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Orange County isn’t known as the bastion of avant-garde music. But pull up the rug from its local music scene, and you’ll find aural surprises that’ll put your shopworn definitions of indie rock through the wringer. That’s always been the motivation for Eclectic Company, a Santa Ana-based think tank of musicians, artists and promoters that has been hosting band showcases at the Orange County Center for Contemporary Art (OCCCA) since 2005.
Once a month, this modest gallery in the city’s downtown Artists Village transforms into a dark, paint-slathered den of sonic subversion, where ambient fringe artists, saw-playing mavericks and pedal-pushing noise bands flock, creating lineups that range from sleepy to satanic. Founded by artists Stephen Anderson, Kiyomi, Kebe Fox and Suzanne Walsh, this progressive residency began as an experimental movie night called “1st Friday Films.” It gradually morphed into a forum to which bands from all over—around the corner, across the country and as far away as France—come to play.
Eclectic Company is kicking off its next five years with a swath of world music acts on Saturday, with bands Caravan to Pollenland and PremaSoul.
Caravan to Pollenland, a seven-piece outfit from Long Beach, are a rainbow burst of gyrating performance art, laptop trance beats, howling vocals, sitars and percussion. Though their improvised song structures are flush with primal energy, they don’t throw caution entirely to the wind. Somehow, they find time to construct special, psychedelic costumes for each of their shows. Their performance will also feature spoken word that will tie in to OCCCA’s current exhibition, “Revisiting Beauty.”
Los Angeles-based PremaSoul are more of a jazzy experiment. Using horn sections, East Indian folk music and authentic, Old-World instrumentation, the band consists of two constant members–vocalist/harpist Sheela Bringi and trumpeter/pianist/vocalist Clinton Patterson. Onstage, songs such as “Mishra Time” hang on a calm and colorful mosaic of intriguing, rhythmic meditations.
As Eclectic Company turns 5, it continues to unearth local music’s underbelly. Here’s a short list of the most noteworthy acts that have contributed to the odd, aural brew in our back yard.
Hop-Frog’s Drum Jester Devotional
Though their slithery samples and intense tabla beats sound like something that originated from a pack of Moroccan mystics, Hop-Frog’s Drum Jester Devotional are a trio of LA experimentalists. Some may recognize them as a splinter sect of Long Beach’s multifaceted artist outfit Hop-Frog Kollectiv. The distorted swells of electronica, dub-inspired percussion and psychedelic-movie accompaniment of Hop-Frog’s Drum Jester Devotional border on sensory overload. But multi-instrumentalists Jeremy Morelock (a.k.a. E.Loi), Denise Owens, Joshua Peters and Kirk Pickler use their gritty bouts of haunting, MIDI-eastern chaos in ways that make the soundtrack of a bad acid trip seem spiritual and transcendent.
Within the first few seconds of their song “Catapult,” one can hear echoes of the amalgam of dream-pop waifs who influence Long Beach duo Familiar Trees. The floaty, ambient textures of vocalist Fabiola Sanchez and keyboardist Ken Negrete borrow just enough from such artists as Björk, Broadcast’s Trish Keenan and Azure Ray to give you an enticing frame of reference for their breathy brand of artful expressionism. When fleshed out with a full band, their sound unfolds like butterfly wings, revealing calm, kaleidoscopic soundscapes.
Combining a shovelful of self-loathing and visceral, unholy squalls of static and synthesizer, Anaheim’s Yuko Imada leave you wondering if the members have anything left of their eardrums. Be advised, the average music enthusiast probably has no desire to stomach this kind of primal rage. Taking cues from Japanese noise artists Yamatsuka Eye, Hijokaidan and others, the band make frequent appearances at Eclectic Company, often engaging in destructive collaborative sets that leave a trail of dented instruments. However, they do have a softer side. Minor synth swells, sirens and relentless TV static on songs such as “Flowers of Flesh” might actually coax you into getting close to the stage—until they decide to blow you away again, that is.
Joy Shannon and the Beauty Marks
Prolific Long Beach songstress Joy Shannon owes a lot to the cultural appeal of the Celtic harp. Or maybe it’s the other way around. Few local artists have managed to maximize the full potential of this delicate instrument in recent years like Shannon. Known for her spellbinding alchemy of Goth rock, Irish folk and cinematic drama, Shannon concocts albums—such as 2009’s The Fisherman’s Daughter—that brim with rich, melancholy lyricism. Her tunefully deliberate vocals allow you to catch every word. Brushing up against the subtle flourishes of her band, the Beauty Marks, Shannon’s smoldering songs of sin, lust, redemption and destruction have continued to be a recurring force at Eclectic Company shows.
Eclectic Company Concert, featuring Caravan to Pollenland and PremaSoul, at the Orange County Center for Contemporary Art, 117 N. Sycamore St., Santa Ana, (714) 667-1517; www.theeclecticcompany.com. Sat., 8 p.m. Free. All ages.
This article appeared in print as "What’s That Sound? Eclectic Company wants you to discover OC’s musical underbelly."