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It’s been a month since I saw the world debut of Machinedrum’s Vapor City album for Decibel Festival 2013 in Seattle. I still haven’t recovered.

I want to delve into the ridiculously impressive and varied delivery of Travis Stewart’s newest album but first..

I feel like that live show didn’t get the proper credit it deserved. After searching through over 50 reviews of Decibel Festival this year, Machinedrum’s Vapor City performance was mentioned 5 times. This is a travesty to me. Everyone is entitled to their opinions, but many of the reviews/mentions or lack thereof add to my frustration when it comes to music journalists. The way of writing used by many who about music can be boring as hell to me. Saying the bass was “heavy” for one, so dry. Aren’t there more ways to describe the bass? How does it make you feel? It just comes across as lazy to me. Now, it’s not that all these reviews were bad, I just had trouble connecting with them. I’m no expert when it comes to writing, but my approach here is to be more personable and speak from the heart, instead of this sometimes distant, analytical place.

Many journalists probably don’t take nearly as much time thinking about their writing, as the artists spend creating their art. They pour their lives into music, just to have it regurgitated back online in a less imaginative way.

So here’s my perspective on the Vapor City show from someone that was IN IT; goin’ wild in the crowd as an ecstatic fellow fan, artist and music journalist for Disco Droppings. There was absolutely no way my roommates and I were going to miss this. We got there early and saw Giraffage open. Really kool dude, his set was uplifting with it’s own personality. He seemed to understand the weight of importance, playing alongside a titan like Travis Stewart. When it was time for the main event, Travis quietly came on stage, picked up the guitar and started playing the chords to “Center Your Love”. I had heard the whole album many times already via a leak (shh), so I knew every track. I was dumbfounded to see drummer Lane Barrington feverishly playing alongside Travis. I would be lost in the music, freakin’ the fuck out and would forget the drummer pounding out these super fast, meticulous rhythms. Then I would look over at him, and just freak even more. Travis was also singing throughout the set, demonstrating his versatility as a performer.

I knew what kind of visuals I was in for after watching the futuristic/cray “Eyesdontlie” music video, directed by Weirdcore. A press release states, “The video, directed by Weirdcore, was developed from visual references and art work for the album and the upcoming live tour. Weirdcore worked with the midi data from the track and used the track stems to create the video. The neon images react to the midi and some of the distortion is reactive to the sound as well.” Watching the show, we got to witness an expanded display of the Vapor City districts. The visuals cut out early,  but just that small amount of imagery was powerful enough to say the least.

 

I’ve never heard it that loud in Showbox Market. I’ve also rarely experienced a performance that pushed the crowd to such a rapturous and primal place. The only other time I’ve felt this utter abandon of the self, was at Daft Punk’s Alive 2007 show in Seattle. The crowd became a pack of wild apes, and Machinedrum alongside his drummer and visuals were the monolith.

A friend came up to me right after the Vapor City show and said something like, “that was everything I wanted from music and so much more.” About as big of a compliment as you can get as an artist I’d say.

Ok, I got that off my chest.

A piece of this release that isn’t getting much recognition (besides the music itself, which is beautiful from beginning to end) is the website. If you head over Machinedrum.net you’ll see a gray landscape with the Vapor City districts colored in black. All the pieces together resemble Africa to me, and as you move your cursor over each section you’ll see things like “Gunshotta Ave”. Click, a small quiet loop plays “Gunshotta” with the music video embedded.

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The “Njord District” is also available now, coinciding with the release of Machindrum’s RA Podcast mix, centered around the same location. All the other districts are currently offline, saying “‘Vizion Centre’ will be unlocked in Dec 2013”, “‘Vapor Park’ will be unlocked in Jan 2014” etc. It’s a magnificent idea; spreading out the release and giving people additional content and deeper understanding of this world Travis has dreamed up. Become a citizen of Vapor City through the site for updates on the districts, and Citizen-only bonus downloads. 

 

In addition to all this we have the Vapor City tour itself. Boiler Room did a 3-part series for the album in NYC, London and Berlin. We got to see the first ever performance of Dream Continuum (Om Unit + Machinedrum), plus Lando Kal, Fracture, Braille, Mike Slott, Jimmy Edgar, Scuba and of course Machinedrum among others. The tour runs until December 14th, with upcoming stops in Belgium, France, Ireland, England, Italy, Canada and the USA. It would be a sad, sad thing to miss.

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Machinedrum – Facebook Soundcloud Twitter

– Jimi Jaxon

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Lately, I’m either thinking about Machinedrum or talking about his music at least once a day. I am buzzing over his new productions, which only add to my sheer amazement of this artist. The amount of ideas and fresh vision coming out of Travis Stewart is so huge. Some don’t fully understand everything he offers to the world.

This “Eyesdontlie” video astounded my friends and I. What resembles those Roller Coaster Simulator rides carries you through a district of Vapor City. The environment becomes increasingly trippy, kinky and colorful, eventually fading into nothing.

 

In this interview with The Creators Project, Machinedrum talks about the dreams that inspired this new album on Ninja Tune..

“I would kind of be transferred to this same city in my dreams where it felt familiar, even though I knew I’d never been there. In the dream I felt like I knew all the places, I kept seeing the same streets, the same shops and clubs. Same amusement parks and weird little details that I kept noticing were recurring and it really started to freak me out that this kept happening—and it was also happening the first half of the year that I lived in Berlin.

