(Los Angeles) Unnoticed among the handwringing over the consolidation within the music industry, particularly the merging of production companies, venues and radio and TV outlets is another phenomenon that bodes well for artists as well as fans: the creation of online music-travel-style magazines/festival and producers and even PR agencies. In LA that role is being filled by Gypset Magazine which is also producing and promoting the emerging genre, American Latino Music at venues like Los Globos. Nationally, Culture Collide, has surfaced as the powerful creative force in this space. Established in 2014, Culture Collide is the brainchild of Alan Miller, co-founder of FILTER magazine, and it’s influence was on full display in the tightly produced and ebulliently joyful Culture Collide LA2015 festival this past weekend.
Culture Collide was well organized, inexpensive and very fan and band friendly, held in six venues concentrated in Echo Park, but also spilling into the newly remodeled Regent Theater in DTLA for a night of mainland Chinese indie bands. Miller and his team and volunteers rolled out a first-class hospitality mat and made everyone feel welcome and comfortable, despite 95 degree heat. And they successfully managed the logistics of bringing artists from over twenty countries, each playing two or three sets at different times in different venues to give fans an opportunity to catch at least one act by each band that intrigued them most.
And there was much to be intrigued about. Culture Collide gets five stars for curating the music: all thrillers and no fillers. While the acts ranged from South LA costume rap to Israeli Celtic to good old fashioned high octane rock and roll from Columbia, each was superb. Add in good sound systems, easy access to food (some free – loved the Thai meat pies in the Champaign room!) and laid-back security and you have a template for how to put on a music showcase festival.
Many of the acts were emerging or new to the US market, although some like double Grammy nominated Diamente Electrico and New Zealand platinum artist Ladyhawke (now based in LA) are headliners in their own right. The organizers drew bands from Hungary, the US, Australia, Columbia, China, Korea, the Netherlands, France, Israel, Italy, Belgium, Argentina and Norway – a passport and visa puzzle that the Collide staff gets props for solving.
The venues were intimate to medium-sized, which allowed fans and bands to mingle and everyone had a good seat (or dance spot). They included, besides the Regent in DTLA, the venerable Echoplex, TAIX restaurant, The Champaign Room inside TAIX, the Church and the Lot 1 Café. A well-attended outdoor fair was held on Saturday in the parking lot of TAIX for indie labels to market their albums and services, flanked by food trucks. Everything was in walking or Uber distance, and the $20 wristband enabled fans to attend any act in any venue at any time, except for the Chinese indies downtown.
Given the number of acts and venues spread over three days, time constraints focused us on those that intrigued us the most. Specifically, Niki Blitz: a high energy pop rock band from LA, Maya Johanna, an astonishing Celtic pop balladeer from Israel, the hot rock group Diamente Electrico from Columbia, Hungary’s awesome indie rock group The Moog, and Australia’s high Octane rock-rapper TUKU. Sadly, we missed the panel discussion with industry leaders but we were able to catch several of the local bands, like Vim Dicta, Koreatown Oddity (odd, but not Korean), and the big alt rock Canadian group, Library Voices, famous for their sexy covers and album inserts.
By far, the highlight for me was the set by Diamente Electrico on Saturday. The four piece band from Columbia was raised on rock n roll and decided that they loved the music so much that they were not going to wait for a label or manager or promoter, but just took off and did what they loved. The result is a nuclear-powered old fashioned rock and roll that garnered two Latin Grammy nominations this year and blew away the Culture Collide venues they played in. I saw them in the Taix Lounge, equipped with a high quality sound system and am now a permanent fan. The five songs they belted out, one from their album Diamente Electrico and four new ones, were the heart of rock and roll with Latin jet fuel added. They will be back; they spent Sunday at the venerable Village Studios in Santa Monica recording a new album, and of course we will see them for the craziness surrounding the Latin Grammys.
Friday night we were mesmerized by Maya Johanna, a tall, lithe, pop-folk balladeer from Israel. On stage with a superb guitarist, and a floor tom, she created a Celtic rock dream, sometimes soft and longing, other times hard and syncopated. We could not take our eyes or ears off of her as her notes swirled in the lounge. She was followed by Peter Henry Phillips from Canada, country with a twist; a soaring voice and an attack style of guitar playing that added to the urgency of his music. He was an excellent introduction to the alt rock group from France, Yard of Blondes, which featured the feverish electric guitarist Justin Fremont, high octane vocalist Vincent Jacob (whose guitar chops are equally awesome), the steady hand of Fanny Hill on the bass, adding her beautiful voice to the backup vocals with Ben Lecourt keeping the whole thing rocketing along on the drums.
Saturday started off with the explosive, high energy American band The Vim Dicta, shifted to Koreatown Oddity – a good but somewhat casual African-American rapper wearing a werewolf head, Nicky Blitz and his frenetic, infectious rock and roll from the USA, and then the highlight of the evening Diamente Electrico who almost blew the earthquake reinforcement out of the building.
While the multiple performers in multiple venues made Culture Collide much easier to attend than multiple stage venues in larger festivals, it is still a lot to absorb. But the concept of bringing bands from around the world to the music capital of the USA is spot on – a gift to fans in the city and an opportunity for bands to meet producers, A&R executives, indie labels and the management firms that can build careers here. I look forward to next year – I will be there, with a clone or two.
Patrick O’Heffernan. Host, Music FridayLive!
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