Skeletal Lightning Fest celebrated (and celebrated hard) the midwest DIY scene this past weekend, and we had a go at things at Error Records and the IMC in Urbana. Here’s our recap of what went down.
By Maddie Rehayem
First off, it needs to be mentioned how great a job Ryan Brewer did as the sound guy for the entirety of Skeletal Lightning Fest. Not only did he set up every single band, but every single band also sounded amazing. It was first especially noticeable with Thou’s perfectly mixed doom metal. Bryan Funck’s growls sent chills down the spine. The rest of night went smoothly at the packed Error Records. Highlights included a Smashing Pumpkins cover by Cloud Rat and a participatory Weekend Nachos set. Fans pulled out all the hardcore pit moves.
Angry Gods brought their many amps and cabinets to the Dingbat Dungeon for an aftershow as well. No cops or power outages, surprisingly, but there were plenty of out-of-towners present who were treated to a smoke-machined Wolf Luv performance, Mouthsex, a band from Springfield who just keeps getting better and better with every show and a rare Need set. I’m not sure how they all got up for more Fest the next morning because I sure had trouble.
By Ben Valocchi
If I was trying to find a punk rock festival, the swath of black-shirted youths clogging the steps of the Independent Media Center this Saturday would have been where I started. I shuffled past the clouds of smoke and a confused-looking elderly postal patrons in time to catch most of a strong show from Springfield’s Our Lady, who play a shouty, metallic brand of post-rock with electric cello. Hank. member Darwin Keup joined in on bass for for his second set of the day, having opened up just prior to Our Lady with his own band, and shortly thereafter played got his third in with Resinator, a doomy, extremely loud double-bass project. In-between, I caught label/festival founder Sean Hermann’s band Enta, who were also extremely loud — this would be a theme on the day. If anyone was selling earplugs at this, I assume they made a killing.
After a forgettable set by Dessa Sons, the first pleasant surprise came from Milwaukee group Estates. With their uncluttered, nineties-influenced sound — there’s more than a little Christie Front Drive going on in there — they came off confident and seemed to be one of the more technically sound groups that played. Laika arrived late due to van troubles, but seemed to attack their set with extra ferocity, breaking up their no wave-ish blasts with Van Halen-esque guitar shredding. Coma Regalia were determined to one-up them, barely taking time to breathe between song. For only consisting of a drummer and a guitarist, they make an impressive amount of noise, and their consistent rhythms and melodic guitar lines made them one of the more immediately gratifying sets of the day.
A year and change is a long time in the lifespan of the average punk band. Since Brighter Arrows‘ set at the inaugural edition of festival, they’ve undergone a pretty significant transformation. While markedly heavier and more pissed off than in the past, their music still contains elements of shoegaze and post rock that reward a more nuanced listening approach. Maybe this is my personal bias speaking — I prefer their early stuff — but I don’t think this set worked very well, mostly getting lost in the muck of the IMC’s acoustics. This is not intended a swipe on the PA or the sound in general, which was more than adequate and significantly improved upon last year. In particular, Locktender sounded great throughout the single twenty minute song that made up their performance. Their crushing low-tempo sludge was a welcome change from the breakneck speed that most of the day’s bands played it. Vermont singer-songwriter Tyler Daniel Bean followed, bringing along a full band to realize his major-key brand of emo, and proved to be mostly successful, despite some gear issues early in the set.
After Life in Vacuum (Canada) and Aviator (Massachusetts) provided a palette-cleansing double dose of relatively straightforward hardcore, the proceedings shifted back to emo for Denton, Texas group Two Knights. While they played a criminally short set (less than fifteen minutes), their punchy guitar lines and cascading drums were almost immediately rewarded with the day’s first crowdsurfer. They covered mostly new tracks from the just-released Shut Up (out on Count Your Lucky Stars), but set-closing oldie “A Dime is a Titan” got the best crowd reaction. Ohio’s Annabel followed with a more measured set that improved markedly (along with the mix quality) in the second half, ending with the soaring crescendo of “Our Days Are Numbered”.
