First symposium was an overview of surf music in Italy, hosted by White Seed. A topic so obviously relevant I was surprised it hadn’t been done yet! Furthermore, it was one that I felt shamefully unaware of. While I knew of several bands within the past 10 years or so, I knew of nearly zip in the 60’s. So we had a few choice examples, including some vocal surf pop from back in the day, through the 80’s (including a mention of Dome la Muerte from Friday). These were essentially the cliff’s notes from an upcoming book by the host, one that I’d love to get a hold of so that I can dig deeper.
Next there was an interview with Stephen Blickenstaff about his art and, you know, him. I loved this, it wasn’t technical or anything but he’s got a good attitude about his work and seems like a good guy. He said that the way his work ended up on the cover of The Cramps’ “Bad Music For Bad People” was by giving them drawings every time he’d go see them play, mostly just hoping for means to make friends with them. The cover of that record was simply one of those gifts, not commissioned, though as you might guess the ghoulish figure on the cover was somewhat based on Lux Interior.
Second was about Surf Music as it pertains to the sport with guest Luca Battistini. How did surf music become associated with surfing, what do surfers like today, etc. This one got a little off the rails – the guest host is a young surfer with an interest in surf music (though it should be noted, his own music is not), and though he clearly thoughtfully prepared, Lorenzo and Jeff had a lot more knowledge when it came to the surf music side. I think there were some interesting points made. Perhaps the mellowing out of surfer music today comes with a rise of environmentalism. It had me wondering what the turning point was when surfers’ music was one of aggression, volume and power to basically being anonymous with “chill guitar”. I have my theories, maybe another time. It turned into a bit more of a freeform discussion than a lecture, but it got wheels turning in my head.
There was also a discussion about surf logos (surf board companies, surf magazines etc). This was coming from Italian designer Fracesco Ciaponi who Lorenzo had learned was keeping an archive of these logos and was making a book. As a quasi-designer myself, I definitely was interested… but there was no visual component! The guest was clearly very knowledgeable, but they simply held the books and didn’t give us a glimpse inside. I have to say I was struggling to pay attention given this frustrating fact, which is a shame because again, the host clearly spoke with qualified authority on the subject. I ended up buying the book though, which reminds me that I owe Cousin Mary a euro.
I’m happy to say that after two SG101 Conventions knowing who Dave Arnson was and appreciating his stubborn adherence to having a dancing contingent for nearly every band, I finally got around to actually meeting him, which was a pleasure. Dave was speaking about his 40 years in The Insect Surfers, back from its humble beginnings when surf wasn’t really a thing anymore. It was a cool story that touched on later luminaries of surf such as Los Straitjackets, his contemporaries like Jon Blair and The Halibuts, DC Punk, marine biology and more. It was kind of stream-of-consciousness style and gave a good picture of the scene that Insect Surfers inhabited. Dave humbly seems reluctant to admit that his band is influential, important, or “a real band”, and that attitude is what makes him great.
Breaking up these symposiums was a set from I Surfoniani, a Italian band whose recordings I like but enjoyed even more live. To say they embrace the gimmick is putting it lightly, they get downright silly with it, with grass skirts, lots of chanting in the songs, and the guitarist sporting a nice and gaudy DePinto. In fact, let’s talk about all of the instruments: the bassist was playing an upright bass (with a castor wheel on the bottom, which I either have never seen or never noticed) and the drummer didn’t bother with a kick drum, instead standing up and occasionally playing some chimes. I love it all, I think it all worked and the songs were good and energetic to match. They could summon up some pretty mean stuff too every now and then.
The first outdoor band was The Del-Toros, a trio from The Netherlands. They were a bit of an outlier, with even Lorenzo’s introduction basically amounting to “I consider them surf enough”. When I’m not listening to surf, I tend to gravitate towards other walls of sound, often in noise rock and psych rock, and at times I felt like The Del-Toros were exciting that part of my tastes rather than the surf part, which isn’t a complaint. They were a good, noisy and crunchy start to the lineup for the day.
Next was Par Avion, who I had seen before and enjoyed at the Surfguitar101 convention, but this was a little more high-voltage than I recalled them being. Part of that was probably the opening few songs which were off their new album Surfzilla, which is a little more in-your-face than their previous material. Par Avion are Bernard on guitar and Stephanie on bass, plus they picked up a drummer in France a little bit before the show. If you’re familiar with Bernard’s resume on guitar, you know he’s very capable of some excellent shredding, but Stephanie’s bouncing bass adds a dance-able balance. I was also glad to finally get to meet them after exchanging some emails with Bernard in the past.
And then, of course, Mullet Monster Mafia, who came pretty hyped up by everybody that had seen them before. I was familiar with MMM’s albums, but like a Daikaiju show the music is only half the story. Loud and aggressive punk-styled surf without a single slow track I could remember. Then again, I barely remember any of the music. I remember taking pictures of the bassist with his NFL linebacker physique doing jumps, high kicks, spitting, drooling, squatting, playing dead, hugging the guitarist, and making more faces than I have time to describe. I think I spent two bars of my camera’s battery on them. The other band members would have been exciting on their own (very powerful power-stances from the guitarist) but the bassist stole the show. Unfortunately I didn’t get to get a picture with them, as I happened to be wearing a Reverb Brasil shirt, and they very proudly touted the recent Brazilian Tsunami box set.
