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Slingshot Festival: Flagpole‘s Picks for Music, Art and More

The Slingshot Festival returns to downtown Athens Mar. 19–22, bringing with it a variegated mash-up of music, art, comedy and technology. Artists and educators Kai Riedl and Eric Marty envision Slingshot as a Southeastern counterpart to South by Southwest, as well as a supplement to AthFest. Unlike that hyper-local happening, Slingshot aims to encourage Athens to gaze outward while bringing global talent to town. The festival promises “international, national and local acts on stage, boundary-pushing artworks throughout the urban environment and a tech conference with leading innovators.” Now over the first-year hump, 2014’s lineup, which includes concerts, panels, art exhibits and more, finds the fest a giant step closer to fulfilling its ambitious mission.

To help you navigate the wide-ranging, impressively curated four-day event, Flagpole assembled previews of some of the notable Slingshot happenings. (You can view the full schedule of events in this week’s Calendar or at the Slingshot site.) Full-fest wristbands, which include access to Wednesday’s Tinariwen show, are $25 and available locally at Wuxtry Records and the Georgia Theatre box office. Weekend-only ‘bands run $20 and are available Friday and Saturday at the aforementioned locations, as well as the Morton Theatre and Little Kings Shuffle Club. You can also purchase individual tickets at the door for most shows. [Gabe Vodicka]

Wednesday, Mar. 19, 10 p.m. at Georgia Theatre

The music of Tinariwen is simultaneously steeled and spiritual, deadly calm, though everything is at stake. Since the formation of the “Saharan blues band” in 1979, its members have taken up arms as freedom fighters in their homeland of North Africa and won Grammys in America. Their bandleader, Ibrahim Ag Alhabib, built his own guitar from scratch. Their music is a pure reflection of their often roughshod lives as Tuaregs, nomadic people of the Sahara Desert. 

Eyadou Ag Leche, the band’s bassist, speaks via interpreter Marion Chapdelaine. “Our [home], Kidal, North Mali, is not safe at the moment.” Since 2012, Islamist militants have terrorized Mali, waging a siege against, of all things, music. Instruments have been burned, and musicians have been threatened with death.

While electric guitars are a trademark of Tinariwen’s sound, the band’s is truly folk music of the highest regard. “Like [American blues],” says Ag Leche, “Tuaregs have their own nostalgia. In [our language] Tamasheq, we call it ‘assouf.’ We sing about exile, missing our territory, our environment, our people, love.”

The group’s newest album, Emmaar, released in the U.S. on Anti- Records, is its first recorded on American soil. “We needed a desert, as this is an essential environment for us to feel good,” says Ag Leche. Naturally, the group decided to record in Joshua Tree National Park. “We felt very good, thanks to the natural elements—the air, the wind, the sand, the rocks, the feeling of freedom,” says Ag Leche. “We recorded the album live in the same room to feel the interconnection between each others, the words and the music.”

After Tinariwen rose to prominence in 2007, Western musicians started lining up for the privilege to record with the group; Emmaar includes contributions from Chavez guitarist Matt Sweeney, poet Saul Williams and Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist Josh Klinghoffer. But the new blood is offset by the band’s desire to stay rooted, even while in exile. Part of the the album’s power comes from the band members’ longing for peace at home, which they address on the song “Toumast Tincha.” 

“‘Toumast Tincha’ means ‘the people have been sold,'” says Ag Leche. “It was written in the context that our Tuareg community has been facing [for] years, which has been no respect for our rights from the Malian government, no freedom, no help for simple and essential needs for our children such as health, water, education, infrastructure [and] then the arrival of the Islamists in this chaos. And the intervention of France last year has been like an obligation, as this chaos is also due to the French drawing of the Malian borders after the decolonization.

