Creators Project Occupies Brooklyn: Karen O, Justice, Florence + More
A full report on everything from Karen O's 'psycho opera' to Florence + the Machine's stunning set
This past weekend, Vice and Intel hosted the second annual Creators Project, a collision of art and music that dominated much of DUMBO, that relatively small slice of Brooklyn neighborhood sandwiched between both the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges. The site was literally inspiring: The view of the Manhattan skyline was clear and installations and stages were well spread out amongst former warehouse and factory spaces. SPIN hit up five of the biggest concerts and installations:
Karen O (Literally) Slays With Psycho Opera Stop the Virgens
The trip inside Karen O’s warped sub-conscious begins with a tunnel. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs frontwoman’s new “psycho opera” Stop the Virgens is running at Brooklyn’s St. Ann’s Warehouse in conjunction with the Creators Projects’ DUMBO festival. The hour-long phantasmagoria features 42 dancers, elaborate, goth-tinged costumes that’d wow the late Alexander McQueen, and a genre-jumping soundtrack from an all-star band, including members of the YYYs and the Raconteurs. It’s where O’s dreams, or nightmares, became reality, and it starts with a walk down a curtained hallway flanked by 40 all-female “Virgens” in death-white makeup, wigs, and gowns, writhing and moaning. Inside the theater, two sentinels (one of whom is actress Lili Taylor) in blue gowns and plate-shaped hats toss leaflets with phrases like, “Wherever we’ve gone I have lost my tongue” with matching sketch drawings. Eerie sound effects throb. The vibe is intense.
Stop the Virgens, directed by Pulitzer-nominated playwright Adam Rapp (Red Light Winter), follows a (very) loose narrative exploring themes of youth and desire in seven main “Virgens” and 33 chorus “Virgens.” Karen O, playing a matriarch of sorts, ultimately destroys their innocence. As for the music, if you liked the soundtrack to Where the Wild Things Are, then you’ll love this: 10 songs that hopscotch from jazzy, cabaret ballads to 1950s soda-pop rock, vicious punk to swelling psych rock, played by an 11-piece band, led by YYYs guitarist Nick Zinner, who wrote the music with Karen O. Drummer Brian Chase handles percussion, while the Raconteurs’ drummer Patrick Keeler and bassist Jack Lawrence hold down the rhythm section. Money Mark, of the Beastie Boys, is on keys. A trio of strings add emotional swells. Pray this gets an official release.
Onstage, Karen O is magnetic, commanding the theater in a series of striking costumes by designer Christiane Hultquist, a.k.a. Christian Joy, including an elaborate dress with layers of white ruffles and a thick fur belt. She sings of lost innocence and love in both an innocent whimper and a vicious wail into a microphone masked as a ram’s horn. She presides over the stage, which resembles a snowy forest by Where the Wild Things Are production designer K.K. Barrett. Tall, slender white trees are projected against a black backdrop. Fake snow falls from the ceiling.
The “Virgens” freakishly writhe onstage and occasionally march into the crowd, and they sing with Karen O on most numbers, adding backing coos or call-and-response yelps. As the story reaches its tragic conclusion, strings rise and drums pound while Zinner rips out a gliding riff. The light shines on the show’s star as she achingly belts, “Get back home, get back home,” over and over.
Stop the Virgens is musical theater as catharsis, and it illustrates just how much Karen O, now 32, has grown as an artist over her decade-long career. But she still closes the stunning performance in punk-rock fashion: By introducing the cast with adoring nicknames, then dancing with abandon with a big smile on her face. — William Goodman
Fans Dive Inside Black Dice’s Jumbletron & Spiritualized’s Ladies and Gentleman Installation
Jumbletron was originally a visual accompaniment for Animal Collective’s Coachella festival set as crafted by their friends in fellow experimental New York outfit Black Dice. Here, presented on a small flat screen and paired with an original score by the guys in Animal Collective, the piece was equally hallucinogenic on its more modest scale. Drips, drops, swarms, swirls and tribal beats — all of it congealed (as is the AC Way) into a rhythm and quasi-melody that seemed perfectly in-step with its visual companion, a hyper-saturated video piece melted together from bits of vintage commercial imagery that seemed to eat away at its own tail before finally conking out by crescendo.
