The 48 Hour Music Festival
free online release
Click to hear: “Never Give You Space” by Snack Island
To borrow a concept from This Modern World cartoonist Tom Tomorrow, on Parallel Earth — in Parallel Portland, to be exact — people pack a downtown club almost every week to hear sets of original music composed and rehearsed over the course of just two days by musicians grouped together at random. It’s called the 48 Hour Music Festival. Once a year, a smaller crowd gathers for the Clash of the Titans, in which local players pretend to be big-name acts and “battle” one another over who can do the best cover songs.
Alas, in the Portland we actually inhabit, the opposite is the case. Though it resulted in immensely more interesting music than the weekly Clashes, the 48 Hour Music Festival is only an annual affair.
The first Fest, held last year, was exhaustively documented on digital video and released as 48 Hour Music Festival: The Movie. The first 45 minutes of the doc are deathly boring. The process of watching 28 musicians, formed into six bands by random draw, try to figure out what to play together is much like the proverbial visit to a hot dog factory, and there are far too many shots of guys hauling amps around. But the footage of the culminating concert, held at SPACE Gallery in February, is marvelously entertaining, and the DVD offers each group’s entire set as a bonus feature.
Several of the impromptu groups formed that winter played additional gigs together, and all of them went into Acadia Recordings last year to make studio versions of material written for the Fest. Released last month, the six EP-length recordings constitute one of the best local music compilations ever produced in Portland.
The Ways of Man made some wonderfully weird music together. You’d expect nothing less from a group that includes former members of Cult Maze, Cerberus Shoal, Seekonk and Conifer. (Conifer guitarist Zack Howard also designed the great cover art for all six online EPs.)
The luck of the lot put four punk/metal players together as Knocked Up By Wolves. Their six-song studio effort, Howl at the Womb, compares favorably to most other local hard-rock releases I’ve heard over the past 10 years — not bad for a couple days’ work.
Mexicutioner added indie-rock guitarist Josh Loring and multi-instrumentalist Todd Hutchisen to a heavy core dominated by screamer/guitarist Candy of the doom-metal band Ocean. Loring’s playing tends to get lost in the maelstrom that ensues, but he and Hutchisen give the collaboration some brighter, stranger shades that leaven the heaviness.
Another fun Frankenstein the Fest created is Snack Island. “Escape From Snack Island” is basically a Gully song, and a great one, at that (Gully singer/guitarist Oscar Romero takes the lead here). On the danceable pop of “Never Give You Space,” it’s refreshing to hear Melynda Amann freed from the gloom of her regular band, By Blood Alone. “I’ll never give you space,” she belts out, followed by the fellas (Romero, Vince Nez and Stu Gurley) shouting in response, “Give me back my shit!” All four of their tracks are catchy and remarkably well-formed.
Vicious Blow is the biggest surprise to result from this musical experiment. Other than ensuring musicians who already played together didn’t end up in the same group, festival organizer Leif Sherman Curtis didn’t set any other parameters. Thus it was possible to get a band like Vicious Blow, a quintet comprised of three drummers and two guitarists. It’s highly unlikely that local players ever would have conceived such a band on their own. Forced to do so, Vicious Blow made it work, and then some.
Drummers Jason Stewart, Mike Anderson and Andrew Barron synch-up to great effect on all three tracks here, just as they did live. The central piece, “Brahmhall [sic] Stomp,” sandwiches doom between sections defined by an angular, King Crimson-style guitar line from Nathaniel Meiklejohn, while guitarist Riean Gillespie adds a metallic edge. (Crimson’s era as a “double trio” of two guitarists, two bassists and two drummers may have inspired this approach).
The second annual 48 Hour Fest culminates with a show at SPACE on March 6. There’s an entirely new pool of musicians this time, though as with the first Fest, most are drawn from the heavy side of the scene. Expect similarly enlightening results.
— Chris Busby
The second annual 48 Hour Music Festival takes place at SPACE Gallery, 538 Congress St., Portland, at 9 p.m. Tix: $10 (18+). To hear and download studio recordings by the first Fest’s groups, free of charge, visit 48hourmusicfestival.bandcamp.com.