It was last Saturday’s show at the William A Kerr Foundation that ended the 58th season of New Music Circle. While the season began in 2016, this year Sound of STL has documented many of the shows presented by New Music Circle including legends like Hamid Drake, Iva Bittova, and Erik Friedlander. To round off a lineup that has mainly been experimental and freeform jazz, the finale event included four talented electronic production artists.
Featured at Saturday’s show were Robert Beatty, Matchess, Hylidae, and Nadir Smith. While New Music Circle typically presents seated shows with an early start and single act, the season ender was a night long celebration of experimental music and art. Alongside the performers were DJ sets by locals Crim Dolla Cray and DJ Swan, who was featured at Bruxism No. 26. There were also guest visuals by many projection artists including Chad Z Hickman and Cole Lu.
One of the most unique aspects of this event was the location itself. William A Kerr is located next to the Cotton Belt Freight Depot down by the river. Not only are the views spectacular, but this area captures the spirit of urban exploration that many St. Louis artists find inspiration from. The industrial area and tall brick structures were brought to life with a visual projection on an opposing façade, and the glow of the venue. It was wonderful to experience an experimental music event within such an experimental playground of art and culture.
The first act of the night was local artist Nadir Smith, formerly known as Biggie Stardust. While New Music Circle often brings in legendary artists from around the world, it was wonderful to experience the same caliber from our own city. Many who frequent the Cherokee Street experimental scene will be familiar with Olan, the artist behind the project. He first debuted onto the South City experimental scene in 2015, collaborating with local creative projects like Acid Kat. His artistic work also features visual content through collage, which is often black and white. His approach to his music is as low key as his look, sporting a flannel shirt and backwards cap. For Olan each performance is not about an exact formula, but capturing the essence of what he’s going for.
Experiencing one his sets is truly unique, he blends samples and rhythms that stem from genres like Hip Hop, with an ethereal and cyclical sound. With the light projections and electric atmosphere inside the William A Kerr Foundation, it evoked the experience of being suspended in the womb, with a hive like rhythm pacing throughout his set. While many experimental artists push into the length and lose themselves in ambient sounds, Nadir Smith keeps it simple. Each set being a short lived experimentation in rhythm and sound. While there are no true recorded works to explore, this is definitely an act you will want to keep an eye out for around town.
After another full groove DJ interlude from Crim Dolla Cray, the show returned with a performance by Robert Beatty from Lexington, Kentucky. Many got their first taste of the artist when viewing the event flyer, which features psychedelic patterns and experimentation with layering and transparency, a signature of his work. His visual career has spanned the experimental music scene, with contributions on album covers for artists like The Flaming Lips and Tame Impala. The same signature visuals were seen projected behind him throughout his performance. As far as his musical career Beatty is extremely active, sometimes performing as Three Legged Race, or in his noise trio Hair Police, with Trevor Tremaine and Mike Connelly of Wolf Eyes. While many underground noise groups never break through that basement ceiling, Hair Police has garnered some rare fame, and even had the honor of opening up on tour for Sonic Youth.
As Robert Beatty performed he was under-lit by a pulsing red light that synced alongside his music. Beatty’s sound is a wonderful mixture of electronic noises and sampled acoustic instruments. There is a certain underwater vibe going on, which is layered over with twangs of instrumentals that break the comfortable ambience. Parts of his performance feel like a dialogue between two pieces of retro-age technology, and would work easily as the sound-scaping track for a future-tech science lab in an 80’s sci-fi flick. He moves effortlessly between pleasing discord and moments of calm ambient melodies. You can check out more of his work on his website which features a range of music videos, visual art, and discographies of music. You can also find a video of his performance at the bottom of this article.
Up next was Chicago artist Matchess, whose performance began with the lighting of a candlestick upon her equipment. With that single candle, Whitney Johnson sets an atmosphere for her performance that is just as haunting and lovely as her music. While truly blissful and surreal, her performance acts as a form of lamentation, putting a visceral and emotional aspect into her work. Each moment feels like the soundtrack to your own personal nostalgia, reeling like a home video through your head.
The base of her sound is created by various pre-recorded cassettes she uses as her sampling, often pausing momentarily to switch between tapes. Next comes her poignant vocal performance, which utilizes a series of vocalizations and moans distorted through tech in place of solid lyrical elements. There is a perfect balance of chaos and structure within her droning sound. The element that truly pulls it all together is her addition of the violin, which she layers carefully over her electronic recordings.
If Beatty belongs in a retro sci-fi thriller, Matchess belongs in a Lovecraftian masterpiece. Ancient occult imagery is found across her visual work as well. As her candle flickers across her face, she mesmerizes the audience with each nuance, casting a spell upon all who listen. At the end of her performance, the candle is extinguished. You can find her three official releases on her Sound Cloud page.
Closing off the set was local artist Hylidae. Compared to the other artists that night, Hylidae’s Jon Burkhart moves away from the ambient into the world of synthpop. While still highly experimental, his dance tracks are completely infectious and evoke the electro-pop of the 80s. While not pictured here, you can check out Hylidae on Bandcamp, or performing a free show at Off Broadway with Crim Dolla Cray, and DemonLover on May 27.
As the 58th round of shows comes to a close, New Music Circle is hard at work on the upcoming season. Throughout this last year we have seen some amazing acts come through town thanks to New Music Circle. Saint Louis is extremely lucky to have such a champion for experimental music on our side. If you were unable to attend this season’s performances make sure to check out what they have coming next. Sound of STL, for one, will be waiting rather impatiently for the new season to commence. Until then make sure to check out some of the amazing experimental and noise acts that we have going on regularly around town.
BONUS – Video from Robert Beatty’s set (watch in HD):
Previous New Music Circle Presentations from this season:
More photos from the season closer: