By Chris Robie
Festival Photos by Lindsay Chandler & Buffy Bender
The venues were mostly all within walking distance, stretching from Franklin Street in downtown Chapel Hill to the adjacent city of Carrboro. Some of the top performers in this year's lineup included Kid Koala, The Foreign Exchange, TeeBee, Wale, Noel Sanger, Jason Jollins, Olivia Block, New Wave Hookers, Sci-Fi, The Malah and Turbo Pro Project. The great folks at Signal obviously recognize the emergent popularity within the electronic music scene amongst college students and the large electronic community that exists in Chapel Hill, NC. Chapel Hill is currently a haven for many talented local DJ's and other electronic acts. So Signal got together and decided that Chapel Hill would be the perfect location to hold a festival not just for the immediate area, but with a scope focusing on the entire Southeast.
To the casual festival goers, having to walk to multiple venues to hear the music seemed to be a little overwhelming at first, especially if you were from out of town. Franklin St. is a big street and there are many distractions along the way. With so many of the acts coming on at around the same time it was better to just get in the car and drive back and forth, which is what we did the whole weekend. The 506 and Cat's Cradle shows was an easy walk but the Vespa, Nightlight, Tallula's, and Library shows were a bit of a challenge, especially after a few drinks. So if you wanted to bounce around and see as much music as possible it was best to just drive and be there in a matter of minutes. With Signal hosting music with all the major venues along the strip the attendee had to pay for each show separately, ranging anywhere from $8 - $20. Having to pay for each show individually only seems logical since it's nearly impossible to catch a show in its entirety and then leave and go see someone else at another location. We just worked out a system for each venue, a little bit of this and a little bit of that and then on to the next, sometimes returning back to where we started. We wanted to see as much music as possible. Wrist bands would have been a good idea. Each time we entered a venue we had to be marked with a stamp or by a permanent marker across the back of the hand. By the end of the night our hands were covered in ink. The stuff is pretty hard to scrub off. With the amount of talent that we saw and heard over the course of the weekend any gripe I had seemed minor in comparison. Signal Fest 2009 was a total blast and I highly recommend going for anyone thinking about attending next year, especially if you're in to DJ's and electronic music. It's not an overnight thing so if you're from out of town you'll more than likely need to check yourself into a hotel if you want to stay for the whole thing.
The festival kicked off with a sold out show at the legendary Cat's Cradle. The Cat's Cradle is the premier venue to see live music of all genres in the Chapel Hill area. Many of the world's best musicians play here or have played at the Cradle at some point in their career. Sonic Youth even mentions the place in their 1991 song, 'Chapel Hill'. This is by far my favorite place to see live music in the Chapel Hill area. The sound isn't great and it's not all really that big but you go there, see great music and always have a good time.
The bands performing at the Cradle on Thursday were Wale, Colin Munroe, Kooley High and DJ Forge. Unfortunately, we were unable to attend the show. I'm really disappointed that we couldn't make it because I'm sure this would have been the highlight of my weekend. The Hip Hop artist, Wale (pronounced Wal-A), describes his music, "Think of what a def persons interpretation of very good music would sound like ...multiplied by your favorite songs impact when you knew you loved it multiplied by what would happen if music never existed until you heard it, add a million to that and you'd be 1/100000 of the way to understanding my sound." 23 year old Wale Folarin uses dazzling word play, a fresh sound steeped in DC's legendary go-go scene. With numerous mix tapes floating around he has become somewhat of an underground phenomenon. My favorite mix tape by Wale is '100 miles and Runnin'. I just love the intro when he says, "I appreciate you downloading this mix tape or however you got it..." His 2009 new single 'Chillin' features Lady Ga Ga and reminds me of a hip hop version of Balkan Beat Box. Highly energetic on stage, his lyrics are smooth and catchy and his music has been compared to such artists as Lupe Fiasco and Kanye West. If I had to choose who to see between the three it would be Wale all the way. Catch him in the small clubs while you still can. Wale is most definitely an artist on the verge of big time success. Also on the bill and currently touring with Wale is Colin Munroe. Colin Munroe's music is a bit harder to describe. His music is fused with Hip hop, funk, indie, pop, and soul. You've probably heard his most recent hit single remixed by Kanye West at least a dozen times, 'I want those flashing lights'. Minus all the guest musicians on his own Colin Munroe sounds very much like an indie pop band. When you add in the guests it's like a 180 degree turn in style and it sort of feels like Colin Munroe is the guest musician and not the other way around. The hip hop stuff is by far his stronger points. The other two acts opening the show were Kooley High, from Raleigh, NC, and DJ Forge, who is currently the resident hip hop DJ for the Cat's Cradle.
