Synth You Been Gone (popnoise fest review)- city paper philadelphia

Posted: August 25, 2008 in Uncategorized
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It’s not so much a festival as a daylong summit of synth lovers. Now in its third year, PopNoise is the brainchild of Stellarscope frontman Tommy Lugo. Having juggled guitar, keyboards and vocals for nearly a decade, Lugo’s in a prime position to be the event’s booker, visual artist and hype man. “I receive hundreds of press kits that I sort through and listen to all of the CDs,” he says via e-mail. From those, he picked more than a dozen groups to play the Rotunda on Saturday.


Lugo took to booking music in 1998, when he began throwing Flow of the Underground nights in Philly, New York, D.C. and Virginia, but the first PopNoise came together in 2004, after he’d proven himself by organizing an Alison Records tour. If he could keep a multinational fleet of moody artists on the road, gathering them all in one room should be a snap.

The music may not be mainstream, but Lugo kept mass appeal in mind when he set the lineup. One way to do that is to cast a wide net: “Indie, shoegaze, dreampop, goth, psychedelic, experimental, post rock,” Lugo rattles off. “Basically, left-of-dial music.” Within those boundaries, there are as many subgenres as there are bands on the bill.

With titles like “La Resistencia” and “La Nueva Conciencia,” R-Tronika could have you dancing to songs about landmines and bombing campaigns; the Peru-via-Long Island duo makes protest music fit for a party. Puerto Rican space-rockers Psiconautas throw down theremin, moog and drum for extraterrestrial experimentation, while Richmond’s Grayland stays grounded with brooding indie-pop and boy-girl singing.

If you’re a sucker for romantic vocals, the clear catch is New York’s Soundpool. “Eurostar” and “Millions&Billions&Trillions” back Kim Field’s sweet melodies with lush synth, while “Brand New Dawn” has those Beach Boys harmonies.

Lugo shot for geographic diversity, but he made sure that Philly was well represented. With a dozen releases in eight years, proggy, gothy Stellarscope is the responsible oldest sibling who secretly likes to speed when no one else is in the car. L’Envoi is the boisterous little brother who plays with dissonance and tribal beats, and cloaks his enthusiasm in songs called “Desperate Hours” and “Awash in Composure.” Woozy trip-hop duo Panda Riot is the sister in the middle: savvy, sassy and psyched, and not afraid to show it.

It was great to launch the festival in his hometown, but Lugo isn’t content to sit back and play host. “The PopNoise Fest is actually going international as of the end of this year,” he says. A three-day version planned for last month in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, got put on hold when his father died, but he’s determined to export his extravaganza sooner rather than later. Lugo says he’s lined up an even more eclectic mix of underground bands and Latin Grammy winners for a blowout in his native territory. And he’s already thinking ahead for a PopNoise event in Mexico next year. From there, he may well take space rock to its logical final frontier: outer space. Er, Britain.



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