Images: Aaron Bradley Photo & Jason Meyers
Soundtribe Sector 9 have been pioneers in the live dance music landscape for over twenty years, breaking down the doors of what was conceivable, and setting the proverbial bar for instrumental electronic music. In their wake, an entire culture has come together; two-plus generations of bands, DJ/Producers, artisans, dreamers and dancers have carved an indelible imprint on live electronic fusion.
Enter the folks at Euphonic Conceptions, in conjunction with Denver’s Cervantes, who had the good sense to throw a party to recognize, celebrate, and embolden this band and their community with a four-day festival in the sleepy Nor Cal environs of Belden Town. As such, Wave Spell Live was born, and a tiny, picturesque village on the North Fork Feather RIver enveloped STS9’s seismic soundwaves and the massive that moves to their beat. Not without a few beginner’s hiccups, the event over-delivered on the epic, propelling the host band to new heights unforeseen by even their most ardent supporters.
The Soundtribe Sector 9 musical diaspora is a wonder, it is a culture unto itself. From scene OGs like edIT and Ooah of The Glitch Mob, Richard Devine, and Prefuse73, to more recent sons of the 9 like Modern Measure, SunSquabi, Yak Attack or even an MZG or Naudible, it was astonishing. We peeled away the layers to step inside of their universe, going back to halcyon days up until this very moment in time. The entire event was a celebration of how STS9 has informed and influenced generations of artists and fans, and carved their own niche and wavelength for two decades. Wave Spell Live was in essence a living organism, a lineup that encapsulated the Soundtribe cultural family tree, through both musical programming and its collective vibration.
Whether it be the freedom of the Wave Spell sessions themselves, or the band reflecting on their kaleidoscopic journey, STS9 stepped onstage with a humble authority, and played their music like a band reborn. After years of keeping my finger on the pulse of their patient ascent, admittedly as a fan I’d lost touch with them some time ago. Like several others with whom I’d discovered the revelation that was Sector 9 at (and beyond) the millennium, I had moved onto other avenues of electronic exploration and live musical excursion. Yet I’d never forgotten just why they’d sparked a fuse with us so many moons ago, and longed to meet them back on sacred grounds. It just so happens that Belden Town, CA turned out to be that particular parcel of holy land.
Wave Spell Live was more than just a reminder of that flame, it was a freaking homecoming- for the band, and their community. The kinetic energy and focus on display manifested in the most consistently spirited playing I’d enjoyed from them in 14 years. These guys are true artists and their integrity shines thru in song, they have soldiered through the abyss and came out the other side maybe more vibrant than ever.
Rather than critique or analyze the performances, I’d prefer to let the art speak for itself, and to be honest, the overwhelmingly joyful fan response to each musical journey told the tale. The Wave Spell Live improv sets allowed the band to really explore the inner canals of their creative selves, and these offerings of their righteous intention astounded all in attendance. There are countless new songs embedded in the ideas that were revealed from the band, and the electricity that pulsated between David Phipps (Keys), Zach Velmer (drums), Jeffree Lerner (percussion), Alana Rocklin (bass), and Hunter Brown (guitar) was palpable to all who stood before them, all weekend long. Wave Spell has served as more than merely rejuvenation, it sounds like revolution and rebirth.
The band members equally shared the spotlight throughout the nine sets, the spirit of selflessness alive and well within their otherworldly performances. Lighting director Tiberious George Benson took a patient approach, steadily building an optical kingdom that’s majesty peaked on their final set.
The musical highlights are far too many to catalog, but a cursory run through: the “New Dawn, New Day > Mischief” with a transition for the ages. An all-time take on “Frequencies 2 -3”, the detour through Freddie Hubbard’s timeless “Red Clay”, the bubonic dub stylings of “King Pharoah’s Tomb”, the Saturday night ethereal elegance and primordial fury of “Surreality > EB > Orbital > Move My Peeps.” Longtime friend, EDM superstar Dom Lalli (Big Gigantic) blessed up a transcendent “Grow”, before returning to close out the Sector 9 performances with “Breathe In > 986 ft Tall Trees.”