We started our night off at the Local 506 with The Malah and Sci-FI. The Local 506 is another popular venue in downtown Chapel Hill. I'm not really a big fan of the place. It has a muddy sound and the room bottlenecks between the bar and stage area. If the place is packed and you're near the bar you can hardly see the stage. However, it's still one of the best places to see bands on the rise. The Malah came on first and I was a little surprised that there weren't that many people there to see them. It's a shame because they put on a really impressive show. I would describe The Malah as an instrumental, ambient, electronic act with elements of atmospheric improvisational jams. I should also mention "light boy". There was this kid at the show dressed in a white T-shirt and black leather pants. We noticed him pull what looked like string out of his pocket and then he began to wrap himself with it. Then all of a sudden he lit up like a Christmas tree. We only stayed for half of Sci-Fi's set because we wanted to go see what was going on at the Cat's Cradle right up the street. Sci-Fi sounded great. They're also instrumental with roots in jazz, fusion, funk, reggae and house music. It was hard to break away but we wanted to check out some of the other artists performing around that same time. It was a dilemma we were faced with the entire weekend. So much music, so many venues, and we didn't have enough time to see them all. It was impossible to see everything Signal had to offer but we did our best. Most of the acts I had never heard of before so many of the shows were chosen by random or by word of mouth. I'm sure that we missed some great stuff but what we did manage to see far exceeded our expectations.
got in the car and quickly made our way over to the Cat's Cradle. We could have walked
but since we planned on hitting up The Vespa afterwards it was best to just
drive. As we made our way inside the packed show we were just in time to catch
the last 20 minutes of DJ Mensa. Mensa is known for his on-the-spot mixes that
are tailored to the vibe and setting of every occasion. The vibe tonight
was fantastic. I don't think that I've ever seen so many people sporting Ivy
caps in one place. Hell, I was even wearing one. I thought DJ Mensa was really
good. You can check out one of his latest mixes here - http://www.djmensa.com/mixes/
It was getting pretty late so we left the Cat's Cradle and drove over to the Vespa. The Vespa is like a small cafe with a backroom dance floor. This place was also packed as we made our way inside. In the front room I believe the DJ performing was Hidden Cat. He was set up on a small table in the pathway leading to the back room. A small crowd circled his table and we maneuvered our way through to get a closer look. His mash-up mixes were ok. At one point he had a minor freak out moment when his sound dropped. It's never a good thing when the DJ is repeatedly mashing buttons and screaming, "Nooooo!" He managed to recover, though, and the crowd hardly took notice. By this time everyone was dancing away and having a good time. The real party was in the back room with Erectro/Lock. The back room had a small bar against the wall as you entered and a dance floor about the size of a garage. Everyone was just getting down. It was definitely a place where you couldn't just walk in and watch the band. If you weren't dancing you were just in the way, like a human pin ball. Erectro/Lock, I don't really know much about these local DJ's other than that they were a lot of fun to watch and dance to. Their Electro/House mash-ups had the place bumpin'.
I must also mention the daytime events that were held at Signal. On Friday there was the Production Workshop with NICOLAY (of The Foreign Exchange) held at Talulla's. On Saturday afternoon at the Vespa there was the Music Academy Info Session with Daz-I-Kue (of Bugz In The Attic) and a Music Academy Info Session with Kid Koala at the new Mansion 462. Fans get a chance to hear DJ's talk candidly about their roots and culture, equipment, techniques, or anything else they might consider relevant, in a relaxed atmosphere.
On Saturday we headed straight to the Cat's Cradle for the Kid Koala show. DJ Simon Booth was the first act of the night. I was not too impressed by him. His mixes were awkward to say the least. One minute he had a nice groove going and then the next he would throw in something like the Smashing Pumpkins or The Police. His sound dropped out a few times and his timing seemed to be a little off at certain points. I think it's safe to say that this was the only act the whole weekend that I didn't care too much for. I don't know much about him so perhaps he was just having a bad night. Even so, I didn't care too much for his song selection either. When Daz-I-Kue (of Bugz In The Attic) stepped in it was like night and day. I was really impressed by him. Of course the real treat was Eric San (AKA Kid Koala). Unlike your average lap top DJ this guy is completely old school, spinning vinyl on three turntables. San popularized a method of playing the turntable like a melodic instrument, where a long, single note is dragged under the needle at different speeds, creating different pitches. Since this method of adjusting pitch is imprecise, the resulting notes waver and bend. Thus, on his song "Drunk Trumpet," San uses this method with a trumpet note to simulate a drunken trumpet player; interspersing drunken vocals to complete the effect. Watching him perform is a visual treat. Again, just as things were getting good, we had to leave so that we could catch some of Demencia vs. Entheos set at the Vespa.
By the time we made it to the Vespa the Demencia vs. Entheos set was already over. We had just missed them. That was a bummer. So we headed to the back room to see the rest of Snack, I believe. The first thing we noticed as soon as we entered the room was light boy. There he was in all his glory, spinning around in the middle of the dance floor, wearing the same outfit and lit up like a Christmas tree. Snack was a lot of fun. Their intense house grooves, with lots of solid build ups and release, had us grinding the rest of the evening.
Fest 2009 was a total blast and I look forward to 2010. I would like to thank
Shaw Hargett for hooking HGMN up with press. It's people like Shaw and the
other folks at Signal that are doing their best to introduce fans in the
Southeast to the thriving DJ/Electronic scene from around the world.
Unfortunately, with so much music going on there were many acts that we missed
or I didn't mention in my review. Perhaps with better planning I may have a
chance to see a lot more next year.