Keiji Haino + Sumac at Astoria

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Keiji Haino and Sumac have been collaborating since 2017 resulting in Thrill Jockey’s release of material, American Dollar Bill - Keep Facing Sideways, You're Too Hideous To Look At Face On, a double LP comprising of five tracks. It is a sweeping and chaotic project that merges the fearless improvisation of the experimental master with the slow and heavy, avant-gard approach to heavy music that makes up Sumac.

Fittingly, the night was rounded out with the addition of two collaborations providing support. The first, Holzkopf + Botfly, a duo that have been collaborating off and on since at least 2013. Holzkopf uses cassettes and noise from cheap, broken sequencers and pedals to create jagged soundscapes while Botfly accompanied with live drums. The set was relaxed and fluid with both members obviously attuned to playing together. It was a set taking place on the dance floor of the Astoria, something I don’t see very often anymore. Performance-wise, they lent themselves to a more striking and layered sound especially with the punctuated anti-rhythms. The drums provided a reference of an anchor that might have been holding things down if it wasn’t flying around the room in a daze. Holzkopf oftens works within industrial and somewhat more traditional electronic genres so this was a bit different from what I’ve personally heard in their recorded output. Whereas on a recorded track, there is some amount of almost danceability, this was like reading multiple pages of straight punctuation with most characters being exclamation points.

After 20-30 minutes it was JS Aurelius and The Nausea’s time to present at a table in front of the stage. In one moment an explosion of harsh noise blasts full-force from the speakers while footage of a wildfire devastating homes and hillsides rages on a screen just behind them. As both of them operate an array of scathing sounds and filters in front, the backdrop paints a claustrophobic picture of climate destruction, nature in crisis. The words of a million news stories you’ve read in disgust and then promptly shrugged off are strobed across the screen like a nightmare-mode, room-sized, dream machine and then the video stopped while the scathing distortion and bending airwaves remained attacking for one minute and then two minutes. And then video continues, this time showing a bird of prey tearing at the corpse of an unknown animal as the unheeded warnings and signs of collapse continued across the screen in rapid fire succession. JS Aurelius and The Nausea presented the death-throe of the natural world in stereo and visceral sound. The visions of Gaspar Noé if applied to human folly.

As Keiji Haino and Sumac takes the stage, the aura around him takes shape: His ever-present long and white hair, black overcoat and dark sunglasses help to hide the fact that he’s in his 70’s. Far from frail, he commands the band in brief, animated hand signals in what was a mostly improvised set. The band was back-lit and dark with an attentive audience hanging on to every pick- scrape or guitar manipulation Haino incorporated. Though the improvisation kept things fresh, the precision and deliverance of each sound is deliberate, as if he himself had planned those moments ahead of time. Sumac are actors or extensions and he allows their improvisation so far as it fits the tone of the performance. Aside from some gripping vocals from Aaron Turner in one or two spots in the set, the vocals were handled by Haino. The set was expectantly loud but not as abrasive as the previous collaboration that night. Moments of clarity opened through discordant guitars that were not yet layered in the waiting distortions and echos. Essentially, Keiji Haino + Sumac are not set out to use one version of sound to create their atmosphere. The collaboration isn’t even necessarily coming from some place dark. It’s coming from a desire to create something real. In the most vocally prevalent moment of the night Haino called for politeness and kindness as important traits to create beauty and to shake negativity while the band backed him in feedback and texture. It was a refreshing night and a special performance. And judging from the room mic placement at the back of the dance floor, I am assuming that there will be a presentation of it released in some kind of format in the future. Something i’m sure more than a few attendees can look forward to.
-Josh

All photos taken by Josh Nickel. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to take photos of the opening acts because the lighting issues were so poor on the floor. Quiet City presented Keiji Haino and Sumac. This was the second time Quiet City brought Keiji Haino to Vancouver.