An evening at Rhizome never disappoints. Wedged snuggly inside Takoma Park’s fine dining and condo district, the small house venue seems to defy gentrification. With gallery spaces on the top floor and a bathroom that’s wired up into an interactive sound installation (play while you pee), Rhizome is like no other in D.C. As always, you can depend on the entertainment being equally jarring.
Kicking off the night was Washington-based composer, DJ, and singer La Roche. Commanding a wide range of ambient samples and rhythmic melodies and beats from a DJ controller, La Roche tweaks and shades their tracks with filter sweeps and reverberated layered voices, bringing each song to exuberant life. La Roche croons through each bouncy number with meditations and lamentations on emotional turmoil and the quest for self-emancipation. La Roche’s spirit world takes form over the infectious beats and evolving sounds, creating a whirlwind of beauty that also makes you want to dance.
Up next was one of the country’s most exciting performers. Will Hicks, or B|_ank, as his one man drumming/synthing project is called, presented a spectacle of musical mastery and visual art rarely seen. His set up of synths and computers, nestled snugly against a neatly furnished yet enormous drum set, was more wired up than the bathroom. Some wires lead to speakers, others to the projector. When Will would clamp down on a kick or slam his stick against the ride cymbal, they would echo or distort or trigger a sample of a bunch of people chatting. At times, rhythmic and catchy, others atonal and scattered, Hicks effected the chaos of a free jazz trio, sometimes in quite literal fashion as his sample pad blurted out improvised sax lines. One got the sense that if bebop was a response to rapid urban industrialization, Will was letting out that cry for 2019: a sense of being caught up and trapped in the ever changing, rapidly advancing world.
Hicks worked with Argentinian dancer, Luciana Arias, to add an extra visual dimension to the show. While Hicks played, she danced naked across the screen. Depending on how much Will was doing on the drums or with his synths, the image would distort into multicolored refractions. At times, when Will was really going at it, the screen would turn into a blob of moving rainbow colored shapes. It reminded me back in the day of trying to watch the Playboy Channel when you didn’t have a subscription.
B|_ank has been a force of nature in the Nashville scene for many years, grinding out his early days with Linear Downfall and later forming his own project. Hicks continues to work closely with Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne, and more recently R. Stevie Moore and Greg Saunier (Deer Hoof) have joined his circle of collaborators. But it’s his solo live performance that truly get to the heart of Hicks’s vision: a melding of forms, a feast for both ears and eyes. Hicks was traveling with Nashville painter Lydia Kozar, who set up a small exhibition of her abstract art works. Swishy multicolored shapes adorn the canvases, hypnotic in their lack of form, yet projecting the hyperactivity of a Takashi Murakami painting. It was a great tie in with B|_ank’s colorful abstract projections. Clearly the two Nashville based artists are influencing one another.
Sir EU was a perfect follow up to the touring act. I’ve seen the D.C. based artist perform with Tony Kill before, but it was my first experience of the raw, homogenous version. Sir EU has that same reckless abandon that we saw in B|_ank, that Sun Ra-esque chaos jazz that confronts rather than pacifies. With heavy jazz drummer Rob Stokes (October ’71) setting the foundation over disparate samples, Sir EU danced and rapped/poeticized in a bright yellow outfit the correct name and origin of which I am not even going to pretend I know. Fans knew the music well, dancing in the hallways as they mouthed along the lyrics. It was the massive cherry on top of an already gooey AF hot fudge sundae of sound.
As I sat in the backyard of Rhizome, finishing a coconut water and watching while the bands loaded out (shit! I should have offered to help them), I thought about the small Takoma House surrounded by an ever encroaching and gentrifying city. The strict no hanging out on the porch rule and boarded up windows meant to trap the loud sounds inside the house reveal the tightrope Rhizome has to walk to survive in this hostile environment. With the help of B|_ank, Sir EU, and La Roche, the contrarian space became the mouse that roared.
Words by Johnny Fantastische, Photos by Lindsay Hogan