[Sound Guy] Of Anteaters and Acrobats

Of Anteaters and Acrobats
Taking a flying leap into UCI’s on-campus music series, Acrobatics Everyday

I graduated from Arizona State University, which is an enormous place, enrollment-wise. Yet, despite the ever-swelling student body, there weren’t typically a lot of cool cultural events happening on campus during my four years there. I remember a prerelease screening in one of the lecture halls of the now-forgotten-by-everyone Paul Walker/Leelee Sobieski (whatever happened to her, anyway?) thriller Joy Ride, but that’s about it.

So when I first heard about UC Irvine’s Acrobatics Everyday concert series, I felt a twinge of jealousy. Started in January 2008 by UCI student/KUCI music director Sam Farzin (see “School Spirit,” Nov. 27, 2008), the series has welcomed a litany of hipper-than-thou indie performers such as the Mae Shi, Dan Deacon, Japanther and the Muslims—all unorthodox acts that might otherwise struggle to find a place to play in the county—to wherever on campus Farzin can put ’em: lecture halls, outside, the Phoenix Grille cafeteria. (Farzin says he has dealt with some drama from UCI administrators as to where the concerts can and can’t take place.)

Money from the door nearly always goes to the performers, though, in rare cases, Farzin and his team of organizers keep some to pay for operating expenses, he says.

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I finally made it to an Acrobatics Everyday show last week. My first challenge was finding my way around the UCI campus. The posted maps weren’t all that helpful, but they did reveal that there’s a group of residence halls called “Middle Earth.” I noticed a group of hip-looking kids and followed them. That may sound kinda creepy, but it worked.

This particular show was held in one of UCI’s classroom trailers (Social Science trailer 103), adorned with a hand-written sign proclaiming, “SHOW HERE.” Inside, the trailer had everything you’d expect: desks (the kind with an attached chair), a whiteboard, clock on the wall, bright lights on the ceiling, the whole thing. Sure, a tangle of Christmas lights was tacked onto the whiteboard along with a colored strobe-light ball—but there’s no getting around the fact that not too long ago, in this very room, kids were freaking out because they hadn’t done the reading. Even weirder, as I walked in and paid my $5, everyone was sitting dutifully at the desks, as if they were about to listen (or pretend to listen) to a lecture on ethnography.

By the time Cole Moldy Milner began, the audience of some 15 people had regressed a decade and a half or more in their academic careers, leaving the desks and sitting down on the floor in front of Mr. Cole for circle time. The Portland-based singer/songwriter was completely no-frills, performing originals and a Kate Bush cover with just his acoustic guitar and no amplification. Definitely a good, low-key, unobtrusive vibe in the room.

The next act, Au, also from Portland, brought a completely different feel and a lot more decibels. The duo—Dana Valatka plays drums, while singer Luke Wyland handles a variety of duties, mainly keyboards and melodica—filled the small trailer with their loud, “experimental” noise rock, jamming on bells and crashing on cymbals. The growing crowd (up to about 30 people at this point) stood up for this performance, with even Farzin getting into it when he wasn’t twiddling knobs on the PA. If only fleetingly, you could almost forget your surreal surroundings—though seeing students sporting backpacks walk in from their evening classes snapped me back into reality.

Things got even weirder with the night’s headliner, Blevin Blectum. Her instrument is her laptop, which she used to play her beat-heavy concoctions. You would normally expect dancing to accompany this type of music, and though a few tried, it didn’t really happen, probably because of the conditions (and perhaps, the lack of adult beverages). Still, the assembled listeners did imbibe the performance with reverence. They seemed to be a pretty knowledgeable bunch, given the talk I overheard between sets.

Things wrapped up around 11 p.m., which is the established curfew for the shows. Outside, a student asked me what all the noise was about, and I told him about Acrobatics Everyday. He seemed intrigued. I hope he and others will check out the shows in the future.

Now that I’ve seen one incarnation, I can say that despite (because of?) its eyebrow-raising oddness, it’s not just a novelty. It’s programming that fills an eclectic musical niche—not just in the ’Eater Nation, but for our county as a whole.


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