“This is a song that is intended for our people,” he continues. “‘My people, where is that self-confidence, made of dignity and beauty of spirit, that our ancestors bequeathed to us?’ A peace imposed by force is bound to fail. We are worried about the negotiations; we aren’t naive, and we know so many financial interests are in play, but this is the time we need our community to be strong and stand up.” [Jeff Tobias]

Kick-off Art Party, Thursday, Mar. 20, 7 p.m. at Georgia Museum of Art 
Strata #4, Mar. 20–June 15 at GMOA

The works of London-based visual artist Quayola (Davide Quagliola) explore the delicate equilibrium between figurative and abstract and real and artificial through time-based digital sculptures and immersive audiovisual installations and performances. Commissioned by the Palais de Beaux Arts in Lille, France, Quayola’s “Strata” series reworks historic paintings from the museum’s Flemish collection, focusing primarily on grand altarpieces by Baroque artists Peter Paul Rubens and Anthony van Dyck. 

Strata #4, on display at the Georgia Museum of Art, is a multi-channel immersive video installation that re-imagines classical pieces into contemporary abstractions using Van Dyck’s “Christ on the Cross” and Rubens’ “Martyrdom of St. Catherine,” “The Ecstasy of Mary Magdalene” and “The Descent from the Cross.” Custom software delves beneath the appearance of each painting, isolating and deconstructing its elements in terms of composition, color schemes, patterns and proportions. The resulting three-dimensional manifestations are glitched and geometrical, breathing new digital life into the original works. By identifying and magnifying the masterworks’ underlying shapes, Strata #4 bridges a gap between the seemingly disparate worlds of classical and contemporary traditions and highlights universal rules of beauty. 

A free opening reception to kick off Slingshot, which will also feature the works by Tristan Perich, will be held on Thursday, Mar. 20 from 7–9 p.m. The installation will screen in the museum’s Alonzo and Vallye Dudley Gallery through Sunday, June 15. [Jessica Smith]

Kota Ezawa
Kick-off Art Party, Thursday, Mar. 20, 7 p.m. at Lamar Dodd School of Art
Onement Two, Mar. 20–Apr. 1 at LDSOA

As part of Slingshot’s official kick-off party, the Lamar Dodd School of Art will unveil a new animated video by the 2014 Lamar Dodd Professorial Chair, Kota Ezawa. Ezawa is an associate professor of Film and Fine Arts at the California College of the Arts and has participated in group exhibitions in New York at the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art; at the Seoul International Biennale of Media Art; and the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. 

Taking the form of animated videos, slide projections, light boxes, collages and prints, Ezawa’s work meticulously recreates iconic moments from popular culture, art history and the media. Photographic images from public events, such as the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the verdict announcement of O.J. Simpson’s murder trial, are reinterpreted through basic digital drawing and animation software, removing visual detail and reducing the pieces to symbolism. 

Onement Two, on display in Gallery 101 through Tuesday, Apr. 1, is an in-process animation that takes inspiration from the documentary Painters Painting and an interview with Barnett Newman, an Abstract Expressionist who created a series of color field paintings called “Onement.” Ezawa’s other new video animation, Paint Unpaint, will be projected outdoors in the courtyard of Little Kings Shuffle Club on Saturday, Mar. 21 and Sunday, Mar. 22. [JS]

Onyx Ashanti
“TechSHOT: Makers,” panel discussion, Friday, Mar. 21, 6 p.m. at Morton Theatre
Saturday, Mar. 22, 8 p.m. at Creature Comforts Brewery


Onyx Ashanti

A compact, muscular man stands onstage. Over his face is an apparatus, made of metal and plastic and little alien-like green lights, that wraps from his chin, over his ears and around the top of his head. A tube snakes from the bottom of it into the man’s mouth, resembling a sort of futuristic breathalyzer. Covering his eyes are dark lenses. He appears to be part machine. A box is strapped to each palm. The boxes, made of more lights and tubing, also have buttons, which look like the keys of a saxophone. During his performance, the man’s breath and facial movements, his fingerings of the boxes’ keys and even the angle at which he holds the boxes will be processed through a computer program that the man wrote to create a show of light and sound. The man is Onyx Ashanti, and this is BeatJazz.

“When I started the project I wanted something that was like glow sticks mixed with a saxophone, something that was mainly fun,” Ashanti says from his home in Berlin. A graduate of Grambling State University in Louisiana, where he studied saxophone, Ashanti, 43, has spent his adulthood making a living as a street performer. Soon after leaving school in 1992, he discovered the Wind Midi, an electronic wind-instrument synthesizer, and his musical journey has been tied to technology ever since.