The second Wave Spell session, affectionately dubbed “STSDevine,” and the final Wave Spell transmission, which was, quite simply, a band beyond description. If anyone wondered if Sector 9 could summon the unparalleled dopeness of the early days, while still burrowing forward on a search for new land, those questions were answered in the affirmative, in rhythms and language that everybody present could easily understand.
There was an assortment of phenomenal performances that bracketed the Sector 9 magic, Euphonic Conceptions did a tremendous job putting together a cohesive weekend of entertainment. As for the festival at large, there were a few hiccups, be it the egress of getting in and out of the venue via shuttle, or some VIP snafus that disappointed a few folks. Like any new gathering of it’s kind, there’s always a lot of room for improvement. At Wave Spell Live II (if?…), there certainly needs to be more food vendors, and they must stay open. I’d give the promoters props for the excellent selection of vendors, a wide variety of cultural wares from inspired artisans including (but not limited to) Lost Sailor Leather Designs, or Light Sound Dimension.
It’s clear that Euphonic Conceptions made a solid decision in bringing in Phil Salvaggio and the Pretty Lights production team, because things appeared to roll along swimmingly, and the bands and DJs were sounding crisp and clear all weekend long. The exquisite floral arrangements created by longtime Tribe collaborator Anthony Ward were the perfect accompaniment to these fantastic voyages. The village of Belden Town was not only a quaint host for such a gathering, but this isn’t their first rodeo. Throw in the river action, and the scene was almost perfect.
What the festival did nail unequivocally, was the incredible musical programming. Again, there were too many highlights to recount, but we’ll spotlight a few that really broke through to and made an indelible impact on many.
The Daybreak Stage was located at the river banks and beach, and this area hosted the daytime hangs, in a state of sunshine and bliss. A humongous floatie party broke out for about five hours each afternoon, while DJs like Megan Hamilton, Pruitt, and Maddy O’Neal dropped beach-rockin’ beats in the afternoon sun. Friday afternoon saw the burgeoning MZG torch the beach stage with an electrifying blend of styles, from ratchet trap to funky house, and these twins have got a gang of mojo too.
Likely our favorite performance at the beach was not musical, but instead comedic. As part of the Wokes With Jokes comedy hour, headliner Brett Siddell had just about the entire riverbank party collectively clutching their gut as the longtime STS9 fan channeled the “unhinged dude at the show” with reckless aplomb. I would definitely buy a ticket to watch Siddell rock a comedy club proper, this guy has some real stand-up potential. STS9 drummer Zach Velmer played the final beach set Sunday, a solo DJ session that saw him call his adorable daughter Isis to the stage, where she took control and melted every heart on site.
“Zach Velmer once told me to “dream it up” in regards to making my hopes for Lettuce and Break Science become a reality. And its working.” Adam Deitch, Break Science/Lettuce/BAAD Quartet
Two of the strongest sets of the weekend featured the members of Break Science, Adam Deitch (drums) and Borahm Lee (keys). Midday Sunday, they took to the Voyager Stage as part of the BAAD Quartet, including Alana Rocklin (bass) and Lalli (sax). This was merely the second performance for this quasi-supergroup, having played a Colorado art gallery once earlier this summer. Deitch drove the train but Lee colored the paintings with classic Rhodes voicings. Early in the set, an ambitious “Freedom Jazz Dance” set the tone, as STS9’s Jeffree Lerner sat in and pushed Deitch to really stir the pot, the two of them connecting with a spirited dialogue. Lerner left after a few songs (he sat in with several artists over the weekend), and the quartet continued to forward classic trad jazz tunes, all of them older than the players themselves. A double shot of Herbie Hancock sent us off to the main stage, as a luscious “Butterfly” and rollicking “Cantaloop Island” were the tasty toppings on a dreamy jazz session.
