The Performant: Weird like me

Pub date September 9, 2010
SectionPixel Vision

Radical self-expression takes a staycation with Zinefest and On Land …

It was another Burning Man, er, Labor Day weekend, and like every year of the past dozen or so, those of us who stayed in the City spent it cracking wise about all the extra elbow room on MUNI and burner-free “Dolores Beach” real estate we get to ourselves through Tuesday morning. It’s becoming an old joke, a chestnut even, but it still manages to elicit a few wry chuckles from those of us committed to radically self-expressing without hauling it to Nevada in the back of a day-glo Winnebago.

Burning Man might have taken the time to write up a manifesto of its intentions (the Ten Principles), but almost any artistically-inclined community is going to find itself aligned with most of the same basic tenets. Take radical inclusion for example. It’s hard to imagine any scene more relentlessly inclusive than Zine Fest, which celebrated its ninth year down at the County Fair building last Saturday. From aging punks to black-lipsticked teenagers, political activists to true crime chroniclers, mini-comic compilers to mail-art aficionados, Zine Fest sets a place at the table for all comers — even novelists and hipster t-shirt vendors.

In addition to inclusion, on prominent display were principles of radical self-reliance (zinesters are notorious for their DIY ethos) and participation (attendees got a chance to attend hands-on workshops in book-binding and screen-printing). And while it’s true that public speaking is not necessarily the forte of those who turn to publishing as a means to communicate, punk tabloid pioneers John Gullak and V Vale (Another Room Magazine and Search and Destroy, respectively) good-naturedly reminisced about the good (and bad) old days while an archival treasure trove of their early work hung on display in the reading room for all to see (you can catch it through October 31 at Goteblud). Inclusion.
Meanwhile, the On Land Festival of incredibly strange music took the communal effort principle and ran with it all the way to the stages at the Swedish American Hall and Cafe Du Nord, where a rotating roster of experimental noise musicians backed up each others’ sets, at least on Saturday night when I was there. Trevor Montgomery’s turn on bass with East Bay drone duo Date Palms added a necessary grounding layer to the eastern-tinged instrumental throb, their signature sound.

A looped tanpura riff and Marielle Jakobson’s plaintive strings seemed destined to wind up on the soundtrack of an art film set in the Saharadesert, ala Waiting for Happiness. Montgomery also ended up playing with the Alps (featuring Root Strata’s Jefre Cantu-Ledesma) while a laptop-centric set performed by Xela featured drummer Mike Weis of Zelionople, and the Zelionople set featured Xela’s solo mastermind, John Twells. This collaborative mixing-and-matching gave evidence of a final manifestoed principle—immediacy. Not one person in the oddience seemed to be mourning an opportunity wasted out on the playa, but rather reveling in the unexpected moments as they unfolded onstage: a little bit bizarre, a whole lot communal, and ultimately as much about radical expression as any other kind of collaborative artistic endeavor, with or without a checklist.