The apparatus that he now uses is another stage of a lifelong journey that Ashanti refers to as The Project. Over the years, he has been developing the mask and boxes using open-source software, programming them to make sounds that correspond to the workings of his body. “I discovered that I had just as much, if not more, fun programming and designing as I did playing,” Ashanti says. In performance, he blends looping, improvisational jazz and “gestural sound design” to create an experience for the audience.

But Ashanti sees implications for his project that stretch far beyond any given stage. Down the line, he envisions building “a sonic fractal matrix, where many people following these types of systems come and interact with each other.” It’s sort of like how gamers can play online with others from around the country, only in this case, it would involve musicians coming together and, for example, improvising new music.

Ashanti is standing at the crossroads of music and technology, so it’s no surprise that he’s slotted to play Slingshot. His project, decades in the making, pushes the boundaries of what music can be in an age of unprecedented access to technology. [Rachel Bailey]

New Granada Records Showcase
Friday, Mar. 21, 9 p.m. at Max

This year, Tampa, FL indie label New Granada celebrates its 20th anniversary. The imprint’s output was a mere trickle for the first decade, but it has since more than tripled its annual stream. That roll, alongside a reputation for good taste, has earned it a spot as one of Florida’s most acclaimed boutique labels. Named after the fictional planned community in the 1979 film Over the Edge, New Granada debuted Christmas Day of 1994 with a 7-inch record by Pohgoh, the band of co-founder Keith Ulrey at the time. At first, the label was intended to be a co-op that would pollinate via anyone willing to use the name. But Ulrey would ultimately prove the sole torchbearer. “I realized all of the releases were [either] bands I was in, close friends or [my wife] Susie’s band,” he says. “So, we adopted it officially, and the rest is some sort of history.”

Apart from a 1996 split between Pohgoh and emo heroes Braid, it wasn’t exactly lift-off until 2006, when New Granada released the On Cutting Ti-Gers in Half and Understanding Narravation LP by Tampa band Candy Bars. “With the momentum of [that] album and putting on shows, we started meeting new bands,” recalls Ulrey. “I never keep a penny from any show I host, so [everything] would go back into the label… The releases starting turning out, and as one release would recoup, we’d fund the next, and the next, and so on.” 

In recent years, Ulrey’s label has averaged at least a handful of releases each year and graduated to releasing notable “non-familial” bands like Seattle’s Jen Wood, North Carolina’s Tracy Shedd, Sleepy Vikings, Permanent Makeup, King of Spain and a clutch of Orlando-rooted dignitaries like The Pauses, Great Deceivers, New Roman Times and The Tenant. Its presence at SXSW already established, New Granada debuts at Slingshot Friday. Illustrating the label’s diversity will be the psych-pop sunburst of SUNBEARS!, the autumnal grace of slowcore luminary Shedd, the sweeping indie-pop of The Winter Sounds, the gorgeously earthy indie rock of Atlantic Oceans (featuring members of Sleepy Vikings) and the folk-bent rock of Alexander & the Grapes. 

In this milestone year, New Granada will likely hit a new zenith, with special plans like limited vinyl releases, reissues and a three-day label festival (Dec. 25–27 at Tampa’s New World Brewery). But, befitting a man who dared to open a brick-and-mortar record store specializing in vinyl in 2011, Ulrey remains defiantly old-school. “Although I’m 20 years older,” he says, “the DIY aesthetic of taking things into your own hands still speaks to me.” [Bao Le-Huu]

Tristan Perich
“Sonic Generator plays Tristan Perich,” Saturday, Mar. 22, 6:30 p.m. at Morton Theatre
“Machine Drawings,” Mar. 20–Sept. 21 at Georgia Museum of Art


Tristan Perich

A good way to approach Tristan Perich‘s music is to start thinking in terms of binary opposition: order vs. randomness, digital vs. physical, electronic vs. acoustic. Trim it all back until you’re left with the most basic binary pairing: ones and zeroes. Now you’re embedded in the rudimentary code that Perich works with to program the 1-bit electronics he uses—electronics so basic, or “primitive,” as Perich describes them, that the sounds they produce have little expressive range aside from pitch. Now that you’re down at that foundational level, start thinking again of those conceptual oppositions, and you’ll realize how Perich is involved in highlighting the divisions between them in order to, if not break them down, then at least achieve a higher level of insight into the way they function.

