Kindercore Presents: Expo 2000 Athens
Athens, GA • August 8-12, 2000
Put on by the Kindercore label, this year’s Expo was in celebration of four years and fifty releases, as well as an Athens homecoming for Kindercore. It featured a lot of their own bands, of course, as well as some from their pals at Emperor Norton, in addition to assorted Elephant 6 alumni and friends.
I wasn’t at the last Expo they had, a couple years ago, so I can’t really compare the two. Nor was I entirely sure I was going to be at this one, but when I saw the final list of bands and heard that people were coming from Japan and Europe to attend, I figured I could do my best to make the day drive to Athens.
Getting the time away from work and life is a tricky thing, and for a while, it looked like I might be headed on this journey by myself, but a friend needed a ride to Atlanta and was interested in taking in a couple days of the Expo as well, so Lucy became my traveling companion once again.
We embarked on this trip on a shoestring budget, planning on meeting people. staying on floors, sleeping in the car — whatever it took, really. The important thing was just to get to Athens. After a car ride without air conditioning in the heat, we mutually agreed that budgets are silly when you have credit cards. We’ll just worry about it later.
Cleaning up was refreshing. We actually found our desire to head out to the show once more. Amazing.
The first night was an informal pre-fest affair held at the Ultramod Compound, which was essentially someone’s house which was graciously opened to let a mob of people trample around through it while rock bands made everything all hot and sweaty inside. We missed most of the night (Josh Bloom, the Parcels, the Marble Index), arriving towards the end of Je Suis France’s set. Someone had made a cake with their new CD’s artwork on it. Sweet and tasty!
I went inside for Seasick Crocodile, which is Robbie Lawson from the Boyish Charms playing solo. I had heard songs from both projects before and been less than impressed, so I was totally surprised that I was in love with his set. Simply him with a guitar, it was the presentation and sentiment that bowled me over. I was quick to pick up the tape he had for sale, only to find out later that it was the 3-D Croc tape, which was him being electronic via computer blip-bloop noises. Not the same type of thing at all. Cruel, cruel, I tell you.
I was looking forward to the Wee Turtles, as their new CD on Pitch-A-Tent has gotten a lot of enthused play in the office. They were quite energetic, and pulled it all off nicely. The crowd was loose and into them. They bid farewell to their drummer this night, and allowed him to lead the charge on a Foo Fighters cover, playing guitar and singing. There was some song they had that was on a Contact Records comp from Japan that I wanted to pick up, but the price dissuaded me. Some other time.
So yeah, an odd night. It was nice to be in Athens, an entirely different town, far away from everything that was worrisome back home. It was nice to walk around the Compound and feel an overall feeling of welcome. It was a feeling that stuck around throughout the whole week.
The heat was oppressive the following day, and we sought refuge in a movie theatre for a couple shows, passing the time in air conditioning. Another hotel, pizza, and some relaxing. I ended up at the first night’s show on my own, as my friend wasn’t feeling so good.
I Am the World Trade Center started off the first official night at the 40 Watt. There was a somewhat nervous atmosphere about their set. A few of the Kindercore staff folks are involved, as well as folks from Masters of the Hemisphere, and I get the idea that they don’t play many shows. Musically, they infuse sweet melodies with funky characteristics, making for something both endearing and soulful. Amy’s vocals were atop sweet beats with xylophones and such chiming in here and there. I didn’t figure they’d play their choice cover of the Promise Ring’s “A Picture Postcard” from the Kindercore singles series, but play it they did. I was overjoyed. I’m very happy I got to see them, but I’m also happy I have the two twelve-inches, so I know how they sound when they’re at their prime. They’re supposed to have a full-length soon, which I’m very much looking forward to.
Velma from Switzerland followed. They were an odd bunch, all right. People seemed to either adore them or hate them. Well, at least they came dressed nicely, all gussied up in vests and bow ties, looking like nice boys from the A/V Club. They stood there for about five minutes in complete silence, staring straight ahead. Finally the drummer slowly pressed play on a CD player, starting a background loop playing. The drums joined in a painstakingly slow fashion, just barely a click here and a tap there. Slowly, the music built into an artsy blend of Kraut influences in an experimental pop context. A lot of interesting textures and ideas, both audibly and visually. Between the first song and the second, they lulled me into a trance with some amplified rhythmic lip-smacking, only to make me jump with a sudden scream and a slip into the next song. The singer did some interesting interpretive dance moves. “Fish eye… Round eye… I am… A fish…” still gets stuck in my head, and I can’t help but envision the singer doing his flop-jump dance all the while. And they all stared straight ahead the whole performance. Very interesting.
