Sound Tribe Sector 9, the electronic-jam band, released the soundboard recordings of the third of three “Wave Spell” sets from their festival of the same name on Sunday. The group, one of the top touring acts in the country, held their first ever Wave Spell Live festival in the small northern California town of Belden last weekend (Aug. 16-19) which featured nine sets by the band over four nights, including three completely organic, full on improvisational sets of music, dubbed “Wave Spell” sets.
“This feels like a [success]”, said Zach Velmer, drummer of STS9, to the crowd toward the end of their final performance of the weekend. The event was billed as an intimate festival, with only 1,200 tickets available. But by the week leading up to the event, secondary market tickets were selling for significantly less than face value as desperate folks who could not make it for one reason or another tried to recoup what they could. There were rumors that the band and the people putting the festival on, Euphonic Conceptions and Cervantes Present, were going to lose money as well as speculation that this might be the last such event the band would attempt due to poor attendance.
By the end of the weekend, however, the event felt very much like a success. One source close to the group reported that as of the beginning of the festival, the promoters and hosts of the event had broken even financially, although it doesn’t appear as if profit was a prevailing goal in this endeavor. The final attendance at the event was 1,200 people.
The weekend kicked off with the first of three “Wave Spell” sets, in which STS9 engaged in a “Musical conversation”, playing an all out improvised piece of music. Although a bit timid at first, the performance quickly picked up speed and provided a very nice greeting to the audience and a fantastic introduction to what would turn out to be an event filled with exceptional music and incredible art. Along with the “Wave Spell” sets, STS9 played six standard sets of original songs, digging deep into their expansive catalog and providing the most avid fans with performances that can easily be described as special.
Standouts from the headlining performances included a very funky first set on Friday night. The fan favorite “Rent” rumbled through the tiny mountain town as the crowd smiled from ear to ear and kicked up dust from the all-encompassing dance floor. Friday night concluded with the second “Wave Spell” set, in which STS9 was joined by electronic music producer, Richard Devine. Devine provided a wealth of glitchy percussion sounds, making for a truly unique improv set.
Night three did not boast a “Wave Spell” set, but did not disappoint. Opening with the classic STS9 jam, “The Rabble”, moving through “Call Jam”, “Vibyl”, and eventually back into “The Rabble”, the crowd was elated. Topping off this stellar performance, the group ended the night with the sonic party from their beloved album, Artifact, “Tokyo”.
The final night of the festival began with the final “Wave Spell” set of the weekend. Picking up steam throughout the weekend, this final improv set was both soothing and euphoric, and bursting with energy at the same time. As a collection, these one of a kind, completely unique performances were truly something extra special to experience. The night moved on with two final performances of original music by STS9. The set included the groups unique “Modular Jam”, in which they use analog modular synthesizers to create unique sounds to jam with on stage. Adding to the festivities, the band was joined at the end of their second set by Dominic Lalli of the electronic funk duo, Big Gigantic, on saxophone for the song “Grow”.
The last performance of the festival from the hosting act was a fitting end to a captivating event. Punctuated by crowd favorites, “F. Word” and “Hubble”, the real musical gem of the festival from STS9 came in the form of the rarely played “Breathe In”. Played as the first encore of the last night, it was the second to last song played by the group in Belden. The haunting, melodic piano in “Breathe In”, uplifting and euphoric, provided a refreshing auditory deep breath, before Dominic Lalli came back out to join them for their final tune of the weekend, “986 Foot Tall Trees” (Lalli can be heard during parts of “Breathe In”, backstage warming up, as his microphone must have been left on accidentally. Appropriately enough, he seemed to be playing along to the STS9 song, and it sounded pretty good).
Along with the stellar performances by STS9, the festival included performances by several other electronic acts and artists. Genre pioneers, Edit and Ooah from The Glitch Mob, did back to back late night sets on Friday night. Zach Velmer, drummer, and David Phipps, keyboard player for STS9 each did solo sets. Velmer was joined on stage by his four-year-old daughter, singing lead vocals on his opening tune. Other standout performances included Baad Quartet. Comprised of Alana Rocklin, bass player for STS9, Dominic Lalli from Big Gigantic, Adam Deitch of Lettuce, and Borahm Lee from Pretty Lights, Baad Quartet played a full set of Jazz covers from Herbie Hancock and the like, making for possibly the most unique performance of the festival. Also making waves at the event was the electro-funk trio, Sunsquabi. Playing multiple sets over the four days, Sunsquabi was one of the acts you could hear being raved about all weekend.
Wave Spell Live not only provided a weekend of exceptional music, but beautiful visual art as well. Couches by the river faced canvases, both already painted and still being worked on. Attendees brought enormous, oversized floatation devices, gigantic unicorns and giraffes floated in a cluster of colorful water toys on the beautiful Feather River. Fans could lay out in the sun all day, floating, or on the beach, where The Beach Stage hosted music all day until the main events of the evening.
By Monday, on the way out, the event was clearly successful. The small crowd provided for an extremely pleasant experience with minimal drama and minimal waste. Considering the size of the event, an extraordinarily small amount of cigarette butts could be found on the ground, nothing was destroyed or trashed, and everybody seemed to get along well and enjoy each others company. Some logistics could have been better planned. The shuttle to and from the parking lot ten miles away where everyone had parked their cars was not extremely convenient. The posters for the event, expected to be in the merch bags given to VIP guests were not ready on time and are instead going to be mailed to the folks who were expecting them. But a few missteps aside, the event concluded peacefully with a majority of the attendees leaving with cherished memories.
This event was planned, announced, and thrown on short notice (Band insiders have said that the whole idea of Wave Spell Live was conceived, confirmed and announced all in Las Vegas during the bands three night run early this past May at The Brooklyn Bowl). The event was scheduled the same weekend as another festival in upstate New York, hosted by another group popular in many of the same communities as STS9, often drawing bigger crowds (This event was canceled at the last minute, however fans of both groups had a hard decision to make). But Wave Spell Live went off without a hitch, successful by the hosts’ own standards, and provided a memorable experience for many fans who took time off of work, bought tickets, and flew in from around the country. Hopefully the “success” of Wave Spell Live 2018 will inspire another such event next summer and for years to come. As this writer sees it, it can only get better.