The New York City-based artist’s compositions often feature simple electronics in concert with classical acoustic instruments. The effect is twofold: The real instrument has access to a wider expressive range, and so serves as a contrast to the very limited electronic sound, and at the same time, the limited character of the electronic sound makes it more tangible. As Perich explains, “The thing about electronic sound is that it is abstract—you can represent any soundwave electronically… They don’t have to be connected to the real world at all.” Once he started working with microprocessors, he says he found a way around that distant, abstract quality. “All of a sudden, electronics had this kind of realness to them that I couldn’t find before.”

The three compositions set to be performed by Georgia Tech ensemble-in-residence Sonic Generator demonstrate the attempt to highlight the physicality of these sounds. Each electronic signal is routed to a single speaker placed on stage. As ensemble co-director Jason Freeman explains, it “isn’t so much about creating this immersive surround experience with the sound; it’s really about trying to create this sense of the sound coming from multiple different points in space.” Perich adds, “This digital 1-bit signal, it doesn’t really mean anything until you connect it to a speaker.”

Also on display during Slingshot is Perich’s visual work. An opening reception on Mar. 20 at the Georgia Museum of Art will feature Perich’s “Machine Drawing.” The artist’s software controls a simple machine to which a pen is attached; it will take up to six months to fill a 60-foot wall. The end result is a product both of the computerized randomness in the software that guides the pen and its interaction with tangible factors like the texture of the wall. In summing it up, Perich could be talking about his music as well. “It’s not just digital; it brings in the messiness of the real world.” [Marshall Yarbrough]

Cloud Recordings Showcase
Saturday, Mar. 22, 8 p.m. at Caledonia Lounge

“It’s rewarding and fun releasing music that I feel very strongly about to the world,” John Fernandes says about his Cloud Recordings imprint, which has released music by Fernandes’ critically acclaimed bands The Olivia Tremor Control and Circulatory System, along with a veritable who’s who of the late-’90s-to-late-aughts Athens psych-rock scene—The New Sound of Numbers, Dark Meat, Supercluster, Faster Circuits and Dream Boat have all released excellent albums on Cloud.

Last November, Fernandes organized the first-ever Cloud Recordings Festival, which spread over several downtown venues and featured a host of Cloud-related acts as well as some of Fernandes’ favorite local performers. Now, the label gets a more distilled chance to peddle its musical wares with a Slingshot showcase. In addition to the aforementioned New Sound of Numbers, the evening will also feature tunes from Jacob Morris’ ever-evolving psych-folk outfit Moths, as well as Elephant 6 multi-instrumentalist Peter Erchick’s long-running Pipes You See, Pipes You Don’t project.

But the opener and closer of Saturday’s show provide perhaps its most compelling two reasons to attend. At 8 p.m., the Jim Willingham-fronted group Old Smokey will perform songs from its remarkable upcoming Cloud release, Wester Easter, out Apr. 29. On that album, circular psych-rock and horn-fueled gypsy squall mix with sun-bleached desert-folk and Velvets-style rhythmic persistence to create an entirely cool yet kindhearted sound. 

Very early Sunday morning, Circulatory System will take the stage. As it features the majority of the Olivia Tremor Control, the group has long been viewed by the press as a sort of side-gig for songwriter Will Cullen Hart. But the band has finally come into its own. A summer tour with the resurrected Neutral Milk Hotel, as well as a smattering of festival dates, have been booked, and the group recently put the final touches on its long-awaited third album, out this June. “People who have heard the record call it our pièce de résistance,” Fernandes says of the double-LP, reportedly titled Mosaics Within Mosaics and constructed from bits and pieces of Hart’s vast backlog of home recordings from the past 12 years. The record features contributions from Fernandes, Erchick, Derek Almstead, Heather McIntosh, AJ Griffin, as well as Neutral Milk’s Jeff Mangum and Jeremy Barnes.

