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.
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.
Last week, I posted part 1 of a conversation I had with caller Will Mentor about calling techno contras. The conversation evolved into a discussion of Contrashock in New York City and Contrastock at Glen Echo last May, two events in which Will's role was pivotal and featured Perpetual e-Motion, Giant Robot Dance, Swallowtail, and was co-called by Nils Fredland. Will is planning to repeat that role when Contrashock II and Contrastock II occur in September, with Elixir, Perpetual e-Motion, and Wild Asparagus.
For many people, 'tis the season for parties and celebrating. Frequently, it is also a time of year where you're hurry-up-and-waiting for baked goods to bake, or there's down time while you're visiting family, or there's no work getting done at your desk job since people took time off. Or you've just finished your holiday shopping and you're kicking back with a congratulatory cup of a winter beverage and your technology fix of choice. Your local community's contra organizers are likely to be taking a well-deserved break before New Year's, so what's a 'Net-savvy contra dancer to do?
_If you've found something cool and contra-related while web surfing, please share with the rest of us! Happy Holidays to all!
“I’ve been playing piano since I was six,” says Julie Vallimont of Double Apex and Nor’easter 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.’”
“Traditional music was not amp’ed because they didn’t have it.” -- Ed Howe of Perpetual e-Motion, interview with Contra Syncretist, published August 29, 2011.
I was thinking about what Ed said when I saw this post over on the Washington Post’s Classical Beat blog a little while back. In it, Anne Midgette talks about 24-year-old classical concert pianist Yuja Wang, who has drawn quite a bit of attention to herself in the classical music world lately by wearing rather starkly modern fashions while performing in her very traditional medium, most recently at a concert at the Hollywood Bowl.
On Memorial Day 2011, Brian Hamshar organized a highly unusual event in Greenwood, VA. Whereas usually traditional contra dances include live music and crossover and techno contra events use recorded music delivered through DJs, Contra-phoria combined the talents of live contra dance band Perpetual e-Motion and Contra Sonic’s Jeremiah “dJ improper” Seligman in a rather unusual setup. DJ improper provided the percussion loops on his laptop and Perpetual e-Motion’s John Coté and Ed Howe played along with it. (You can see some of the results on BHamshar’s YouTube channel.)
Brian says, "Club Contras was kicked off back in January with the idea of injecting the Virginia contra dance scene with some new youthful attitude, variety and innovation. The first project was to introduce crossover contra to Virginia with pop/rock & techno and develop our vision for how amazingly fun that could become. But that's not all. Our main goal is to promote more variety and an even greater community focus. That means things like open mic and guest calling. It also means bringing in excellent young modern bands such as Perpetual e-Motion, and we hope to attract others. We'd love to provide a venue for area musicians who don't necessarily play traditional folk music, because we know that many of our dancers have eclectic musical tastes. For the record, we definitely don't want to use only recorded rock/techno. We love live music! However, the genre is still very very young, and at the moment we're relying mainly on our talented DJs. As part of the spirit of promoting innovation, we decided back in the spring to try putting on an extended day of dancing with a variety of music genres, and Contra-phoria was born. As an extension of that mindset, dJ improper expressed interest in creating a few sets with the band and the DJ performing together. It was a great idea, and I think the dancers really enjoyed this new fusion. We plan to do that and more new stuff in the future, and we certainly welcome new ideas from the community!"
I caught up with Perpetual e-Motion and asked them for their take on the experience.
This video was shot last Sunday at Contrastock near Washington, DC. The band was billed as "Giant Swallow Motion" -- Giant Robot Dance, Perpetual e-Motion, and Swallowtail all took the stage at once for the final set to rock the house. This one was shot by YouTube user joyceyens and the next one by klmabon:
One more: this one was shot of two "chaos lines" (i.e., voluntary partner and gender-role swapping, flourishes galore) at ContraShock in New York, NY (which featured Perpetual e-Motion and Giant Robot Dance on May 20-21):
Every time Perpetual e-Motion (John Coté and Ed Howe) plays at Glen Echo, they draw a bigger-than-usual crowd (we even managed to get one of our regular servers from the Silver Diner to come to a dance when they were here!). Small wonder -- they're one of the few bands on the contra circuit that can make two people's playing sound like many more through the use of a small fortune in sound equipment -- that Ed controls with his feet, while playing. I therefore picked up their self-titled debut CD and it does not disappoint. The CD does a very good job of capturing their in-person presence, and also serves to add a little something new that we would not get just by going to see them, which in my opinion is the mark of a good contra band CD. But this is not what makes it special. I have it on my iPod and somewhere in my folkie and contra playlist their versions of "High Barbory" and "Sandy Boys" popped up in close proximity to others' renditions. At that point I realized what a cool thing they'd done.
While "High Barbory" is more or less a cover of the folk song performed with delightfully shivery low tones (who'd have thought they could sing, when they don't do so terribly often at the contra dances), "Sandy Boys" is all but re-imagined -- the melody is there, but the boys have really made it their own through the use of the feedback from the sound board and other electronic sounds.
The one thing that I do wish they had done on this CD was to give us more of what they can do that they haven't necessarily done on the contra floor. While I am exceedingly pleased that their usual last song -- a rollicking mix of the tunes "Red Haired Boy," "Cluck Old Hen," and "Lightning on the Lake" -- is included on this CD, I feel like, with the exception of the one track, it almost recreates the experience of going and hearing them live too well, to the point that I can mentally point out which songs on the CD they're playing at any given point. Hopefully we will hear more from them and they will expand their repertoire soon, as they are truly a delight to hear and dance to live.
Perpetual e-Motion's website (and some music samples!) can be found at http://www.Perpetuale-Motion.com. Their next 2011 gigs are in Rochester, NY on April 7; Toronto on April 8-10; and Concord, MA on April 11. They will also be at Footfall Dance Weekend in September in High View, WV.
Agree? Disagree? Want me to review another really rocking contra music source? Let me know! Check out the contact page (link at left) or leave comments here!
Carry on Dancing,
Erratum: Edited 4/7 to correct the error that "Sandy Boys" is a traditional Southern tune, and is not Larry Unger's as originally stated.
This project has concluded as of mid-2013 (with an epilogue posted mid-2016) but we hope to see you soon on a contra dance floor! Meanwhile, head over to our Facebook page for upcoming techno contra events and other items of interest.
The 100+ Friday Flourish videos can still be found on YouTube.
I dance with abandon. I play with glowsticks. I look for music that is conducive to one or both. I play behind cameras. I write about all of the above. I'm based in Glen Echo's contra dance community outside of Washington, D.C., but I'm happy to go dance afield when I can. Lather, rinse, repeat. Always repeat.
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