A fest for the brain

The triumphant second coming of Brainwaves
By SUSANNA BOLLE  |  November 19, 2008

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NEW WAVE: Lichens will be playing the night of the Brainwaves fest that’s dedicated to Chicago drone and experimental-music imprint Kranky.

Songs unsung: Jon Whitney’s top five underrated releases of 2008. By Susanna Bolle.
Before there was Pitchfork, Stereogum, Popmatters, or almost any other music site you can think of, there was Brainwashed. Founded in 1996 by local Web designer and radio DJ Jon Whitney, it began humbly enough, with Whitney building sites for artists he admired — starting with the legendary electronic-music group Meat Beat Manifesto. But it would soon branch out in a multitude of different directions, publishing music reviews, hosting an on-line radio station, producing podcasts, streaming video, and even forming a record label. It was always one step ahead of the technological pack and one step firmly outside the musical fold.

"I'm a very direct, transparent person, and I think that's reflected in Brainwashed," Whitney explains as he sips a bit of wine in the near-darkness of Central Square's Enormous Room. "We simply try to cover things that we think are noteworthy. We definitely don't need to give anyone our time if they're already getting coverage everywhere else. That's been our basic æsthetic tenet from the beginning."

Two years ago, Whitney took on the role of concert promoter in a big way when he organized Brainwaves, an expansive, three-day festival of Brainwashed-related music and video. True to form, it was a monstrously ambitious undertaking.

"Brainwashed was 10 years old. For 10 years it hadn't really made any sense, so why not do a festival that didn't make sense? You know, we needed a party! And though it was two years in the making, all the work was worth it, since we eventually came up with a great group of musicians."

It was a group that very much reflected the Brainwashed ethos and Whitney's intense, personal musical tastes. There was a mixture of long-established acts with relative newcomers, international musicians with local performers. Boston's own ultra-theatrical cabaret rockers Dresden Dolls followed ambient drone artists Troum; the playfully eccentric (and thoroughly amazing) electronics of the Goodiepal sat on a bill with the sharp-edged noise of irr. app. (ext.).

The shows were intense, sprawling affairs, on a much grander scale than you'd expect for largely experimental fare. And this year's festival — at Arlington's Regent Theatre this weekend — has built on the momentum and good will of the first one. It is equally epic, with artists like Meat Beat Manifesto and His Name Is Alive who've been affiliated with Brainwashed from its inception. There'll also be an evening devoted to the Chicago drone and experimental-music imprint Kranky (a long-time Brainwashed associate), with performances by Lichens and Stars of the Lid.

Whitney's excitement about these acts is palpable. He can hardly sit still in his seat as he rattles off some of his prize catches: J.G. Thirwell's Manorexia project; former Coil member Peter Christopherson's Threshold Houseboys Choir. As he talks, he sorts through the line-up in his head. "With this festival, I really want everybody to see everything. Really! With every act you're going hear or see something that will make you think, 'That is so cool.' I think there are a lot of really fun, amazing things happening all three days. I mean, I'm certainly not going to be backstage — I'm going to be out there watching! Of course, this is my dream, and, incidentally, I have a lot of dream festivals yet to go."

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