On the surface, Circulatory System’s sound isn’t much of a departure from the OTC’s rainbow-spotted, hall-of-mirrors psych-pop thing, though Hart’s contributions to the latter group were always a little more skewed, more shrouded, more playfully dangerous than those of his dearly departed collaborator Bill Doss. The current incarnation of Circulatory System takes those vibes and runs with them, sounding off with a slightly out-of-control yet increasingly concentrated version of the sort of generous and impossibly melodic stuff these venerable E6ers have trafficked in for years. [GV]

Doug Benson
Saturday, Mar. 22, 9:30 p.m. at Morton Theatre
Meet-and-greet, Saturday, Mar. 22, 11 p.m. at Manhattan Cafe 

His latest album is called Gateway Doug. His 2007 documentary, Super High Me, was followed up in 2012 by The Greatest Movie Ever Rolled. He hosts several podcasts, his latest being an audio version of his live YouTube show, Getting Doug with High. Starting to notice a pattern? That’s right: Doug Benson is an extremely busy man with an affinity for wordplay, puns and parodies.

Prior to his successful and prolific career as a comedian, Benson was a hardcore movie fan who worked as an extra in Hollywood; this experience and fascination with film later manifested in the performer’s most popular podcast, Doug Loves Movies. The weekly show features comedians, actors and other showbiz types playing movie-themed games before a live audience, the conversations often morphing into tangential jokes and improv bits. One can hear the lighthearted frustration in Benson’s voice when guests diverge from riffing on film, but it all comes from a place of love. “If there’s one thing I might love more than pot,” says Benson, “it’s movies.”

Some assert that marijuana makes people lazy, unproductive half-wits. Benson is a glaring exception to the rule; he is often unabashedly stoned, yet his quick wit doesn’t seem to suffer. The comic admits, however, that his productivity has been both negatively and positively affected since fellow comics Greg Proops and Brian Posehn got him started some 20 years ago. “Weed helps me to concentrate,” says Benson. “It just doesn’t necessarily help me to concentrate on the right things. That’s why I don’t have video games in my home. I’d play ’em all day.” 

Benson cites his latest project, Getting Doug with High, as “the thing [he’s] most proud of, because it’s such a new concept.” The show features celebrity guests exercising their California-given right to medical marijuana live on camera, discussing “pot topics” and their “high histories” and getting increasingly stoned and giggly with their host for an hour. 

Nowadays, comedy audiences can try before they buy, so to speak. Benson and other comedians have a sort of incestuous podcast relationship, with many hosting their own free shows and many more appearing as guests on others’ shows. Audiences can download these podcasts for free, and if they like what they hear, support comics by buying polished albums and coming to live shows. In addition to his standup and podcasting work, Benson has put out six albums since 2008 and can be seen regularly on Comedy Central’s “At Midnight,” giving us plenty of chances to judge. 

After Benson’s performance at the Morton Saturday, fans can participate in a meet-and-greet at nearby watering hole Manhattan Cafe presented by Flagpole. [Kevin Craig]

Eternal Summers
Saturday, Mar. 22, 10:30 p.m. at Max


Eternal Summers

Ostensibly, the music made by Roanoke, VA trio Eternal Summers is lousy with easy reference points: ’80s new wave, ’90s alt-rock and shoegaze, ’00s post-everything pop. What makes the group stand out, though, is its refusal to rely too heavily on any one trope associated with those various genres. The band’s excellent new album, The Drop Beneath, is derivative to a degree, but it mixes it up enough to feel fresh throughout: a hint of Robert Smith-like guitar here, a swirling smidgen of Ride-esque equivocation there. Vocalist Nicole Yun is captivating; her melodic presence is equally powerful on barn-burners (like lead single “Gouge”) and on slow-burners (the gorgeous “Capture,” the doleful “Keep Me Away”). 

Eternal Summers famously sprang from the Magic Twig Community, an Orange Twin-like collective of artists and musicians nestled deep in the Virginia mountains, and in its easygoing music there is a definite sense of communal energy afoot. Yet it never approaches hippie-dippie, remaining instead tough and taut, full of pointed energy. [GV]

For more music picks, click here.