Over the next three years, O’Keefe staged three of his own events under the banner of “A Rave Called Quest,” part of a traveling, DJ-centered, ecstasy-fueled Northeastern scene that stretched from Portland, Maine to New York City.
There were a few notable Providence acts during this period, including Emergency Broadcast Network, which spliced beats, hooks, and cable television clips into an audio-video menagerie that animated U2’s outsized Zoo TV tour.
But O’Keefe said electronica failed to gain much traction in a city more inclined to see authenticity in the raw work of Nirvana and other grunge acts from the Pacific Northwest.
“When a lot of this stuff was going on, a lot of the Seattle stuff was going on, and bands were going the Seattle route,” he said. “There was a little bit of dismissiveness [around] electronic music.”
The scene remained on the fringes amid the rise of Fort Thunder and the other underground art and music spaces that took root in the Olneyville section of Providence in the mid-1990s and beyond.
Noise was king in those days, with the chaotic, dissonant Lightning Bolt leading the charge. And for some, like painter and electronic musician Dan Voknine, what many hailed as a moment of cultural ferment was actually a fallow period.
The Olneyville scene, with its aggressive, bearded men, was retrograde — even conservative, he said. And the alternative — the city’s DJ-based “intelligent dance music,” or IDM, scene — was becoming academic, ponderous. “A bunch of people standing around a room as if in a competition to see how [little] fun they could . . . have,” said Voknine, 33.
But others saw the beginnings of something new. There were a few experimental electronic acts that cycled through Olneyville – Libythth, the Rah Bras, and Quintron, among them. And some of the city’s post-punk outfits, most notably Six Finger Satellite, incorporated cyborg and synth elements.
And then, in April 2002, came MAHIMAHI — the two-man act O’Keefe and others credit with building a bridge between noise and the electronic music scene that emerged in the middle part of this decade.
Joshua Kemp, aka V. Von Ricci, and Paul Servizio, aka VZO, were playing in a Television-like outfit called Mainman that spring when it all fell apart one night. “One of the guitarists had a meltdown on another guitarist,” said Kemp, 34, sitting outside Julian’s Providence restaurant on Broadway last week. “It was totally demented.”
Kemp and Servizio had been contemplating an electronic side project, anyhow, and within a week MAHIMAHI had four songs and was poised for its first show at Munch House, a now-defunct art space in Olneyville.
Dressed in white and armed with flashing red and blue lights, the pair covered Phil Collins’s “In the Air Tonight” — “kind of epically,” Kemp says — and built an immediate following.
And as MAHIMAHI made its way, releasing albums on Providence-based Corleone Records in 2003 and 2005, other, often younger acts began to fill out an electronic scene that was moving further and further from the rough-and-tumble of the Olneyville warehouses.
The new music was bright and brash. An anti-noise, of sorts. Something joyous and a little silly.