How to create an amazing timeline on Instagram so you don't miss any shows: First, go to a show. Second, follow the bands that you liked. Third, follow the people whose stories the bands re-grammed. Repeat for about three months. By that time, you'll have a perfect feed where every show announcement ends up in your timeline fifteen or twenty times. You'll not only hear about every basement gig, but also every gig in an abandoned motel, a drained reservoir, a subterranean storm sewer, and an empty mausoleum. You'll also be privy to a lot of beef that you don't understand and hear concerning accusations of wrongdoing by kids in the scene. Figuring out what to do with that information will be much harder than selecting which gigs to attend. But if that gig is an aberrant industrial dance gig at Farewell, and everyone is posting about it, just go. Don't think too much about that one.
I arrived on time to find Farewell's trivia game was running late. I lurked for a bit because that's kinda my thing. The game is not the interactive "trivia clash" format that I enjoy so much, but the questions were a good mix of knowledge and pop culture. I'd suggest you show up, but it's probable that you already do. After all, trivia reminders also get reposted on your newly honed feed – just not as much as show flyers, drama, and accusations of assault. After a bit I retreated outside to the courtyard where I sat next to a warm fire. At 9:00 the tables had been cleared out of the club, several enormous racks of keyboards and sound gear had been loaded onto the stage, and temporary lighting has been tested. It was time to go.
Moon 17 is the new solo project of Zack Hames who you may know as an AV engineer about town, or as a utility player in other bands such as Camp Clover. By the way, you'll be hearing a lot about that band in your stories, and for good reason. With Moon 17, Hames has recreated an '80s futuristic sheen that feels decidedly sci-fi. As always, it's a future that hasn't gone well for humans. Synths wash and pulse and repeat while beats bang forward. You can, and should, dance to it. Although Hames picked up a guitar several songs into the set, it appeared that HAL wouldn't allow it, and soon Hames tossed the malfunctioning guitar to the stage floor dejectedly. There were vocals in some songs. He shouted them into a microphone while playing his compositions live. Shockingly live. If that were my gig, I'd just hit a button on a backing track and be done with it, but not Hames, he not only played the keyboard lines live, but was constantly evolving his tracks, hurrying from one gizmo to another, twisting knobs, pressing buttons, triggering samples, and moving the bodies that were packed against the stage.
Farewell had been busier, but not often. Everyone from our feed was there: black metal dude in a leather jacket, pierced goth girl in fishnets, butch lesbian in overalls, oogle with ratted hair, skinhead with face tattoos, and art kid in a carefully curated outfit. We were all summoned by the algorithm.
It took LA's Spike Hellis a long time to set up. A table of samplers and sequencers and doohickeys was carried to the stage, but then there were wires and cables to connect. Elaine Chang clutched her microphone, impatiently watching the engineering effort to complete. Bandmate Cortland Gibson unplugged a cable and plugged it back in finding no joy. He mouthed "piece of shit" to Chang over the industrial music that raged from the PA. We'd later learn the difficulty was with some interface to a lighting rig, so the duo began without it. Thankfully, lighting tech Alec Nicholas managed a subset of lights by the seat of his pants.
Spike Hellis operates across several sub-genres of electronic music, blurring lines so much that it's hard to know what is coloring and what is core. The center could be '90s industrial, with occasional synthesized sunny pop leads and R&B grooves. Or maybe the real heart starts as a late '80s top forty dance track, inundated with dissonant noise and two or three banging new percussion tracks. Whatever it is, it's designed to get bodies lurching and it does the job. Everyone danced – not just the fulltime ravers, but also the indie kids who normally stand at shows with arms crossed.
For most songs Chang was based in front of the gear on a small runway that extended into the audience. From there she made forays deeper into the writhing crowd, embracing the dancers familiarly. Her vocals were often chanted. There's a message in there, but with the wild pitch shifting and echo, only snippets of agit-pop survived. Gibson remained behind the table, literally turning the screws. His vocals are auxiliary – punching into the sound with screams and spoken elements, sometimes delivered in a rapped cadence. He also added guitar to several songs, though for the life of me I couldn't discern any impact. The auxiliary percussion that both Gibson and Chang provided was much more effective. There's something primal about seeing someone swing a drumstick, watching it make contact with a drum pad, and hearing that otherworldly boom. Spike Hellis not only made itself heard – it made itself felt.
Before we leap into headliner Plack Blague, some amount of background is in order. Outwardly, Plack Blague is a hyper-sexual queer industrial dance project created by Ross Schlesinger. Schlesinger grew up in Lincoln, Nebraska, playing drums in grindcore bands, booking shows, and loving both punk and metal. And also disco, which put him at odds with a lot of the hardcore scene. He started Plack Blague as a joke that plopped dance music into the context of the extreme music that was his world. That juxtaposition happened twenty years ago, but the black metal-esque stage backdrop still recalls that comingled history. Since then, the project has grown into a fun and formidable musical force. One that celebrates the extremes, and one that is knowingly over the top.
While Plack Blague's musical output doesn't differ materially from touring partner Spike Hellis, its delivery did. Schlesinger's partner Butch Dick (Loren Macias) didn't fuss with scads of electronics or attempt to build its danceable industrial tracks live, instead Dick largely played tracks from a laptop, added interstitial noise, controlled lights, and watched the show unfold in front of him. That show was Ross Schlesinger, dressed (barely) in black spiked leather from cap to boots, vogueing, prancing, and booty dropping.
For nearly an hour, Schlesinger worked the crowd from both the stage and the added runway. His hellbent-for-leather persona was celebratory, and he quickly turned Farewell from all the things it is (bar, coffee shop, punk club, movie theatre, zine library etc.) into a queer space. One that encouraged everyone to let down their facades and to dance. And everyone did. All the subculture cool kids and castoffs bouncing together. If that was all Plack Blague was, that would have been enough. But there was more.
Plack Blague's songs are, at their core, catchy verse and chorus affairs just delivered with plenty of clanking percussion, slink, and sleaze. Tracks like "Just Another Man of the Street," "Wear Your Body Out," and latest single "Dangerous" all have enormous hooks that had the audience singing along when the chorus came around the second time. The last of the three was beat into my head with by a stomping four-on-the-floor rhythm, a crackling electric click track, big rave energy, and its repeated staccato verse of "All I can see / is your body / dancing dirty / to be near me / Hot dudes / hot men / hot guys / I'm in / Hope this party / never ends." And the party nearly didn't. As the clock approached midnight, the duo decided to add in an extra song. Schlesinger was having fun, and the audience was seeing one of the best shows of the year. And to think I would have missed it if it wasn't for social media. All hail the algorithm and all hail Plack Blague.