PLAYING COLUMBUS: Flyover Fest 2018

All photos by Kaiya Gordon

Over the past eight and a half months I’ve spent living in and writing about Columbus, I’ve been introduced to so many crevices of the city’s arts and music scene, each one as remarkable and needed as the last. Columbus houses long-term open mic nights, hip-hop collectives and labels, jazz improvisers, experimental electronic musicians and DJs, publishing houses and presses (both well-known and new), a DIY scene that draws touring acts from around the country, locally-own galleries, and ever-expanding dance companies. It is, in relative terms, a small city; one in which even the most illustrious artists can be seen in intimate venues with dirt-cheap well drinks. In Columbus, I can see slam champion Rachel Wiley at a small burlesque bar; award-winning writers Hanif Abdurraqib and Kaveh Akbar in a black box theater; rising star Nnamdi Ogbonnaya on a stage almost floor-level; I can go to a book fair hosting emerging neighborhood library projects alongside punk cornerstone Don Giovanni Records. And–for better or worse–in Columbus I can (and will) run into people I know at each and every one of those events: teachers, colleagues, co-organizers, classmates, and friends.

Last weekend, at Columbus’ Flyover Fest, I did all of those things–all of the events, the socializing, the book buying, and more–within a two-block radius. The Fest, which was started last year by Two Dollar Radio, a local book-publisher and film producer, is held in a smattering of independent bars and venues, as well as in the Wexner Center for the Arts on OSU’s campus. Stages are shared by both community and touring artists, and at the heart of the fest is an interdisciplinary approach to the city’s art-making scene. I was excited by the varied bills, which never stuck to one genre or aesthetic, and which, though long, always felt worth staying through. Crowds were casual and light-hearted; unlike so many of the shows I go to, I was never pushed, or hit on, or yelled at, or spilled upon. It was nice.

The moments when I felt most held, most inspired, came while watching performances by local musicians. Sharon Udoh of Counterfeit Madison, who played at the Ace of Cups on Friday night, continues to be one of the most joyous and talented performers I’ve ever seen, able to simultaneously play an almost impossibly electrified keyboard, breeze through a technically challenging vocal performance, and recklessly manipulate her body onstage. While Udoh flipped her keyboard from its stand, continuing to play it even as it dropped across her body, my friend turned to me, amazed. “I can’t believe how much control she has,” he said.

Equally exciting was Sarob’s performance at Spacebar on Saturday night. The rapper was sandwiched between local band WYD and hip-hop pillar Open Mike Eagle, who Sarob repeatedly cited as an inspiration and icon. Sarob is young, but looms large during his performances, engaging willfully with the crowd as he dances and jumps between the stage and the floor. His songs move between soul and verse; even when he raps too fast to catch all of the words, the delivery is sharp enough to sting, smartly, like a slapped ruler. Like Udoh, Sarob plays at local shows frequently, and, like Udoh, he’s worth seeing at every possible opportunity.

Check out my photos from Flyover Fest to see more of my favorite moments:






PLAYING COLUMBUS: Damn the Witch Siren Makes ‘Magic’ on New album

Their first album since 2015’s Back to Dreaming, Damn the Witch Siren’s latest release, Red Magic is brooding and addictive. The band’s tags on Bandcamp almost say it all: “electronic, electropop, pop, sex, witch rock, Columbus,” they read. But along with the sex, and the dance beats, and the fizzy electronics, Damn the Witch Siren have, once again, produced a project which manages to make lyrically ambitious work sound effortless.

“On nights when I’m feeling superstitious/I light all the candles and burn the corners of my room,” starts Red Magic on opener “Sex U Up.” But the exterior ritual set up by these opening lines quickly turn interior; attention transitions from the “room” to “skin,” which, much like the image of burning candles before it, “spills.” Simultaneous to this physical transition, the lyrics introduce a level of–apparently sensual–taste, which continues through the rest of the song; “superstitious” becomes “superdelicious,” though the similarity between the words suggests that the two are closely tied.

In other words, Red Magic immediately introduces a complicated relationship between body and ceremony, sex and superstition. But it succeeds in doing this work without sounding strenuous; singer Bobbi Kitten’s driving vocals, paired with a quickening dance beat, are irresistible, weaving together to make music which almost compels the listener to moan along – vowels, notes, whatever halves of lyrics you can hear over the throbbed electronic sounds.

Formed in 2012, Damn the Witch Siren is made up of Columbus locals Krista Botjer and Nathan Photos (stage names Bobbi Kitten and Z Wolf, respectively) who came together after discovering a shared interest in experimentation and interdisciplinary art. Since then, they’ve collaborated on three albums and one EP. It’s a pretty prolific output for two people in six years, and their live performances are even more ambitious – the pair draw on theater backgrounds to build elaborately composed performances heavy on visual elements.

The band’s been interested in gendered experience, sexuality, and magic since the beginning, so while Red Magic doesn’t necessarily signal a stylistic depart for Damn the Witch Siren, the sleek production and general breadth of sounds invoked exemplify the years and labor that have gone into the project. One stand-out on the album is “Forever Young,” which invests a full minute in layered beats and noises reminiscent of twinkling lights before Kitten’s voice is folded in. It’s an excellent paring of high and low: quicker, vibration-heavy noises sometimes migrate into piercing range, and Kitten’s voice is partially obscured by twanging synths, but a low and steady bass beat grounds the song throughout.

Above all, each song on Red Magic is dance-able – in fact, the album almost insists upon movement. It’s fun and finessed pop, anchored by lyrics deeply interested in embodiment and bodily possibilities. And until the band’s album release party (Saturday, February 10th at Spacebar, accompanied by Columbus’ own Betsy Ross and Osea Merdis), I plan on binge-listening; letting myself get lost in the varied sounds; feeling both scary and sweet.