“It was cool to be playing instrumental jazz based music at an electronic music festival. I liked the fact that we were able to give the audience something different that weekend.” Borahm Lee
For the very last set of the festival, late Sunday at four in the morning, Break Science took the stage with turntablist extraordinaire Chris Karns in tow. This unholy conglomerate has performed together in a variety of settings, not the least of which is during each of their stints in different incarnations of Pretty Lights’ live bands. Respectfully, this session was light years away from what they may have done before; I believe we were blessed with Break Science’s finest hour. The addition of Karns, a 2011 DMC world champion, unlocked a new portal for Deitch and Lee to explore. I shit you not when asserting that this was their best performance, and the soundsystem held their low end just right, while allowing for the crunkalogic impact to be received unabated.
The trio focused on classic Break Science material, along with new joints from the recently released LP Grid of Souls. They invited Josh Fairman, bassist of Sunsquabi (and Colorado kin) onstage, and proceeded to deliver a cacophonous take on Herbie Hancock & the Headhunters classic “Watermelon Man.” This cataclysmic drop was nothing short of a thunderclap, and propelled this Break Science set into the stratosphere. Karns and Deitch went toe-to-toe on some hip-hop shit, a scratch and drum routine, while Borahm Lee had the freedom to really color the canvas, revealing textures and emotional melodies. Speaking as somebody who’s thoroughly enjoyed Break Science’s decade-long ascent from the first few rows, this performance represented a new frontier for the duo, and the message is clear. Just Add Karns.
“I’ve looked up to Adam and Borahm for a long time and to be able to have musical conversation with such great musicians was pure bliss”. Josh Fairman
The assortment of invited bands really showed up and showed out, all of them delivering thoroughly engaging sets to an audience admittedly primed for Sector 9. Thursday night, 1320 Records’ faves Modern Measure, who have a long and storied connection to Tribe, satiated the masses with some help from Jeffree, dropping jams from their (now) just released album Cold Enough for Fire. Later in the weekend, Portland, OR phenoms Yak Attack bombarded Wave Spell Live with two ragers, including a sunrise set on Saturday morning that made believers out of all who soldiered through til dawn.
However the band that this writer was most impressed with was Colorado’s Sunsquabi, a trio that has evolved by leaps and bounds since I last checked in with them at Hulaween 2016. The band is clearly influenced by Tribe, yet it was crystal clear over the course of their three sets that this band has established it’s own identity; they can do the livetronica thing proper, and in their own voice. On Saturday night, Sunsquabi got the handoff immediately after the Sector 9’s space vessel landed, and these boys took it to the house. A seamless transition indeed, these young Jedis proceeded to give us all hope for the future. Over the course of three sets, Sunsquabi made us all believers, cruising in and out of screaming jam rock, bombastic beats, jazzy jungle, breakbeat, and a plethora of points between. Take a bow, fellas. And grab some shades.
Michal Menert and Richard Devine, both of the Soundtribe family tree in one way or another, delivered solid tweener sets on the main stage as the host band took setbreaks. Edit and Ooah of The Glitch Mob performed separate sets back to back at the late night Voyager Stage. Edit came correct in a major way, dropping cacophonous bass, trap, and elements of hip hop, leaning toward the old school. Ooah traveled in time back to 2008, and delivered a mind-numbing, body-throbbing adventure through primitive Euro dubstep. The two teamed up for a short set of Glitch Mob classics, ending with a heartwarming story and tribute to STS9’s influence on their career and a final song, “Beyond Right Now”, a Tribe song remixed by The Glitch Mob.
Prefuse73 battled through monitor issues to forward a progressive mindfuck like we’ve come to expect. Ideas and samples flying in every direction, time changes and glitched-out themes coloring way outside the lines. An-ten-nae was somewhat of a surprise booking for this event, but the man who gave us Medicine Crunk and Dimond Saints did not disappoint, dropping DNA cuts among luscious solo edits in the dead of night. The prodigal son CharlestheFirst proceeded to let everybody know what the freaking fuss is about, offering both a tweener Dragon City set, and a celestial sunrise session as his alter-ego .Hawk.
