Thursday, February 28, 2013

AURA 2013, Forever Purple

Returning to Suwannee once again for AURA was more than just a weekend getaway, more than just a break from reality and more than just another music festival. It was like a family reunion, not only with my fellow companions who flocked from all corners of the country to attend, but also with the artists and workers that helped put it together in the end. Watching some of my favorite performers under the stars, of which some I had experienced at the park already in the past, was as surreal as the bitter cold temperatures that welcomed us from the get go.

Walking around the park and witnessing my breath exhume from my body like the chimneys of 1910s' industrial London was all too unfamiliar. How often do you see winter gloves and ski jackets in Florida? Never really, but the cold seemed to bring everyone together that much more that weekend. But enough about the cold, because everyone remembers that story. This story is about the music, the people, the place and the memories that came with the 4th annual AURA Music and Arts Festival.

Arriving later than planned on Friday afternoon, it was unfortunate that I had to miss The Main Squeeze but their lively performance in Gainesville this past Friday night at The Jam was more than enough to fulfill my need for Corey's unforgettable voice. Nonetheless, RAQ was next on the Amphitheater stage and their return to the performance limelight was everything it was hyped up to be. Originally from Vermont, the band is known for their unabridged sound that forms a well-rounded and cohesive blend of rock and psychedelic jam. RAQ is comprised of Jay Burwick on bass, Conspirator's Chris Michetti on guitar and Kung Fu's Todd Stoops and Adrian Tramontano on keyboards and drums, respectively. They played such tracks as "Beauregard," "Walking In Circles" and "Sweet Cream," to name a few.

One of my favorite aspects of AURA, and most festivals held at Suwannee, is the inevitable tangling of talent between performers. You get to experience an artist with one band, get blow away by their incredible ability to mesmerize you with their instrument of choice and then you get to see them perform under a whole new scope of style and dexterity with another band later on. You don't really get that kind of encompassing experience from many other festivals around today. Having broken up few years back, it was great to be able to witness RAQ's comeback show at AURA for both new and old fans alike.

As the first day of AURA continued to unfold, the lineup of artists took to the stages for non-stop performances from one stage to the next. Conveniently, there were only two stages of music and only one in operation at any one point in time. There were no schedule conflicts, leaving guests with little room for excuse to miss any act. Break Science had the Porch Stage crowd going wild with their live drum & bass performance just as the sun disappeared over the western horizon. Having last seen the duo perform inside the Music Hall at Bear Creek, it was nice to have the opportunity to see them play outside. Their set had a different vibe this time around, their sound took on a much more tribal bass feel. Nonetheless, it was still flawless in composition. Members Borahm Lee and Adam Deitch know exactly how to work off each other to create the perfect balance of digital and organic material. Break Science played several tracks off their last album, Monolith Code, some off their recent collaboration EP with Michal Menert, Twilight Frequency, a few live jams with Lettuce's Adam Smirnoff and closed their set with their upcoming single, "Who Got It," featuring Redman.

If I had the time to explain in detail every performance I saw AURA weekend, I think I would have to write an entire book about it. With that said, I am going to quickly mention how much I admired Kung Fu's performance Friday night (probably my favorite from that night), how amazing of a guitarist Tim Palmieri is and the epicness that came with Conspirator's two back-to-back sets. If there was any point throughout AURA that could be labeled as a full-on "Rager," it was the three-hour period of Conspirator's reign of electro, jamtronic and dubstep over the Amphitheater stage. They played basically their entire new album, Unleashed, and then some. The crowd fully embraced every moment. Oh yeah, and THE LASERS? [Photo: Aron Magner and Marc Brownstein of Conspirator].

Moving on to Perpetual Groove. This is a band that I have struggled to get into in the past, despite all the great things I've heard about them. That all changed following their two sets at AURA. Not going to lie, at first I found them a bit dull and found myself staring off into the sky or somewhere other than the stage. After about 30 minutes I realized that this quartet from Athens has a lot more to offer than just a solid fanbase. What first caught my attention was their effortless complexity and adept composition that blended to form this dark beauty casting herself over the crowd. Sometimes I couldn't even take my eyes off the band, I just stood there listening and staring. And I wasn't alone, all around me all I could see was how everyone was either dancing or just staring in mind-bottling awe. They brought the warmth that night and again on Saturday night, which was painfully brutal on the cold meter. As they closed their second set with their encore track, "It Starts Where It Ends," I was fully convinced of my newfound love for Perpetual Groove. It's a shame knowing that this band might not be together for much longer, but even more a shame that it took me this long to finally notice them. Click here for both full set lists.

