I had already missed Latvia Happy Hour by the time I arrived at the Taix Front Lounge on Thursday evening, but was just in time to catch the tail end of Israel Happy Hour. A tiny energetic blonde in a white crop-top and sparkling forehead jewel is on stage, rapping intensely to a beat she’s synthesizing. The sound shaking the walls of the historic French restaurant makes me think of M.I.A. circa Arular.
It’s the first night of Filter Magazine’s fourth annual Culture Collide Festival and bands from twenty-four countries are in the process of descending on Echo Park. The festival’s cozy central hub is Taix French Restaurant, with stages set up in both the Front Lounge and Champagne Room. The festival is starting out with five simultaneously active stages, a number which will grow to eight by the time it all ends on Saturday. Its venues include the large outdoor World Stage in the parking lot, the Methodist Church behind it, and a string of stages along Sunset Boulevard including The Echo and its downstairs sister venue, Echoplex.
Despite how large the crowd eventually grows, Culture Collide impressively retains the communal feeling of a small festival. With the Taix as a point of convergence that includes check-in, an artists’ lounge and the earliest shows of the evening, everyone passes through it, and you begin to recognize one another.
The artists are overwhelmingly excited to be there, many of them performing for the first time in L.A., or even in America. They’re eager to engage with the audience and the music of other artists, and the crowd is quick, and—in such an intimate setting, able – to share their appreciation with bands directly after their sets. It makes for good vibes. Put most simply, Culture Collide is the kind of festival where someone whose band you were rocking out to on stage a couple of hours earlier is probably now standing next to you rocking out to someone else.
My first stop on Thursday is down the hall at the Taix Champagne Room, a ballroom where The Novocaines from Australia are vigorously playing in front of a small audience of twenty-five people. “We’ve got no money, but we have some really nice t-shirts!” the main singer appeals, before looking down at his own grungy tee and adding, “I mean, not on…”
The night quickly becomes a whirlwind of moving from stage to stage, trying to take everything in and trying to accept that the physics of time and space are against me.
Looking back at the blur of those three days, here are some highlights:
Terry Poison, an Israeli electro band that played at LA Fashion Week and is known for their sense of style and performance played the rhythmic “Gorgeous,” along with an excellent Lana Del Rey cover, during which lead vocalist Louise Kahn, clad in a floral print spandex bodysuit, climbed onto one of the speakers on stage and perched above the crowd.
GRMLN of Southern California emerged with a show of classic garage band sound and swagger, strong on the drums and with frontman Yoodoo Park head-banging the whole set through, emerging from behind his mop of long hair only at the very end.
Costa Rican band The Great Wilderness stood out as a spectacular and unique combination of British rock, shoegaze and a kind of determination that is hard to define until you hear it in the mingle of Paola Rogue’s deep, guttural voice and Jimena Torres’ sweet, melodic one. Among the highlights was “Hexagon,” a new single released earlier that day.
Four blocks down Sunset in the intimate setting of Lot 1 Café’s converted back room, another delightful contrast was unfolding: Like Swimming, a brand new band from Sweden comprised of three members of the former You Say France & I Whistle played cheery, catchy tunes while Ida Hedene’s melodic voice delivered lyrics like: “I’ll hang you upside down and let you drain for days/ stuck in my heart shaped box we’ll drive around for hours,” the opening lines of single “Go Buffalo.” It’s been stuck in my head ever since.
The sweet and piercing voice of IZA filled not only the air but also the floor—quite closely, I might add— of the Taix Front Lounge on Thursday. Though she already knows fame in her native Poland and received a couple of nominations last year from Nagroda Muzyczna Fryderyk, the Polish equivalent of the Grammy Awards, IZA’s jump into the American spotlight is largely a result of her recent collaborations with Snoop Lion (including single “No Ordinary Affair”), who found her after she submitted her work in an online contest. In this setting, however, playing her solo music and owning the room with her unassuming gaze, that seemed irrelevant. For most of the set she was calm, focused and almost expressionless. Then, during an emotional final number, her face contorted into what looked like genuine anguish. She threw her head back and her whole body erupted in a scream. As the song ended, she held her hands up to the sides of her face and shook them out in one final fit. Composing herself, she looked up at the audience as if finally noticing us and giggled in recognition. “Thank you so much for coming,” she says, “I had a great time.”
Another Polish artist, Brodka, captured an audience with both her unique stage presence and diverse sound. With an angelic face framed by tight, bouncy curls and attired in a bright red nylon jumpsuit and shiny black leather Hush Puppies, her aesthetic looked deliberate and best described as “Little Orphan Annie in a Michael Jackson costume.” And she rocked it. From songs in her native language to Joan Jett-esque hard rock to something that got her doing rapping hand gestures, she owned every part of the map she ventured to.
At the Echo Friday night, following a solid set by the UK’s Vadoinmessico, Kid Karate stole the show with an electric performance that was as entertaining to watch as to listen to. It was above all high-energy. The music was fast and visceral and as if to describe these qualities via interpretive dance, vocalist Kevin Breen never stopped moving. Not once. In between singing, yelling and calling repeatedly for “more smoke” until the stage looked like a small cloud forest, he was bouncing, jogging in place and kicking his knees up to the beat. During “You Need Violence,” released earlier this year on their EP “Lights Out,” he jumped suddenly off the stage and into the front row, engaged in a small dance party with the crowd, leapt back up in a single motion and then bounced back onto the floor for the finale. Breen’s affinity for his audience was pretty easy to discern, even before the next night when he wrapped up their set in the Taix Champagne Room by casting a sweeping look over the gathered crowd and proclaiming, “you look so beautiful, I want to make love to each and every one of you individually.”
On Saturday I finally got better acquainted with the artist I had caught only a taste of after my arrival at the end of Israel Happy Hour, Adi Ulmansky. Her sound is a combination of pop, rap and EDM with frenetic beats that swings between sweetness and aggression, mixing a hyper-feminine pitch with a sharp bite. In “Hurricane Girl,” she takes a stab at outsiders’ expectations of her with lines like: “Adi/ show us how you move/ we don’t care about the music that you produce.” In songs like “Was It You?” she instills and infectious rhythm that takes over the room.
The Culture Collide World Stage had its share of the action as well, including a grand set by Echo Park locals NO on Saturday.
Friday and Saturday also both saw some great shows on the Red Bull Sound Stage at the 700-person Echoplex. Notably, the lineup included Gemeni Club, Mystery Skulls, the much anticipated Miami Horror (they did not disappoint!), Heliotropes (an all-girl acid rock band from Brooklyn with a badass sound and am ongoing joke that every one of their songs is about taking a bath with Gwyneth Paltrow), and Danish duo The Raveonettes, who had the venue packed and the floor shaking with an energetic set that bid farewell to this year’s Culture Collide with a bang.
The unrelenting three-day parade of undeniably fantastic music was set further apart by the way it offered engaging experiences and a sense of camaraderie among artists and festival-goers. It translated into an earnest appreciation for not only the music, but the process of making and sharing it. From The Novocaines playing just as hard for twenty-five people as they would for 700, to IZA’s heartfelt thank you at the end of her set and Kid Karate’s antics, the spirit of Culture Collide was evident everywhere.
Words by Bojana Sandic
Photography by David Reeve