Eclectic city

Pub date March 25, 2009
SectionMusicSectionMusic Features

Beyond the comfy crib of steady gigs like the Symphony or, say, Beach Blanket Babylon, working musicians survive by adapting to myriad habitats. Popping up all over town, they transition from El Dive-o one night to Lé Deluxe Lounge the next. It’s audiences who enjoy the luxury of worshipping regularly at the same musical temple, with the same congregation, be it hipster, hippie, or hip-replaced.

That’s why it’s likely — and intentional — that attendees of the Second Annual Switchboard Music Festival feel a little out of place. Billed as a "genre-defying spectacle," Switchboard promises to pull the rug out from under the audience — whether they’re used to beer stains or rich upholstery — and wow them with a first-class variety show of adventurous Bay Area acts. "We definitely got a good mix of contemporary classical music fans and indie-rock type people last year," says festival codirector Jonathan Russell, taking satisfaction in having enabled ironic and un-ironic tweed jackets to brush suede elbows in cultural camaraderie.

Among the many wonders on display at Dance Mission Theater this year are Melody of China, an ensemble with mastery of both traditional Chinese music and contemporary classical compositions on Chinese instruments; Zoyres, the buoyant purveyors of "Eastern European wild ferment;" Pamela Z, known for her gloriously experimental vocal ingenuity; and Edmund Welles, the world’s baddest (if not only) black-metal bass clarinet quartet. Oh yes … and Moe!

"It’s hard to describe," Russell laughs when asked to pin down the percussive tour de force Moe! Staiano. "He sees the entire world as a potential percussion object. You never quite know what’s going to happen next." Like Moe!, Russell and festival codirector Ryan Brown cultivate the kind of musical versatility that Russell admits "doesn’t fit neatly in the usual genre categories." A composer himself, he’s hip to music that gets played at clubs in the Mission, where fans of "new music" composers featured on the festival bill (like Damon Waitkus, David Lang, Mason Bates, Max Stoffregen, and Ken Thomson) might not normally venture. "We wanted to present that music in a little bit more of a concert setting, as opposed to noisy clubs." So Switchboard was born, with the idea that lovers of all kinds of new sounds might actually like each other — and each other’s favorite bands. Er, ensembles.

If founding an upstart festival seems ambitious these days, don’t expect Russell and Brown to twiddle their thumbs until sunnier times arrive. "Major funding organizations have a lot less money to throw around," Russell concedes. "But it emphasizes all the more that we need to be self-sufficient and take control of our own scene." To wit, Russell and Brown raised the bulk of Switchboard’s funds themselves, scaring up a deliciously eclectic lineup without any fussy institutions footing the bill. "Although," Russell notes, "they’re welcome to give us money if they want to."


Sun/29, 2–10 p.m., $10–$35

Dance Mission Theater

3316 24th Street, SF

(800) 838-3006