Live electronic music is coming alive in Portland

Alex Greenlee | The Free Press

Posted on October 15, 2012 in Arts & Culture
By Sam Hill

Alex Greenlee | The Free Press

Live Electronic, a very new and innovative genre, is flourishing here in Portland Maine.

It seems these days we hear a lot of people complaining about how nothing is new anymore. Even students at USM who have access to Portland’s music scene.

“I think a lot of the generation lacks a fire in them to be extraordinary. They are happy to experience the mediocre, and thus they create the mediocre,” said Kurt Perry, a Theater major at USM.

It wouldn’t be far-fetched to say that the first ten years of the new millennium have been stagnant, not innovative or revolutionary. People want change, like what we saw happen to the youth when the Beatles became popular in the 50s and 60s, creating music and a culture that will remain popular for generations.

Well, things are changing, and live electronic could very well be our  generation’s catalyst.

There are a lot of people out there who have been skeptical of the integrity of electronic music because none of it is ever played live, but it’s becoming a more popular performance choice among artists. Live electronic music takes elements of studio production and makes them available to the artist on a live stage setting. Loops, samples and effects of all kinds, including vocal harmonies, become tools for the musician in creative expression. With these instruments, live bands can capture the face-melting drops characteristic of bands like Bassnectar or Mimosa, but retain their live expression and instrumentals.

“These instruments simply add a whole other palette of colors for us to paint with,” said Andrew Mead of The Other Bones, a local Live Electronic trio.

The city of Portland has produced some leading innovators in independent live electronic. If you haven’t witnessed Cyborg Trio carry a crowd into a teeming dance party of bass, bounce, light and harmony, it would be worthwhile to mark their next event on your calendar. The extravagant light shows, the bass that reverberates in your chest, the orchestral harmonies of the synthesizers – it’s all candy for the eyes and the ears.

The three-piece group, The Other Bones, utilizes all the tools of live electronic production, but incorporates strong indie rock elements.

Andrew Mead operates what the band affectionately calls his “space-ship,” a sprawling spread of glowing buttons and keys, from which he manipulates live samples and loops played by his synthesizers.

“I know what my samples sound like,” Mead says, “but I can’t just hit play and expect it to sound good. This is an instrument, and I am completely in control. I’m locked into a grid for beat measurement, but we can dip in and out of that, and I’m constantly manipulating the effects.”

The band described its start in live electronic music as unintentional.

“We just started using the tools and instruments that were available to us, and started using live loops, and it all just kind of evolved,” said Mead.

Live electronic is defined by people who attempt to access every possible sound they can. This is not limited to the instrumentals either. This band highlights a vocal diva, Loretta Allen, who skillfully activates live loops and vocal harmony effects with precision.

Allen also adds a wholly unique aspect to the band’s sound. She demonstrated for The Free Press an effect used in the band’s newest debut where she uses free-form vocal looping.

“I love to just sing organically, but it can be a lot more interesting to be able to do other things, like incorporate harmonies and build loops,” said Allen.

And beyond that, she sounds incredible, with a voice that might be comparable to that of popular artist Adele. Think Adele meets Passion Pit meets Phantogram, with crazy guitar solos, and that’s The Other Bones.

Even though it may seem easy now to assume that this is the only place to find good live electro, there are excellent acts worth seeing everywhere. Heads in Harmony, a popular regional music festival hosted in Massachusetts, highlighted national acts Papadosio and Dopapod, two of the freshest and most innovative names in Live Electronic. Also, EOTO, one of the first names in the game of live electro, threw down some serious whomp at Port City Music Hall on Oct.13. Across the country, bands like Sound Tribe Sector Nine and Big Gigantic have captivated crowds with some of the same techniques, creating a cult-like  following.

Great things happen when people come together to experience music that they love. All over the country, Live Electronic music is conjuring up such crowds, and Portland is becoming a major player in the movement.