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Weekend Notes: DNA Test Fest II

April 28, 2009
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Put on by University Of Maryland, College Park radio station WMUC, the DNA Test Fest II assembled about 14 mostly East Coast bands within the noisy-punk-folk orbit–an orbit we can assume roughly mirrors that of the fest’s namesake radio show–over two nights at Washington D.C.’s Velvet Lounge. Besieged by the obligations of the first hot day of the year–well, BBQing mainly–we only caught a little bit of Friday, catching Towson’s Rosemary Krust already onstage playing “Private Amber,” a dark narcotic of a song with the lingering refrain, “The cold wants to see me shake.” The track is either really rewired here or subject to some particularly odd venue sound, coming off not smoky like its recorded version, but brittle and metallic. The remaining 15 or so minutes of the set follows suit–some noise is made, clashing sometimes between harsh and ethereal but mostly just harsh, and Katherine Plummer interjects a couple of times with brief vocal passages, as if to say, Well, we could be pretty if we wanted to.

Friday’s crowd wasn’t thin so much, but you had more than enough room to breath. Saturday’s turn out, at least when we showed up for Drunkdriver‘s set, is more filled out. Or maybe it’s just the kids–and it does feel like the average age at the Velvet isn’t much past 21–are thrashing about the narrow space as Michael Berdan looms over them, perched on some wall ledge, then a monitor speaker, and back again, but rarely the stage itself. The set is great, everything about it with dials turned to harsh, from Berdan’s lashing, scraping talk-screamed vocals to metal- and noise-bent punk styling. Whatever the songs are about, you really don’t want to be the subject–if this is cathartic, it’s the kind of catharsis that comes from smashing something already broken just to prove that it can get more broken.

You could probably say Pink Reason and Kurt Vile were co-headliners of the fest. Chatter around the venue is all about Vile, performing second-to-last, who is rumored to have signed with Matador recently. Anyhow, both Pink Reason and Kurt Vile are dudes with guitars playing introspective folk (tonight, anyhow) that’s crude in a way that doesn’t suggest lack of thought so much as the complete absence of pretense. And both artists have a sort of taking-their-sweet-time, quality, with a healthy amount of reverb coating everything like cooking oil mixed with sand. All of this isn’t to say that they’re alike or anything: Pink Reason’s songwriting feels more like he was raised by punk rockers and decided to go out and write foggy, gothic folk songs, whereas Vile writes folk songs that don’t particularly want to be anything louder or bigger. Anyhow, it’s weird to consider both of them closing out a festival that was, in large part, a punk and rock thing–and, moreover, just how smoothly this sort of music fits into the stylistic ecosystem punk is, or has become.

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