After Soundtribe finished on Sunday, the last of their nine epic sets ringing out into the night, Sunsquabi took the Voyager Stage and predictably, went yard for the third and final time. Repping Chi-Town-by-way-of-Minnesota, rising phenom Manic Focus then took over the decks, and his funky-fresh spins on classic pop songs were a window into what’s possible when blending samples and live instrumentation. Borahm Lee joined in for a few songs, lending synth and Rhodes to the MF equation. John “JmaC” McCarten is the man called Manic Focus, and it’s his keen knack for the ill flip and bangin’ break that separates this dude from other mash-up DJ/Producers. He clearly understands pop culture and has a love for hip-hop; his ability to translate that passion through original ideas is exactly why he’s exploding on the scene.
The STS9 community that came together was an altogether positive one, primarily selfless, and certainly silly. The cozy confines of Belden Town and the North Fork Feather River, the wonders of nature made for one hell of a host, and the beach parties on the banks were some good, old-fashioned floatie-fun in the sun. This environment is pretty ideal for an intimate music festival, and the Tribe tribe treats one another with dignity and respect. If this collective were to be the future of psychedelic music communities, we’re in good shape.
Some thoughts from a few artists who were compelled to share them:
“The members STS9 have been longtime friends and a group I have looked up to, especially in terms of how they organize and connect with their fan base. They are innovators and pioneers in our music scene, musicians that paved the way for the bands that I play with.” Borahm Lee, Break Science/BAAD Quartet
“Wave Spell was so special. The bands and the crowd seamlessly mingled, and the vibe was at an all time high. Watching Soundtribe play before we went on was inspirational. They are on another level, as far as musical communication and live electronic improv goes. They made us really dig deep and take chances, and I think it worked out.” Josh Fairman, Sunsquabi
“STS9 has created their own community of fans and also helped launch the careers of artists like Pretty Lights and others who got to open for them over the years. They are purely instrumental, and their fanbase digs that. Their influence runs deep in the modern touring music community, and on top of that, they are extremely cool people that deserve all their success.” Adam Deitch, Break Science/BAAD Quartet
“We came up here for our little experiment. I think it went pretty great! We got to make stuff up, and play a bunch of new ideas for you guys. The vibes were good, the river was really special. We are grateful that you (the fans) gave us the space, so we could do this, and we did it together.” Jeffree Lerner, STS9
Soundtribe Sector 9 Wave Spell Live Setlists
Set: [Wave Spell I]: Improv
Set I: Firewall, Water Song, Enceladus> Pianoir Pt. 2 > Frequencies DnB > Frequencies 2 > Frequencies 3, This, Us, Be Pulse, WTDS Reprise, Wave Spell
Set II: Sun, Moon, & Stars, King Pharoah’s Tomb, Rent > Red Clay (Freddie Hubbard) > Rent, New Dawn, New Day > Mischief of a Sleepwalker, Menacer, Hidden Hand, Hidden Fist
Set III [Wave Spell II]: Improv w/ Richard Devine
Set I: The Rabble > Call Jam > Vibyl > Call Jam > You’re It, Worry No More, Balancing > MOD, Wilder > Blu Mood
Set II: Surreality > EB > Orbital > Move My Peeps, Strange Games, Presence of Light, Dance > Inspire Strikes Back
Encore: Luma Daylight > Tokyo
Set I [Wave Spell III] : Improv
Set II: Vapors > Only Light Remains > Vapors, Love Don’t Terrorize, 20-12$ > Dragon City, Light Years 2 > ROYGBIV* > Grow^
Set III: The Paint > Monkey Music, Get Loud, F. Word, Shock Doctrine, Rise Above, Get Loud > Hubble
Encore: Breathe In^, 986 Ft Tall Trees^
^ Ft. Dominic Lalli of Big Gigantic on Sax