WORDS: Lauren Young
PHOTOGRAPHY: Joffrey Middleton-Hope
Ripped jeans, flannel, and the odd tie dye t-shirt were sprinkled across an otherwise sea of black clothing as crowds gathered at various locations in downtown Vancouver for Levitation Festival. In association with it’s big sister in Austin, TX (formerly Austin Psych Fest) Levitation Van brings international and local acts from the experimental/grunge/psychedelic musical spectrum to the West Coast for a straight up, no bullshit live music experience. Presented by The Reverberation Appreciation Society and Timbre Concerts, Levitation which is now in its sophomore year kicked off at The Cobalt Thursday, June 16 and spanned across The Imperial, Rickshaw Theatre and Commodore Ballroom over the weekend before ending things where they left off on Sunday, June 19th.
The decision by organisers to move from the picturesque outdoor Malkin Bowl hosting the festival headliners was one met with an exacerbated “WTF” from festival goers, especially those under 19 who could no longer attend the 19+ indoor venues. After rushing to leave work Friday afternoon to make it in time to see LA’s Allah-Las, I only heard a few people grizzle over the venue change while others had their attention on what was most important that weekend: good fucking music.
Washed in a mix of electric blue and alien green lights looking effortlessly cool, the crowd collectively bopped their heads along to the Allah-Las set which had you reminiscing about California in the 60s… or at least what you imagine it to have been like despite not actually existing till decades later. The ballroom had a steady trickle of people entering until it was looking three quarters full towards the end of their set. “This songs about drinking beeeeeeeeeer!” Fidlar’s familiar short and punchy sound rings out across the crowd who are riled up and sending beers flying as a mosh pit starts to form front of stage. I’d forgotten how many songs I knew from the Cali band and found myself unable to resist the contiguous limb-flailing their music induces. They have almost no breaks between their songs, diving from one into the other much to the crowd’s delight.
Of Montreal were a snooze and felt like a wrong fit for the lineup. I haven’t listened to their work since their first few albums and took this opportunity to flirt with a cute boy from Portland chatting about extraterrestrial pizza and AI taking over the world one day. Taking out the closing set for Friday is Tycho performing as a three-piece band. Their set can only be described as being in a waking dream, or what music inside the womb would sound like. Tycho’s solo work which is known for its emotion, melody, and nostalgia translates perfectly into a live show and is supported by visuals of beaches, the ocean, pretty girls, forests – every beautiful image your brain can imagine cued with precision to the music that you find yourself falling into. The crowd is completely subdued but in the most wonderful way possible, locked in a trance to the flow of the images and feeling things you didn’t know you could feel just from listening to music. It was otherworldly.
Friday was a tough night to beat but I think Saturday pulled out all the stops in terms of mind-blowing-awesomeness. The Oh Sees ripped the Commodore Ballroom a new one throughout their set with TWO FRICKEN DRUMMERS who have some siamese twin telepathic connection and remain in perfect unison together the whole set. One of them was also wearing a t-shirt that read ‘Donald Trump is my sex slave’ so you know they’re also dope as fuck humans. They fly through their setlist fitting as many songs in as possible and taking the time to jam along with each other instead of following the structure of the tracks they’re playing which makes things enticing to get down to. They’re a band that have been kicking around since ‘97 and know how to give a crowd what it wants: a face melting good time.
Much like Tycho the night before, Flying Lotus was a biblical experience I was not prepared for. Flying Lotus’ visual game was more on the intense than soothing side in comparison to Tycho. He had two screens set up, one in front of the stage and one behind him that projected bizarre, creepy, repetitive, and captivating visuals throughout his set that felt as though you were inside a video game. The music was deliberate, dirty, shit-you-step-to that everyone was vibing but were somewhat distracted from at times as mutilated babies ate each other’s intestines on screen. The combination of the two was a sensory overload that melted the brains of everyone bearing witness to the genius that is Flying Lotus and his experimental hip hop. His rap alias Captain Murphy even made an appearance, jumping out from behind the decks to get on front of the stage and bust it out for a verse or two making the crowd go nuts.
Leaving the Commodore in a daze from what I just witnessed, my friend and I could only repeat how goddamn cool that entire experience was. After refuelling with questionable street meat the last stop of the night was The Imperial for Thundercat (featuring a Flying Lotus cameo) whose soulful jazz vibe was worlds apart from what we had just come from. The Imperial was the most busy I had ever seen it and everyone’s attention was on the accomplished musician and his bass guitar. Thundercat’s set was straight up relaxing to listen to and with my energy levels crashing from earlier his music was turning into a lullaby of epic proportions. “He’s probably going to play the song about doing ecstasy last,” comments my friend, which sounded like it would be quite the song to hear live but feeling satisfied with the next level performances I had already seen this weekend it was time to be horizontal and hopefully avoid nightmares of Flying Lotus and his cannibalism cartoons.