Velma had four small projector screens set up around the stage that all showed the same film loop, started at different times. Woman’s face pans to a fence, then back to her face. There was a fellow who was manipulating the films as the performance went on, taking one out of circulation at a time and making designs on it. A nice overall delivery.
Easy and Sleeping Flies both sorta lost me. In cases like these, there was a much-attended Ms. Pac-Man game in the back. Easy was organ-drenched ’60s style stuff, while Sleeping Flies took the shimmering Brit-pop approach. I’ve since come to enjoy a Sleeping Flies song on the Kindercore Fifty triple CD comp, but that night it just didn’t click.
DJ Me DJ You didn’t play. Who knows why. No matter, it was time for the Eight Track Gorilla, a nicely placed splash of ridiculousness in the midst of a bunch of indie pop bands. A man in a gorilla suit with a prop guitar singing over eight-track tapes. People either audibly rolled their eyes or rallied around it, and I was totally amongst the latter. I had met a lot of people earlier in the night through mutual approachability and random friendliness, but there’s nothing quite like singing along to the Kinks’ “Apeman” under the direction of a gorilla to break the ice even more. For those who let down their indie guard, it was all smiles and dancing.
Japancakes closed out the night. They’re lulling in a nice, minimalistic way, with lap steel guitar finding a nice groove and exploring it, but I just couldn’t stand and watch them. I wandered about and chatted with people. I met a bunch of people from Wisconsin who were exceptionally nice and ended up being my fest companions and floor hosts later on in the week. There was a decent Florida contingent there, as well. While it was nice to see familiar faces, it was even nicer to make new friends in a very open, smiling atmosphere. There was a pool party organized for the next day, which turned out to be a pleasant time.
Kincaid initiated the Kindercore label, so it was fitting that they get one of the nights started. I haven’t listened to anything from them in a long time, and I was nicely surprised by the sweet melodies, starting the second 40 Watt night off on the exactly right foot. I need to hear more from them.
Babalu filtered psychedelic jams through a variety of other influences, mixing electronics with more organic elements. While it was interesting in theory to watch the sitar mixed with some grooves and beats and watch them work off each other, I couldn’t help but find myself yawning. It just wasn’t what I was in the mood for. It made me tired and bored.
Not to mention that I was waiting for them to be over so I could hurry up and see Tullycraft, one of the bands that clinched it for me that I definitely had to come to this. I missed Crayon (Sean’s old band) in Tampa years ago and I missed Tullycraft in Gainesville, I wasn’t about to miss them again. Were they endearing and delightful? Indeed. They played “8 Great Ways,” “Josie,” and “Superboy And Supergirl,” but not “Pop Songs Your New Boyfriend’s Too Stupid To Know About.” Darling pop songs with rough-hewn edges. The most frustrating thing about their set was that it was cut very short. It seemed like Babalu had all the time in the world, but Tullycraft only had a moment or two. That was rather disappointing. People stood and clapped and yelled for quite a long time, but Sean was forced to just sort of shrug his shoulders as the between-band music was turned on. What can you do?
Kings Of Convenience are a duo from Norway. People later said good things about them, but I heard some depressing atmospheres and headed for the door to explore the neighborhood a bit. It was not a night I really cared to hear anything glum.
I caught parts of the Masters of the Hemisphere’s set. People were having a good time and dancing about, quite enthused. I’ve heard their stuff before, but not enough to recognize much, so I kinda just stood and absorbed them. Really nice, clean pop songs with a very funny and personable (drunk?) presence. It was one of those times that I wished I knew a little more so I could enjoy it as much the folks around me were. No matter, what I heard I enjoyed a great deal.
The Essex Green and Of Montreal were two more bands that helped draw me here. Both were even better than I had hoped for. The Essex Green had lots of instrument switching going on, resulting in countryside indie pop with flute, melodica, organs, violin, and coed vocals. Simply nice. Of Montreal was more of a production, although not as elaborate as the tales I’d heard told. Still, there were costumes, skits with pre-recorded narration, props, and playfulness wrapped together with their surreal songs. Part kids story gone Yellow Submarine, part bouncing giddy indie pop. A wholly enjoyable spectacle. They did a wonderful job in showing us their world.
A late night drive to Atlanta ensued, as I had to drop Lucy off at her relatives’ place. I was essentially saying goodbye, as she was then flying to New Jersey to live for a while. It’s never easy to say goodbye to one of your best friends.