So it started to form this sort of combination architecturally between New York and a bit of Berlin. A sort of old-meets-new sort of architecture. But it was very vast. And I could almost, in the dream, sort of zoom in and see the city for what it was, and kind of get an idea of where I was in the city. But it was crazy that I kept having this dream and it started fading out as I was living in Berlin but I thought it was definitely something I should explore more creatively, there was definitely a reason I was having this dream.”

When you make it out to Decibel Festival 2013 next month, make sure you experience the world debut of Vapor City Live on Friday, September 27th @ Showbox Market. It’s a part of the What The Festival Showcase with additional performances from XXYYXX, Giraffage and Timeboy (visuals by Zach Walker).

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Vapor City will be released on September 30th

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– Jimi Jaxon

dBx

It’s about time David Kwan is recognized for all his artistic work, and I’m happy to facilitate this. He is a close friend and one of the hardest working people I know. Learn about his efforts for Decibel as a graphic designer and VJ. You can catch him doing visuals live tonight at my Vermillion show. This event has been put together by Tremel; DJ, producer and writer for Disco Droppings and features performances from himself, dod, Max Taylor and me. Hope to see you there. 

DD What drives your graphic design role in Decibel? Are there major themes or concepts being focused on in 2013, for the 10-year anniversary?

DK This year’s creative drive captures the essence of Decibel. Each year of the festival is like a layer of ideas that builds upon one another. The approach was to capture all those ideas from the early beginnings and refine those sets of ideas. In the process I reviewed the profiles of past dB artists, listened to samples of their music, and went through tons of old photographs, down to observing the personalities of the staff. I wanted the 10-year brand to be about Decibel’s community and culture, not just what looks cool. What I discovered was an array of dark tones, which made sense being that the root of Decibel began from the deep underground–no pun intended. 

There was an untitled quote I read one morning on Facebook which said, “You can’t live a positive life without a negative mind,” which made me reflect a little further about this year’s theme. That quote rang true for Decibel and a lot of other things the more I thought about it. In a nutshell, you can’t have yin without yang, and you can’t discredit either. Historically, Decibel has hosted many stark and obscure events, which is what I wanted to extract and condense for this year’s theme. In doing so, participants will be able to witness and experience Decibel for what it really is, and be able to better appreciate it. The night might not be as bright as the day, but it sure as hell is sexy.

DD What led you to become a VJ, and what role do see visual artists playing in a show environment?

DK The funny thing is that I didn’t intend to become a VJ after I was done with college. Being a graphic designer is my full time job, but one of the tools I use to conceptualize new ideas stems from motion graphics. It’s important to understand the different fields of art to help enhance what you do as an artist. Knowing art is good, but it’s not enough to help you evolve creatively. Similar to being a plant biologist, if all you do is focus on plants, you might be missing key knowledge from other fields that may help you discover something groundbreaking. In the end it’s all about holistic thinking; that’s how I stumbled upon becoming a VJ. 

The VJ arena is still very much in its infancy and growing rapidly. It’s sort of overshadowing an era of expensive physical stage production and moving more towards affordable virtual reality as technology advances. That’s not to say building heavy stage sets will become obsolete, but it does mean that stage production is shifting towards a new paradigm. There is a time and place for physical stage sets — plays in theater, for example– but it’s not very practical when you’re talking about a low budget music show. The nice thing about having a VJ during performances, is that it grants stimulating visual access for musicians and their audience, which in the past might not have been possible. In many ways, VJ’s helps the musicians tell their story a little better while helping their audience understand their music a little more. A special dynamic occurs when you combine music, visuals, and a lot of serotonin resonating from the audience.

TobinAmon Tobin, ISAM / Visuals by LEVIATHAN

DD This will be our third time collaborating on a performance. How would you describe the direction of the visuals this time around?

DK This time around we’ll be entering a dystopian science fiction environment, where I’ll be taking everyone though space, then back to Earth and beyond. I don’t really want to spill the beans for anyone, but the goal is to follow the theme of the music set. With that said, your fans could probably imagine the journey I might take them on. Did someone say neo-noir genre? Yep, there’s going to be a lot of that in the visual set. I’m pretty excited to roll out some new eye candy.

943021_4900462314343_1993084720_nJimi Jaxon + David Kwan @ Bok Bok Showcase via Kyle Young aka Tremel

DD Your work as a graphic designer and VJ puts you in the background, where audiences may not see whose behind it all. Do you enjoy this perspective? 

DK “Lord of Light! Come to us in our darkness …'” sorry I couldn’t resist throwing in that “Game of Thrones” reference. I actually enjoy working in the shadows, it gives me the opportunity to focus on my craft behind the computer or behind the stage without a lot of distraction. Sure, it’s not the same as getting full attention from the audience, but I am touched when I see sparkling pupils of joy emanating from the crowd. Especially when I hit the soft strobe or fade in a scene of slow crashing waves headed straight towards the audience. If they’re happy, then I’m happy too.

dakwanDavid Kwan @ Andy Stott Showcase w/ Kid Smpl via Mollie Bryan

DD Where do you hope all this effort takes you in the future? 

DK I’m not really sure, but since I am in the business of creating virtual realities I guess I can go anywhere. :]

dakwan3David Kwan w/ Giraffage

– Jimi Jaxon