Electric Company

The Melodica Festival returns with music to quicken the pulse and blow your mind

In some small circles, the legends are legion. There was the time Light Bright Highway took off for one uninterrupted two-hour song as Good/Bad Art Collective's Martin Iles bathed the band in a computer-generated wash of colors that stretched until nearly 3 a.m. There was the time Jetscreamer's Will Kapinos unleashed a solid wall of guitar abuse. There was the triumphant return of Simeon, joined by two youngsters who provided the rhythmic backup to his home-tweaked electro-gear that rekindled '60s futurists the Silver Apples. There was the time the Charalambides' Tom and Cristina Carter shyly crafted some of the most understated and haunting twin-guitar action this side of a butterfly's kiss. There was the time King Coffey's Drain turned the Argo into a full-on dance party, or when Mission Giant conducted robot wars. Perhaps most infamous of all, there was the time Thorazine Dreams finished its set with a rain of destroyed keyboards as the drummer struck a Karate Kid pose, decked out in nothing but a pair of fairy wings.

The setting for all the aforementioned magical moments was the kind of-sort of-not really annual Melodica Festival that North Texas music mainstay Mwanza Dover finds himself corralling when he can.

Line starts to the left: Dutch vets the Ex bring their rabble-rousing punk to the Melodica Festival this weekend.
Line starts to the left: Dutch vets the Ex bring their rabble-rousing punk to the Melodica Festival this weekend.

"In all honesty, that was the best show that weekend--better than Tortoise, better than E.A.R.--and they were the Friday-night opener," Dover says, recalling that ribald final show of Thorazine Dreams, which happened at the first Melodica in 1996. "This was a band that some people loved, but a lot of people really, really hated. But on that night they blew everybody away. They started smashing keyboards, and their drummer Brian had on the wings with his dick tucked between his legs hocking keyboards at the audience."

That might not sound like everybody's idea of family entertainment, but for local yokels into having their brains bent by some serious 'tude and tunes, Melodica delivers. The festival, which takes place this weekend at the Ridglea Theater in Fort Worth, started as a precocious idea hatched by Dover and friends back in 1996 to promote the vibrant Denton scene. "At the time, there was also a whole lot of bad-ass shit that was bubbling up in Denton," Dover says. "And a lot of people were doing a lot more experimental music than ever before, and, if anything, it was a great way to reach out to the outside world and say, 'Hey, look, there's cool shit going on in Denton.'"

It remained only an idea until the Argo, where Dover worked as the booking agent at the time, landed the Tortoise, Sea and Cake, and 5ive Style touring show for a May weekend; they decided to build a festival around it. Since the fest's seeds were planted with no dates in mind, Dover was already pursuing former Spaceman 3 drone man and E.A.R. honcho Sonic Boom. One day he called--Dover picked up the phone and on the other end was Boom's droll British monotone--and after some extemporaneous persuasion, Boom was onboard. Dover had a weekend festival to sculpt.

Though it would be romantic to say that Melodica always unfolds without a few glitches, it was successful enough to prompt Dover to cull a repeat performance the following year at the Argo, where the blistering Light Bright Highway, Drain and Silver Apples shows unfolded. In the ensuing year, the Argo--Melodica's home--closed, and in 1998 Dover decided to move the festival to Austin.

"There really was no place to move it to in Denton, and attendance was always kind of fluctuating to say the least," Dover says. "We figured, being naïve about it, that in Austin we'd get more support. But it's always been the out-of-town bands that draw people, and they don't go to see the talent that's from here. A lot of people in Austin showed up for Austin bands and ignored Denton bands. Of course, a lot of those same Denton bands they ignored back then pack the house in Austin these days, like Sub Oslo--who have played every Melodica thus far--and Lift to Experience, both Melodica vets."

It was a combination of that apathy and simply the hassle of planning an event remotely that prompted Dover to move Melodica back to North Texas in 1999, the last year it was held. Also moving it from early summer to fall, Melodica 1999 invaded Fort Worth's Ridglea Theater, a space that nicely complements Melodica's two-stage, multiple-nights-and-acts organization. But given its desire to promote the local music scene's out contingent, you wonder why Melodica has never happened in Dallas. Cash has something to do with it: It costs a lot to secure one club for two straight weekend nights.

"The money thing is a big factor, and lack of interest from Dallas clubs is another," Dover says. "In all honesty, a lot of the bands that play Melodica have a hard time getting booked in Dallas in the first place. This subculture--and it's not just Denton bands, there's bands in Dallas' own back yard that get overlooked--that a lot of Dallas booking agents ignore, not necessarily of their own fault. Dallas is simply not a bastion for underground music.

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