That was the mood I was in when I made it back to Athens. I missed From Bubblegum to Sky (if they even played…?) and came in during the Four Corners, a garagey sort of band fronted by baker extraordinaire Tracy, who was responsible for all the cookies and yummy treats at the merch table. I don’t really remember Great Lakes any more than I enjoyed them. Their album is fantastic ’60s/’70s pop and they played it well on stage, but I was sort of out of it that night. Richard Davies cancelled at the last minute. The five piece VHS Or Beta looked very swank in their matching blue jumpsuits. They suffered from technical problems but persevered, laying down some nice dance beats via wah-wah guitars, keyboard, and electronic drums that foreshadowed the dance party later that night.
It was rumored that because of Richard Davies’ cancellation that there might be time to squeeze in another Tullycraft set, but for whatever reason that didn’t come to pass.
The last band scheduled for the night was From U 2 S. The fiasco began with a documentary video about the band, and it turned out this was much in the vein of Making The Band. They were assembled through a process of elimination. This time, the members that didn’t make the cut formed a rival band (N 2 Her), ultimately crashing From U 2 S’s performance and blowing them off the stage. From U 2 S did a mutated version of Unrest’s “Makeout Club,” while N 2 Her kicked it to Pavement’s “Summer Babe.” A very well done mockery, complete with boy band dance moves, rip-away pants, and an amusing storyline.
The late night dance party took place at the Quality Warehouse, a couple doors down. England’s Electronic Watusi Boogaloo collective and NYC’s DJ Daniel Collas took care of the beats for a crowd of dance happy people. My favorites were the sets of old funk and soul. It lasted until around four or so.
The final day, and there was a vegetarian barbecue planned behind the Above Bookstore, with free eats provided by the wonderfully generous Kindercore folks. Tracy again proved her culinary skills, this time on the grill. It was nice to sit around and eat and meet interesting people. Inside the bookstore/coffee shop, the masked band Taking Robots to the Prom eventually took the stage, with their theme song, an appropriated “Popcorn” with their name sung over it repeatedly. Then it was time for their “soundscapes.” And time for a few more hours of poking around Athens.
Summer Hymns got a lot of fuss made over them the next night, yet it was another band I sorta blanked out to. C.A.R. (Call And Response) from California followed with confident stylings hearkening back to the ’60s and ’70s. Nice vocal melodies and joy-filled, breezy, bubbly pop songs. I ran for a bite to eat, which resulted in missing the entire Marshmallow Coast set, which I was really looking forward to. I was informed that I could kill myself now and that it sucks to be me when I got back. Ah, well. The food and company was good, so I’ll leave it at that. I never was much on killing myself anyhow.
Texas’ own sockhop powerhouse trio Junior Varsity came out, dressed appropriately in full school uniforms. Their mascot, Bippy The Bear joined them halfway through their set and danced about. Nothing like watching a giant bear dance about to jangly, punchy ’50s styled pop songs about ice cream, rock ‘n roll, and boyfriends. Bippy and the Eight Track Gorilla ought to rumble. JV were quite self-deprecating about being the least talented band there, and they did have a messy time of it, but where they’re loose, they more than make up for it in fun.
Dressy Bessy was a fitting band to follow, and were in top form. They played favorites such as “Jenny Come On” and “If You Should Try to Kiss Her.” There were a lot of new songs, as well. We have good things to look forward to from this polished, jangly band.
Birdie traveled from London to be here. They sound like they’ve been transplanted directly from the early ’70s, missing all that’s gone on musically in the years since. Not a bad thing at all.
Closing out the festival was the much anticipated live debut of Bill Doss of Olivia Tremor Control’s new band, the Sunshine Fix. One of the dangers of looking forward to something too much is the danger of being disappointed by it. I heard mixed reactions about the set. Some people were suitably impressed while others, such as myself, sorta wandered away. I can’t exactly put my finger on why, but it just didn’t interest me much. I really adore the song “Ordinary Extraordinary” from the Kindercore Fifty comp, so it’s entirely possible that it’s the fault of my own expectations that I didn’t enjoy this. From what I’ve heard since, it’s a nice, if odd, blend of jangly country and soul influence. With luck, I’ll see them again once I’m properly schooled in their songs.
There were a lot of awesome bands that played that week, but they wouldn’t have meant anything if the people hadn’t been so incredibly nice, from the Kindercore staff themselves to the Athens business owners I met to the fest attendees and bands. If everyone who attended the Expo actually lived in Athens, I would move there in a heartbeat. Sometimes the atmosphere makes all the difference.
For more info, visit http://www.kindercore.com.