Working Order Records, home to DC’s own synthpop duo Technophobia, held its first Tiny Cat Dark Music Festival to celebrate “dark electronic music” over the weekend at Black Cat. By any measure, the first edition of Tiny Cat was a wild success, drawing 10 bands of remarkably different soundscapes together over two nights of immersive music.
All profits from the festival went to the Greater DC Diaper Bank, a charity dedicated to providing basic baby needs and personal hygiene products to families in need. That’s what Working Order Records does — it holds concerts as benefits for charity!
As for the festival, five bands a night stood up on backstage at Black Cat to present music that vaguely fell under a goth/industrial umbrella, but all bands surprised with the diversity of their music. From thumping techno-like mixes to earnest guitar playing to appealing synth-wave, the 10 bands ran the gamut of musical compositions, although you could find shades of Joy Division throughout if you listened closely enough.
Hélène De Thoury of Hante headlined the first night of Tiny Cat in her first-ever US appearance. Arriving from Paris, Hante presented cinematic minimal wave from a catalog that dates back to 2014. Hante’s latest album, Between Hope and Danger, showcases her soft, haunting vocal over gentles waves of synthpop. Folks in the audience seemed particularly taken with Hante’s performance of “The Storm” from debut album, Her Fall and Rise, released in 2014 via Stellar Kinematics. “The Storm” is indeed a sweeping, appealing number totally appropriate for watching a torrential downpour coat the city in night while sipping a pleasant Bordeaux.
Listen to Her Fall and Rise by Hante on Bandcamp:
On the other side of the spectrum, Toronto’s Kontravoid thrashed about in pulsating EBM while strobe lights flashed throughout the room. On Bandcamp, Kontravoid is selling his latest EP, Undone, released in April. The EP includes standout 7+ minute track “Not Your Dream,” a rhythmic rendering of dancefloor dynamics. Cameron Findlay left the band Parallels in 2011 to start Kontravoid as a one-man project.
Listen to Undone by Kontravoid on Bandcamp:
DC’s own Technophobia, comprised of Katherine and Stephen Petix, were the nominal hosts of the evening as the proprietors of Working Order Records. Technophobia’s dark electronic music covers a lot of ground from the imposing dirge of “Shame,” which includes some shiny synth sprinkles throughout. Technophobia also played “Negative Space,” the lead single from their 2016 debut LP Flicker Out, where the roiling synths constitute a dark electronic shuffle.
Listen to Flicker Out by Technophobia on Bandcamp:
Philadelphia’s Remote/Control changed the game again with their straightforward but very catchy post-punk. If you came strictly looking for the children of Joy Division, you found them in trio Jade Shade (vocals, synth), Thomas Shade (guitar, vocals), and Nick Kulp (guitar). Songs like “Wasteland” provided rumbling guitars over which Jade sang with a kind of inviting tension.
Listen to “Exposure” by Remote/Control on Bandcamp:
DC’s own Radiator Greys opened the show on the first night with his experimental industrial pop. As Radiator Greys, Josh Levi composed symphonic noise from a synthesizer and sequencer, pressing buttons and flipping knobs like a conductor transformed into a mad scientist. The music culminated with Josh stripping tape out of a machine in a maneuver that doesn’t seem like it should be so melodic, but it truly *is* melodic. To my ear, Radiator Greys is a close cousin of the very early industrial pioneers like Cabaret Voltaire at their most accessible.
Listening to Denying the Other by Radiator Greys on Bandcamp:
Here are some pictures from the first night of Tiny Cat at the Black Cat on Aug. 3, 2018. Technophobia stars in the first set of pictures, and the second set features Hante. Photos copyright and courtesy of Paivi.
On the second day, another five bands continued the eclectic blend of pop textures. Headliners Crash Course in Science made their first-ever DC appearance on Saturday. Their story is something of an inspiration! The post-punk trio first formed in 1979 and released Signals from Pier Thirteen in 1981. The band broke up but reformed in 2009 after finding a new audience thanks in part to the rise of electrocrash. Schematic Records reissued their debut album and published the previously unreleased second album Near Marineland. In 2017, Crash Course in Science released a new album, Situational Awareness, via Electronic Emergencies.
At Black Cat, band founders Dale Feliciello and Michael Zodorozny were joined by post-reformation vocalist Andrea Beeman, and they presented a set of music perhaps best described as “pre-techno experimental dance.”
Listen to Situational Awareness by Crash Course in Science on Bandcamp:
New York City’s Tempers bill themselves as goth, but the latest music from the post-punk duo carried an accessible indie pop sensibility. Jasmine Golestaneh and Eddie Cooper were certainly a draw, the kind of band for which you would scan concert notices to catch them again in a solo show. Active for roughly five years, Tempers released Fundamental Fantasy, their latest EP, via The Vinyl Factory recently. Next, Tempers will release Junkspace, a concept album about consumerism, via BMG in November! Look for first single “Love at the Mall” in September.
Listen to Fundamental Fantasy by Tempers on Soundcloud:
Parklife DC has caught Void Vision, led by Shari Vari, at Black Cat and DC9 several times in recent years. But this was the first time we saw the Philadelphia-based synthesist accompanied by a violinist. The violin added an ethereal vibe to the synth-waver’s otherwise worldly electronic music. Shari poured over her synthesizers while also fielding vocals on songs like “Hidden Hand,” “Sour,” and “The Other.”
Listen to Sub Rosa by Void Vision on Bandcamp:
In May, Atlanta’s TWINS, or That Which Is Not Said, released a self-titled album. A solo project of electronic producer Matt Weiner, TWINS has been making “sinister” synthpop since at least 2011. Actually, despite the pain and yearning of somewhat minimalist lyrics, the latest music from TWINS consists of surprisingly soothing and pleasant synth-wave, devoid of what we might call heavy industrial sounds.
Listen to That Which Is Not Said by TWINS on Bandcamp:
Sadly, we missed dark synthpop act Aertex, who opened the second day of Tiny Cat. Salut, Aertex!
Working Order Records promises a second edition of the Tiny Cat Dark Music Festival next year, and it’s clear they are onto something. The first year of the festival delivered a unique mix of music along with bands that don’t regularly visit DC. Tiny Cat is clearly well on its way to becoming the premier dark music festival for the region.
Paivi caught pictures of Void Vision, Tempers, and Crash Course in Science on the second day of the festival. Here are pictures of those bands performing at the Black Cat on Aug. 4, 2018. All photos copyright and courtesy of Paivi Salonen.
Crash Course in Science