One of the most fun things about the Contra Syncretist
project is how, since the techno contras tend to be events rather than series (or series of individual events), people get really excited about them as this new special shiny thing. Take, for instance, musician Julie Vallimont talking about this year's (official!) Flurry Festival
(Saratoga Springs, NY) techno contra, to be played by Firecloud
:"The main exciting thing for me is having a techno contra [officially] at the
Flurry for the first time, and making it welcoming and accessible to
everyone.... I like how in techno contra you can create the atmosphere and you can go outside yourself for a while (that's what [our] costumes are about).... We just want to have a good time and want people to dance and not want to stop, and maybe get in a trancey sort of place, make it feel like an afterparty, cool down and heat up all at the same time and have fun with everyone."She continues, "We're going to be in the [Melita] Ballroom for the techno contra, so it'll be a little more intimate; we'd rather it be too crowded than too empty..... We've also got a four-person lighting team working on this event." She also mentioned that Firecloud will be debuting some new material, which is particularly cool since last October they added DJ Nanocannon (a.k.a. Andrew Hlynsky) to their lineup.
"We’re trying to create an experience," says Julie, "but it’s ultimately the dancers who are going to show up and create the experience."Hope to see some of you there...Steve and I will be there for at least part of the dance (it runs from 12:30 AM to 2:30 AM Saturday morning -- or does it still count as Friday night at that hour?), and of course we're going to be at the full Flurry Festival too, which promises to be lots of fun. Now, where did I stash that suitcase...?Update, 2/14/2013:
Edited quotation per Julie's request.
Chattaboogie 4, held this past January in Chattanooga, TN, was memorable for a few reasons: one, the weekend aimed to bring together two bands with a heavily electronic influence -- Perpetual e-Motion
and Double Apex
; two, it had the same band and callers two years in a row (Chattaboogie 2011 had featured Perpetual e-Motion, Seth Tepfer
and Vicki Herndon), and three, it particularly highlighted differences between the two bands (who use some or all live music in their electronic mixes) and a DJ when Julie Vallimont
of Double Apex switched formats and DJ'd a designated techno contra late on Saturday night. I talked to organizer and caller Vicki Herndon about this to get a behind-the-scenes look.
This week, Contra Syncretist celebrates its first birthday! I launched the site a year ago on Friday.
Here's some of the cool stuff I've learned in that time:
- Not all alternative contras are conducted to mainstream music that you would necessarily find in your local downtown dance club. Eileen Thorsos of Electric Camel fame spins and remixes "electrotrad" music, which focuses heavily on remixes of contemporary bands with a strong traditional/Celtic influence. dJ improper of the DC area mixes contemporary hits with songs by The Who, Kansas, and The Beatles.
- Alternative contras can trace their roots to Lisa Greenleaf's experiments in the last decade, and to some private parties that anecdotally pre-date these.
- There is some debate about whether alternative contras are better staged as outreach events to draw more people into the community, or advanced events to strengthen the shared experience of the existing community. (Feel free to weigh in on this idea over on the Forum.)
- While there are many alternative contra events out there, regular series that are billed as such are comparatively rare. The first predictably-regular one (i.e., "third Tuesdays of the month" type schedule) was the Contra Sonic series near Washington, DC, which started in November 2010.
- In 2011, DJs began to travel around in a way that live bands on the traditional contra scene have for years, injecting more variety into the experience.
- There are hip-hop morris and "Extreme English Country Dancing" (xECD) counterparts to crossover contra, which bring in similar elements.
- The people who are infusing the contra dances with other influences are by and large very much agreed that they do not want to see the acoustic and carried-on tradition go away -- they have differing reasons for looking into electronic music and other genres of music than are typically found in contra, but most will actively say that they wish to build upon the tradition that inspires them, and they see that as what they are doing with their syncretistic art; they do not seek to diminish it in any way, shape, or form.
- Most of the leading techno contra musicians and DJs are men; two notable exceptions are Boston-based piano and accordion player and DJ Julie Vallimont (currently with Firecloud and other incarnations, as well as more traditional bands Nor'easter and La Banane Enchantée) and DJ and caller Eileen Thorsos of the Triangle Country Dancers community in North Carolina, who tours with her remixed "electrotrad" music.
- Instead of mixing the music to be square and go with the dance, some series write contra dances to specifically go with the alternative tunes.
- Many alternative contras maintain the club atmosphere without strobe lighting effects, much to the relief of some contra dancers who get migraines.
Thank you to everyone for coming on this journey with me so far! The Friday Flourish
will update as usual on Friday and then we will have still more syncretistic goodness to come, and I've got a few ideas up my sleeve for the future! Stay tuned!
I first caught up with Jack Mitchell
when he called a Contra Sonic
installment in 2011. He mentioned that he had danced with Electric Camel Contra
and called to dJ improper
's sets before, though not with dJ improper himself there, and that he saw some interesting differences between the experiences--at which point I knew I had to talk to him for Contra Syncretist
My first resolution for 2012 encompasses both my role in the contra blogosphere and my life outside of contra and this blog (yes, as hard as it may be to believe, that does in fact exist): I like finding new music and sharing it with people. So it seemed particularly opportune when Julie Vallimont
(accordion and piano player extraordinaire and half of Double Apex) and fiddler Andy Reiner
made their world debut as Firecloud at Glen Echo last night. Their focus is a certain brand of "fiddle techno" that combines live, looped, and synthetic sounds, so I was eager to check them out.My initial impression is that while at times I've heard "fiddle techno" before that has been really heavy on techno and somewhat light on fiddle, Firecloud, at least last night, seemed to more distinctly feature Julie's piano and Andy's fiddle. Despite this being the very first time they played together, the duo blended together really well and the background synth beats did a good job of framing their instrumental collaboration, rather than drowning it out. Part of this may be due to their common reference point being the tradition and their not having as much time to plan a heavier techno influence, but I thought it worked rather well as-is.They will be touring the Eastern Seaboard in the place of Double Apex the first part of this week. Those of you in Virginia and North Carolina should make a point of going to see them.Firecloud will be next playing in Greenwood, VA tonight (Monday, January 2). They will be in Winston-Salem, NC on Tuesday, January 3, and in Asheville, NC on Wednesday, January 4. On this latter date, Ed Howe of Perpetual e-Motion will join Julie and Andy to make the evening a really special event -- to those around Asheville who are able to go, please find some way to share on YouTube or similar; I am jealous! Also, apparently Ed Howe will be playing both with John Coté and with Julie Vallimont next weekend for Chattaboogie, at which Steve and I will also be dancing, January 6-8, in Chattanooga, TN.
When I found out that George Marshall had called for the Spark in the Dark
series up in Massachusetts last spring, I was intrigued. George has been on the folk dance scene for many years and has called with and played in some iconic acoustic bands within it. As George puts it, “I started dancing at 15, I started calling in 1978, and I’m 53 now.” What would his view be of electronic music and a club-like atmosphere recently fusing with this dance scene, with which he has been involved for many years?
“I’ve been playing piano since I was six,” says Julie Vallimont of Double Apex
fame. “I started as a classical musician and played organ professionally for 15 years. I really got into midis in the ‘90s and was always interested [in electronic music]. But then I moved to Boston for grad school, and had no time.” It was around then that she discovered the contra dancing world and “fell in love with the music and the way the music and the dance fit together, and thought, ‘maybe I could do that.’”