The sonic-green wonders of "experiential music festival" Soundwave. Plus: Shabazz Palaces at Big Tune and Kontrol's five-year technoversary
I may be at wit's end over the crude-stained feathers of everything else, but I'm more than OK with music so far in 2010. Sounds are stretching out, sonic categories are superimposing translucent wings, folks are taking chances for granted. For the past five years, the best DJs have been slowing down their sets, some to the point of blissful stasis — lightly back-pedaling in the midst of history's traffic. This year that's help lead to a swelling of the unexpected: indie rock fusing with ghostly rave (Delorean's sublime Subiza, Caribou's tricky Swim, Toro Y Moi's soul-phasic Causers of This) and the return rush of breezy Balearic vibes, with analog synths and subtle digital dubbiness lending a just-left-of-human touch.
Casual experiment is the norm, and even cracked electro-pop stunners like Sleigh Bells' melted-cheerleader Treats or the skitter-goth Atarics of Crystal Castles' eponymous new disc make it seem like ultranoise just ain't no thang. And hey, if I could marry the cinematic hypnodrome-hop of Seattle's Shabazz Palaces to the sly live techno canter of Zurich's Galoppierende Zuversicht — both coming to town this weekend — I would be in aural heaven. (I think that's legal in Portugal now?)
In short, we may be entering a genre-free experiential zone. So why not step it up by immersing yourself in the two-month wonder of our very own experiential music festival, Soundwave? Trust, it'll be amaze. There will be illuminated forests. There will be "extreme natural resonance" drones in abandoned bunkers. There will be live string duets inside famous sculptures.
This is the fourth installment of the fest, whose theme this time is "green sound." Artists from around the world will be generating sonic experiments that play off the green ideal. Bike-powered stages, solar- and wind-powered music, real and imagined environments, fantasy creatures — all on the menu and then some.
"The green thing is so big in culture, especially in light of recent events," Alan So, executive director of Project Soundwave (and total babe, btw) told me. "We want to showcase a full creative, innovative range of responses to the ideas of sustainability and reuse. It's far from literal, though. There's a spectrum of ideas. We have a sonic fabric artist from Texas, Alyce Santoro, who makes her clothes out of old cassette tape and then plays herself. She'll be performing during our month-long Illuminated Forest residency at the Lab.
"Another great thing will be Inflorescence at the Civic Center on June 17. Brett Ian Balogh will install tiny solar-powered devices he calls 'florets' in the trees that will collect sound all day, and then at sunset they'll 'bloom' as little lights emitting a sonic tapestry. And our opener on June 6, Resonance, gathers artists to the awesome Battery Townsely concrete military bunker in the Marin Headlands to really play with the possibilities of leftover architecture. Different perspectives, sonic ecology, that type of thing."
So brings an installation art and design background to bear on the proceedings, insuring a 360-degree experience. The Bay, of course, has a huge experimental music history and a still-thriving scene. But Project Soundwave's youthful programming, consciously or not, parallels a lot of local nightlife developments, from the gonzo digital culture offerings at the Tenderloin's Gray Area Foundation for the Arts (www.gaffta.org ) to the sonic vanguardism of live analog party OK Hole (third Saturdays at Amnesia, 853 Valencia, SF. www.amnesiathebar.com ).
And Soundwave's green attempts could provide a tingly synthesis of experiment and action. "It's easy to assume a passive role as an artist or musician," So told me. "Political art can be so off-putting in its bluntness or perceived negativity that, for an artist, pure abstraction is the only attractive way. We'd like to take a stab at changing that. Developing and utilizing alternative technologies to create ideal states can be both a statement and a contribution."
SOUNDWAVE FESTIVAL ((4)) GREEN SOUND June 6–Aug. 13, various times and prices, www.projectsoundwave.com 
RED BULL BIG TUNE PRODUCER BATTLE with Shabazz Palaces, Rick Rock, and DJ Toomp. Fri/4, 8 p.m., $5. DNA Lounge, 375 11th Street, SF. www.redbullbigtune.com 
[KONTROL] FIVE-YEAR ANNIVERSARY with Galoppierende Zuversicht and Craig Richards. Sat/5, 10 p.m.–6 a.m., $20. EndUp, 401 Sixth St., SF. www.kontrolsf.com