they'll be getting their shares soon.) So...a success! Even if Powder French's set came to an abrupt, unintentional end, our experiment in having electronics at Club Cafe seems to have reached an encouraging conclusion. And there may be more! Stay tuned.

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