The Silent Disco was rich with talent in the afterhours of AURA's seemingly nonstop music repertoire. The first night saw performances by Arpetrio, Monozygotik, DuBBle James, My Boy Elroy (of Digital Tape Machine) and a few others. As much as I dig Monozygotik, Arpetrio won my ears over with their live cover of Ratatat's "Shempi," which sounded almost identical to the original. Being an extremely huge Ratatat fan, I thoroughly enjoyed it. For a brief moment I was back at Camp Bisco X, watching Ratatat for the first time ankle deep in mud and completely soaked from the downpours. It's crazy how music can do that to you. My Boy Elroy impressed me as well, from jungle trance to acid house and electro disco funk, he played it all. It was my first time seeing DuBBle James, which is made up of James Wuest and James Newitt of The Heavy Pets. For a first impression, I really like their sound. It was very downtempo with a hint of nu disco, a subtle form of dubstep that I can really vibe to and the perfect pre-slumber engagement.

The second night of the Silent Disco was just as promising, with performances by Sir Charles, Vlad the Inhaler, Beat Thief inc. featuring Morgan Jay and a live DJ set by Papadosio's Anthony Thogmartin as Earthcry. Beat Thief inc laid down a great late night set, creatively blending together dubstep wonders from Bassnectar to Bro Safari, 12th Planet, Vinnie Maniscalco and more. Sir Charles kept the crowd bumpin' with his trap music hype as Anthony and Vlad counterbalanced it all with their spiritually binding frequencies and serenading clash of stringed and synthesized sounds, respectively. Next time you're at a Silent Disco, take a moment to listen to all of the sounds you hear with your headphones off. Moans, grunts, incorrect lyrics and whale mating calls, you'll be surprised.

The magic of day two began with Kung Fu and Nigel Hall's Stevie Wonder tribute performance. If you haven't had the chance to see the legendary Stevie Wonder perform in person, this is as close as it gets to the real thing. Escorted on stage, as if really blind, Nigel Hall fully embedded himself into his character. If you didn't know it was him, you would probably be surprised to find out that it wasn't actually Stevie Wonder. Nigel's voice was perfect for the role, always hitting the right notes and pitches to give AURA guests the tribute show they were promised. Kung Fu did an amazing job at recreating the songs as well, they were so good you would think they had wrote it themselves. They played countless Stevie Wonder hits, from "Higher Ground" (joined by Smirnoff of Lettuce) to "Black Men," "Do I Do," "Too High" (which they dedicated to the everyone at AURA) and even an unknown classic, "Tuesday Heartbreak." I'm sure many others agree that this was one of the most authentic highlights of the weekend.

Dopapod played their first performance of the weekend shortly afterwards, full of classic tracks like "French Bowling" and "FABA," as well as "Trapper Keeper" off their newest album, Redivider. I first heard Dopapod at last year's AURA and was immediately drawn to their heavy experimental rock 'n' roll style, and fell deeper in love with their music with the release of their last album. With that said, I enjoyed their Sunday set a lot more. Not to say that Saturday's wasn't amazing, because it was, but I just held a much stronger personal connection with their second set as I danced to some of my Dopapod favorites like "Braindead," "Bubblebrain" and "My Elephant Vs. Your Elephant." Although it wasn't my absolute favorite set of the weekend, it was definitely my most anticipated performance.

Before I close out my review with my final my thoughts on Papadosio, I would like mention all the other acts that made an impact on my weekend. Most notably, Kung Fu with their bass-driving funk perfection, Greenhouse Lounge with their covers of Michael Jackson's "Scream" and Dazz Band's "Let It Whip," as well as The Heavy Pets and their on-stage performances with Roosevelt Collier (of The Lee Boys) and Ali Newitt, whose voice is beautiful and extremely engaging. The Heavy Pets always bring great vibes to any event, with their ear-to-ear smiles and consistent positive energy. Thank you HP, AURA wouldn't have been the same without you.

Last but not least, Papadosio. This is a band that has grown on me more and more with the passage of time. Although I didn't hear all of my favorite tracks by them at AURA, I'm glad to say that they've opened my mind to just about any piece of music they produce. I'm a huge fan of electronic music, but I also love jam music and Papadosio is the ultimate blend of both. Their performances on Saturday and Sunday night were both mentally, physically and visually stimulating. Their visual set-up screened subliminal images of people and places, melting colors and fractal patterns on five massive LED screens that surrounded the five-piece band. They played various hits off their latest album, T.E.T.I.O.S., including "Cue," "Planting The Seeds of Life," and their heavily acoustic track, "Ear To Ear," with Roosevelt Collier. They also played some older tracks, like "Night Colours," and closed their Sunday night encore performance with Festival Director Daryl Wolff's request of "Stick Figure," which is also off their new album. [Photo: Anthony Thogmartin of Papadosio].

All in all, AURA did an amazing job this year by bringing new and improved amenities to the relatively young festival, especially with their inaugural move to Suwannee, as well as an unforgettable lineup. A big thanks to Brotherly Love Productions and AURA Music Events for putting it all together, let's hope that next year is even bigger and better.

And who ever rocked the neon ducks all weekend, you guys are awesome. More photos from AURA on Bionic Beatlab's Facebook.

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