Electric Company

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

"If you go to an Earl Harvin Trio show in Denton, the place is packed and everybody's dead-fucking quiet, and then they applaud. Here, you go see the Trio, and everyone's talking and kind of paying attention but not really, except for the few people at the front who are trying to listen. And I just don't really want that vibe at Melodica. Skip the social crap. Just come for a lot of good music. I'd like to do it in Dallas--and if we decide to do it again, it'd be nice to do it in Dallas--but whether that's really going to happen, I seriously doubt it."

It's off-the-cuff comments like the above that have branded Dover, who recently returned to Denton after a year of living in Dallas, as Denton's--and avant music's--most vocal mouthpiece, rightfully or not. "I'm a music cheerleader in general; it's not just specific to Denton," Dover says. "In all honesty, I go see Dallas bands a lot. I go see bands. People in Denton will sometimes say, 'I'm not driving to Dallas to go see a show.' I will. And vice versa. I like seeing live music. I like going to shows. I'm not half as dogmatic as people make me out to be. I'm just really into the music that I make. It's what makes me excited. But I like music in general, and I like live music even more."

That joie de musical vivre runs throughout Melodica, and the locals get their game on with Melodica's Saturday-night bill. Upstairs that evening features the too-cute Erica Barton and Baldomero Valdez outfit Faceless Werewolves, Mission Giant, Jetscreamer and electro-jazzbos Ghostcar. Downstairs kicks off with Denton's newest--and some say soon-to-be-greatest--space-rock behemoth, Dokodemo Doa; Pete Gannon's and Daphne Gere's down-tempo mood orbit Mercova; Dallas favorite son Peter Schmidt's Legendary Crystal Chandelier; Mandarin; and the return of Denton's Lift to Experience, walking with Jesus straight off the pages of the NME and into your heart.

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.

An even better display of Melodica's anything goes approach is found on the Friday-night upstairs bill, which is devoted to the Stereo on Strike Electronic Music Collective. Formed earlier this summer by a coterie of Denton electro acolytes who were sick of rock, the Stereo on Strike crew started invading Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios open-mike, "Big Ass Beer" night every Tuesday. They'd arrive early, keyboards, samplers, tape loops and laptops in tow, fill up the sign-up sheet and take over. They'd play their own tracks. They'd remix each other. They'd cut up current pop and hip-hop tracks. And they started to build a crowd. They eventually earned the right to have their own night every other Thursday at Rubber Gloves.

For Melodica, the Stereo on Strike Crew is represented by six-year electronic music vets RF Programme (David Gross and Rawly Pickens); the Aleph (ex-Coals to Newcastle cut chemists Matt Piersall and Matt Cheney's new outfit, making its live debut); Skellytown (Cheney's solo outing of glitch-core assault); the Wild Bull (Dover's anti-social and frequently porn-drenched solo computer project); and MFH (the beat-happy duo of Randy Murphy and Roshanda Red Quartet vet Patchen Preston).

The treat in the lineup, however, isn't a bona fide member of the Stereo on Strike crew, but that hardly means he won't have the skills to play the bills. Though he's only been at the post for a year, Dr. Joseph Butch Rovan, the director of the Center for Experimental Music and Intermedia in the Department of Music at the University of North Texas, has already left his imprint on the university. He opened the electro-acoustic composition course to nonmusic majors last year, which enabled young music-minded students to explore electronic music.

But that's a meager achievement in his line of credits. He founded the computer music studios at Florida State University. While he was "compositeur en recherche" at the Institut de Recherche et de Coordination Acoustique/Musique in Paris, he developed a musical glove that's worn on the right hand and produces sound via a computer when the fingertips of the glove are touched or when the arm or wrist moves. (Think action-cum-gesture painting translated into sound, and you'll be on the right track.) His awards and accolades (including the George Ladd "Prix de Paris") are too numerous to list. And he's spent the past summer playing in festivals and taking part in seminars all over Europe. Dover has no idea what Dr. Rovan has planned for Melodica, but if his performances during the past year at UNT are any indication--ranging from computer-mediated solo saxophone sets to interactive soundscapes sparked by the movements of a German modern dance troupe as viewed through a digital camera--typical it won't be.

While the art damage will be taking place upstairs, downstairs Friday night is the most solid stem-to-stern package this neck of the woods has seen in some time. The lush, orchestral pop of Polyphonic Spree and the incendiary odysseys of the Earl Harvin Trio need no introduction, but the same can't be said for Austin's the Young Heart Attack. Anchored by the guitar flamboyance of ex-Sixteen Deluxe axman Chris "Frenchy" Smith, this seven-piece--Smith, bassist Steven Hall and drummer Bryan Bowden (all formerly of Sixteen Deluxe), keyboardist Tony Scalzo (Fastball), guitarist Chris Hall (ex-100 Watt Clock) and two sashaying female backup singers qua tambourine players--has rock written all over it. If a combination of Big Star, Mountain and Blue Cheer stretches your lips from ear to ear, you're in luck.

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