Venice-based experimental rockers Insects vs. Robots sparked attention six years ago in a church-turned-music venue called The Sanctuary in Santa Monica. The 100-year-old church offered them more than artistic freedom and killer acoustics, it evoked a reaction during their performances that encouraged their exploratory path into psychedelic folk-rock. The Sanctuary shows lead to a DIY warehouse festival and eventually landed them on stages at last year's Farm Aid, and Neil Young's Bridge School Benefit. Now set for their second appearance at The LA Psych Fest on Saturday, Insects vs. Robots continue to thrive in eclectic settings.
The inaugural LA Psych Fest kicked off in 2012, organized by Insects vs. Robots drummer Tony Peluso and LA underground music fixture Mikel Farber. Farber, who worked with IVR during their string of dates at The Sanctuary, founded the festival with Peluso and fellow organizer Ali Kellogg in hopes of bringing the spirit of the Austin Psych Fest to Los Angeles. This year, drummer Peluso stepped out of an organizing role to settle into the performance aspect of the festival.
The band credits Farber with actively supporting underground acts, confirmed by their fellow artists on the Psych Fest lineup which include a gamelan gong group, flamenco guitarists, and Seattle psych-rockers Rose Windows. "There are so many people who put on little events in the LA music world, and Mikel just happens to be one of the nicest, most soft spoken people who's only in it for the music," says bassist Jeff Smith. "Mikel and Ali are trying hard to make Psych Fest less about the usual bands you see around town, and more about bringing together an eclectic lineup."
Insects vs. Robots will debut the vinyl edition of their self-titled, third album at the upcoming Psych Fest show. Smith shares that the album serves as a calling card for the band, produced and engineered with the help of Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros sound engineer, Matt Linesch. The album is heavy on vibe and pulsating with experimental spirit, staying true to IVR's earlier work but also showing growth and cohesiveness.
The group's current lineup is rounded out with lead singer Micah Nelson, violinist/vocalist Nikita Sorokin, and guitarist Milo Gonzalez. The psychedelic folk rockers are at their best when onstage, and don't hesitate to let their personalities come through during performances. For Gonzalez, this sometimes leads to combining his talents as a contortionist with his guitar playing. "I feel being physical is an important part of my playing, though I don't necessarily go to extremes at every show," Gonzalez says. "That being said, physicality is a huge part of what keeps me feeling inspired. That's part of who I am, and being a contortionist, these are things that sometimes are expressed together when I'm playing."
Given band's compelling performances and their tendency to come alive in a church setting, it's no surprise the five-piece made a lasting impression on the Chapel Stage at The Heartbreaker Banquet mini-festival during SXSW in March. The festival, held on Willie Nelson's ranch in Luck, Texas, was a bit of a homecoming for lead singer Micah Nelson, who is the elder Nelson's son.
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Smith recalls the group inciting a psychedelic revival at The Heartbreaker Banquet, which had weekend revelers standing in the pews. The band jammed out a set that had passersby careening their necks through the church windows to catch a glimpse of what was happening inside.
"There was a religious feeling in the air, we got everyone dancing in the pews and screaming at the top of their lungs," says bassist Smith. "Playing that church was one of my favorite shows to date because of the environment, and the feeling it gave the band. It was one of those magic moments."
Insects vs. Robots perform at the LA Psych Fest at the Bootleg Theater, 2220 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 389-3856; www.bootlegtheater.org. Sat, May 10. Doors open at 3 p.m., $25, all ages. For more information on Insects vs. Robots visit www.insectsvsrobots.com