The Phantom Dragsters were a surf stability anchor, with three members in coordinated (and good-lookin’) green and black outfits and fezzes, playing with a nice drippy surftone. It was the right sound at the right time, though not 100% trad feeling, with a little more progressive/modern songwriting styles.
I was pretty excited about Moms I’d Like To Surf after hearing their new record and had a sense that they might be a bit of an underdog. And unfortunately, I think that was true because I noticed the crowd was a little on the thin side and a bunch of people were taking a dinner break. Their loss. Moms' set was rousing and danceable from the start, and their performances were full of energy and passion. They occupy a cool spot where they’re experimental enough to be appealing in a cerebral sense, but unrestrained enough to be enjoyable in a no-brains sense. So if you wanna dance, you can absolutely dance, if not you can take a moment and notice the noisy/free-jazzy approach to that guitar solo they just played. I think they really nailed this set and I hope they made some new fans.
From here on it was a pretty ironclad trio of surf bands.
The Kilaueas are another band that I’d seen at SG101 and thought were good there, but since then they had released their excellent new album Touch My Alien, so it was great hearing some of that material. Ralf and the gang always seems to have a gimmick or two ready, and there was a “live volcano” on the stage, but there was a more important twist to the show. Ralf donned a pope costume, the rest of the band joined as acolytes and the stage was filled with close friends of Jonpaul Balak and Marie King – they were getting married. And I was waiting for a hot dog in the diner. I ran up to my waitress and promised I’d be back and ran outside. The ceremony was a great balance between sweet and goofy. There was a surprisingly touching moment where Ralf asked the surf community if they approved of this couple being wed and the entire crowd enthusiastically responded yes. It was over relatively quick, my hot dog was still warm when I got back, and The Kilaueas jumped back into “The Dark Wave Smells”. Wish I had a better picture of the wedding, but the stage area was packed!
I have this weird thing about The Bradipos IV where I listen to the album, find it’s good but doesn’t really stand out, hear them live and I’m blown away, listen to the album again and wonder what was wrong with me the first time. I seem to remember them being a lot more active on stage when I saw them at SG101 when they were playing songs mostly off of “The Partheno-Phonic Sound Of”, but I liked them as they were here anyway. One of the guitarists mostly just shook his head back and forth as if he wasn’t even aware of the crowd, and I know exactly how he feels: even though it’s not that different of a surf sound, the guitars meld together into one big surf-reverb fog with bursts of flourish. Though it was no longer spaghetti western day, they did a Good, Bad, Ugly cover that stood out as a bit more inventive than the usual one. Great band, great show. I also heard that when they arrived they brought some mozarella cheese from their hometown that was otherworldly.
Next it was time for the 40th anniversary of The Insect Surfers, with Dave Arnson supported by Eric Penna on guitar and Jonpaul Balak on bass. Hopefully you’re already familiar with their progressive-styled surf sound, and I found the delivery to be just as great as when I’d seen them at SurfGuitar101, and better than the albums in my opinion. Armed with knowledge of Arnson’s love of marine life, I had a further appreciation for their tribute to the highly endangered Vaquita porpoise, and even took a second to google it.
That’s an adorable dolphin. Dave and Eric mimicked dolphin sounds with their guitar during the song, something I never would have noticed if it weren’t for Dave’s introduction to the song. As expected, Dave was in constant motion, jumping around stage, whirling his guitar around… it enhances the music to see how he experiences it and how it makes him move.
Once they were finished Lukino Unagawa started spinning records, and I headed upstairs to watch the last two bands.
I was familiar with both The Sonoras and The Hicadoolas beforehand but not terribly much so with either. I was under the impression that The Sonoras would be the first band, and I was surprised to find that they had gained a singer and that their instrumental songs, usually pretty Spaghetti Western, were so punchy and danceable. Then they announced that they were the Hicadoolas, and then I thought “this is more spaghetti western than I expected.” They were great though, alternating really killer instrumentals with catchy vocal dance tunes. The drums were probably a bit louder than they should have been, but that was also just right I think – garagey, raw and fun.
I had to take a quick moment to breathe, looked down into the main area and noticed that Jonpaul and Marie were cutting the cake! I headed down and proceeded to eat tasty cake while dancing to the mod classics served up by the DJ. Of course I was gonna dance – this is a wedding!
I headed back up the stairs to actually see The Sonoras, though watching the clock as it approached 2:30, a bit past how long I wanted to stay. They came out the gates with some loud and strong spaghetti surf tones, still managing to rock the late crowd. I was having a blast but thinking hard about the night before when I couldn’t get back to my b&b at 2:30am. I stayed for a few songs, liked what I heard but decided to try to get back for 3am.