Kalamazoo, Michigan’s the Reptilian have proven themselves as the best party-starters in midwestern punk, bringing a criminally underrepresented sense of fun to the lineup. While they didn’t quite reach the heights of last year’s set in the Channing-Murray Chapel — right up there with Warpaint and Paul McCartney for the best thing I saw in 2013 — their exuberantly tapped math-rock drew a stream of crowdsurfers and constant sing-alongs. They’ve appeared pretty regularly in the area previously, so I don’t think anyone was too surprised by how this set unfolded — but people keep going back to church every week, and that’s exactly what this was. Circle Takes the Square proceeded to step up to the altar next, and delivered a sermon for the ages.
Circle Takes The Square
The Savannah, Georgia trio earned their place in screamo’s pantheon with 2004’s astonishing As the Roots Undo. It is a keystone record in the genre, simultaneously managing to be wildly experimental while retaining more accessibility than most screamo. Its post rock elements in conjunction with call and response vocals make it a great introduction for curious first-timers — along with Refused’s The Shape of Punk to Come, it was one of the first albums recommended to me when I started going to shows. As the Roots Undo is the kind of record people that get upset with you for not knowing, and still sounds fresh today, just over ten years after its release. So suffice to say, this was a major get for the C-U — the kind that’s big enough to come with its own sound guy. Thus, it was a little bit weird to see Circle Takes the Square set up on the floor, with the audience right up in their faces. Fittingly, they lead off with the quietest three minutes of music I heard all day, massaging a series of low drones and sampled percussion into the chanted vocal intro to “Enter by the Narrow Gates”. Rather than hurling themselves and their instruments around the stage, CTTS seemed happy with a more restrained stage presence than the rest off the lineup — no complaints here. While the IMC had already seen some outstanding musicianship from (among others) Coma Regalia and Locktender, Circle Takes the Square simply operated on a level than the nobody else came close to. Their frenetic, heavily syncopated rhythms and sprayed clusters of notes seemed to come as much from a jazz/free-improv background rather than punk. The point being, CTTS don’t need to go crazy on stage to keep an audience’s attention — their music demands all you can spare on it’s own.
Circle Takes The Square
By Maddie Rehayem
After an exhausting Saturday, I slept in on Sunday and missed the Ice Hockey Vs. Yusuke battle set. I realize that this isn’t much good to anyone reading this, but for what it’s worth I heard it was awesome and members of both bands were wearing dresses. Luckily I was able to show up for Acidic Tree, who made the most of what they announced was a rare chance for them to play together nowadays. Later, Kittyhawk brought their indie charm to the stage. They joked their way through a surprisingly loud set (for which I foolishly ditched my earplugs). Afterwards, members of Kittyhawk stuck around for the “secret set” which turned out to be Dowsing. Later they all drove away in a small school bus.
The day carried on with strong performances by Anodes, whose clean-cut screamo appears on a split with festival organizer Sean Hermann’s band Enta. My Dad proved the novelty of their three drummers has not worn off just yet, and they’ve even kicked it up a notch with drummer Nnamdi Ogbonnaya being held up by fans while continuing to drum.
After an hour-long break, Sender Receiver summoned festival-goers back to the stage. They got a lot of sound out of just a guitarist, drums and a vocalist. Following them were Foxing, whose set was a giant horn-infused sing-along only to be topped later by Tiny Moving Parts, who had fans surrounding them, belting out their words.
Tiny Moving Parts
Although I am pretty sure a lot of fans left after a satisfying Joie De Vivre set, I had been waiting all weekend to see Tenement play — and it was worth the wait. If you’ve never seen this band, they tend to take you by surprise. If you have seen them, you wait anxiously for their pop punk songs to break into wild guitar solos and for the end of their set to collapse into a noisy freak-out. Singer/guitarist Amos Pitsch always has something up his sleeve too. This time it was a chain he wrapped around his guitar, which he proceeded to shake in the air. Must’ve been exorcizing some demons or hailing the rock gods or something. And that concluded the second year of Skeletal Lightning Fest. Though exhausting, it really can’t get much better than 40+ bands and their supporters and fans coming together over DIY music culture in C-U.
All photos courtesy of Sean O’Connor and Celine Broussard.