Photo: Ross Figlerski
The Knockdown Center is a tragically underutilized venue in New York City, but the schlep out there is worth it. The space is huge by the city’s metrics, meaning that no matter who’s on the bill, you’ll have plenty of room. The venue is home to some of the most experimental acts within its city limits. Prior to this weekend’s Brooklyn Electronic Music Festival (BEMF), I had attended a celebration of noise called “Drone Activity in Progress” featuring Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth fame. It was the kind of event that comes with free earplugs at the door. Knockdown is also the appropriate venue to host some of the more strange acts of BEMF.
Kicking things off is Ramzi, who leads a lo-fi chanting set with Eastern-influenced beats. She triggers samples with an M-Audio keyboard and warbles into a reverb-drenched microphone every now and then, but the performance feels a bit half-baked. The set languishes by exploring the same territory of sounds, though there are moments when the music eases into a rather pleasant groove. These are contemplative times, where my eyes wander to Knockdown’s industrial space and high, arched ceiling, but also to the other concert attendees. One of the most striking among them is a short-haired woman dressed in traditional Japanese style martial arts garb. She keeps stretching, at one point descending into a full split as if limbering up for a fight. I write “ninja” in my notes and go for a drink in the next room.
Returning with fresh libation in hand, to my surprise the ninja has taken the stage. This is Deradoorian, former member of Dirty Projectors. In the time it took to buy a beer, the audience has gone into chill out mode, reclining on the cold floor. Deradoorian has seated herself on the stage in front of a vintage Juno 60 for a slowly evolving synth drone set. In the middle, she brings out a flute, juxtaposing the gritty bass of the synthesizer with the woodwind’s pure treble. Midway through the set, the music fades for more reverb vocals, this time with a poem describing some sort of blade.
Did I create the blade, or did it appear?
How very gentle I must be.
No one else can hold my blade.
It came from the night
It shines in the night.
Deradoorian begins processes her words, creating a sound collage of her live voice that reverses and loops in on itself, then chants along to a recording of herself singing, adding to the prerecorded chorus of voices.
The headliner of the night, Breadwoman, contains a seated woman shrouded in a veil onstage, along with two other band members sitting off to the side. Loaves of bread are spread across the stage, creating a strange ceremonial space. The musicians of Breadwoman take turns processing electronics and amplifying objects like sticky masking tape in microphones. The woman underneath the veil, energized by the sounds, comes to life. Across thirty minutes, the woman gyrates and cavorts, eventually taking off her veil to reveal a challah bread mask, a female version of the elephant man. Taking center stage, the breadwoman cradles a loaf of bread and pulls colored feathers out of it. Whoever was under there clearly has a performance art background, as each movement is purposeful, enacted with gestural smoothness. Of special note is that tonight, Knockdown features a woman performer majority, Breadwoman containing the only male of the night.
The Fest as a Whole
Festivals are most successful when they are sampled. Bouncing around various venues to sample a bit of everything is the preferred way to see a ton of artists in a short amount of time. Unfortunately, the logistics BEMF are a bit flawed. While there are a few venues clustered together in Williamsburg, other participating spaces are simply too far apart to make going to several feasible. Once you’re at Analog or at Trans-Pecos, you’re pretty much there for the night. This is no doubt due to the closing of some iconic venues in recent years, but others have sprouted up. National Sawdust and Issue Project Room may provide space in the future, particularly for more experimental, less danceable acts. Schimanski’s is also alive and well in the old Verboten space, yet likely provided a logistical difficulty for the organizers this year as it just reopened only a few weeks ago.
Nevertheless, all electronic music fans rejoice when a collection of accessible as well as eclectic acts arrives to the city for two full weekends. If the sweaty faces on the dance floor are any indicator, the event is greatly appreciated.
Find out more about the Brooklyn Electronic Music Fest.