Around the corner, lines were long for “A Physical Manifestation of Ladies and Gentleman, We Are Floating in Space,” another installation that premiered at Coachella this spring. Filmmaker Jonathan Glazer joined forces with J Spaceman to create a cathedral-like space in the belly of an old warehouse. Speakers were built into the walls and floors, all of which were set to play varying layers of the Spiritualized standard and ensure a different listening experience dependent upon where you chose to sit or stand. Several visitors took to lying on their backs, staring up at the four slivers of light that were let in by foil-lined windows in the ceiling. The floor vibrated while a smoke machine dirtied the air in a way that rendered the space a kind of psychedelic steam room. Fitting then, that in its center, a man sat eyes-shut in lotus position, deep in meditation. As she looked over at him and upward into the light, a girl nearby could be heard saying, “I feel like I’m dying.” What a great song. — David Bevan
Police Bring Justice to a Halt, John Maus Goes Bonkers
The perpetually hyped Bradford Cox of Atlas Sound cut an unassumingly small figure when set against the rest of Saturday’s Creators Project lineup. Cox was nestled in a corner of a courtyard under the Brooklyn Bridge, against archways that served as scenic portholes to the East River and the Manhattan skyline beyond. In an adjacent courtyard, an art installation that resembled a huge cubic jungle gym emitted an ominous red glow while shooting out spurts of toneless rumbling bass. His set was a actually a quiet refuge, a few hundred people choosing his intimate performance over coinciding appearances by Four Tet and Nosaj Thing on other stages.
Amid the chaos, Cox performed without his regular touring ensemble of musicians and was instead accompanied only by a pre-programmed laptop and a handful of gadgets. Banter was kept to a minimum as Cox’s familiar lo-fi reverb was spun into a seamless 40-minute jam-session. “Walkabout,” a track he originally collaborated on with Panda Bear, cut through more meditative fare as a joyful highlight, where foot-pedalled loops of hazy reverb overpowered a back-track of instrumentals to pull the audience into a hypnotic sway. The up-tempo drum loop was eventually outweighed by the singer’s folky guitar slaps, inspiring one particularly enthused audience member to yell “Dance! We got to dance!” above the rising volume. It was the lovelorn pop affectations of “Shelia” that moved the audience the most though. A hand-held digital echo machine encouraged the song’s mumbled lyrics to bounce against the brick walls, making the angst behind the line, “No one wants to die alone,” feel especially romantic. The sunset and fall air didn’t hurt either.
Cox wasn’t the only one to rely on his electronic prowess. Earlier in the day, experimental pop artist and former Ariel Pink collaborator John Maus had taken the stage with his own brand of computer-assisted noise. Coming off the release of his newest album We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves, the singer was a clear crowd favorite: In short, the most Tweeted-about act of the day. His emotive stage presence was gripping and emotive; he manically jumped, screamed, and sang through his set assisted only by an echo-pedal and a tiny sampler. He didn’t need anything more: John Maus is a show in and of himself.
Following these two laptop-and-sampler jockeys, ’90s independent rap icons Company Flow made fun of their own seemingly outdated methods during the last east coast show of their recent reuinion. “I don’t know what you’ve been doing with those two crazy machines,” joked rapper El-P to his DJ Mr. Len as the DJ scratched an intro to the set. “You’d probably be better off with an iPod.” Jokes and generational gaps aside, the gang is as live as they ever were. El-P was the obvious highlight, charismatic as ever on the mic, despite losing some of the younger audience to the old-school sarcasm-laden simplicity of 1996-era tracks like “8 Steps To Perfection” and “Krazy Kings.” Pharoahe Monch joined them for a rowdy run through “Patriotism,” dedicated to Occupy Wall Street. Their chants of “Who’s America?” provoked an audience roar of “I’m America.” “Oh wow,” finished El-P. “Ten years later and we’re finally relevant.”
The night at Tobacco Warehouse ended with a short-lived set by Justice in celebration of their forthcoming Audio, Video, Disco. It’s the first album that the French-electro duo have put out since their scuzzy-electro genre-forming five years ago. Tonight’s dance set was no “We Are Your Friends” sweat-fest thoughtough they did make reference to their claim to fame via a looped chant of “Tu mes amis.” Instead the duo played lighter electro-house and their newer material which is, in short, a dance perspective on ’70s-era prog and arena rock. Through the arched-entrance, the massive cube next door was in perfect view, shooting lights up it’s side and glowing in time with the DJ set. Inside the installation a group of people danced, others looked up into the rafters in awe, and one girl cried into her cell phone. While Justice’s newer production has a lighter touch, the pure euphoria of the overflowing and drunkenly raucous crowd made tracks like “Civilization” and “Helix” hit much harder. In fact the crowd was so rowdy that the cops came to shut down the stage roughly an hour before their set was scheduled to end — essentially giving this corporate event the type of cool money can’t buy. — Puja Patel
Florence + the Machine Rattle the Archway
Originally, planting a stage in a walkway just under the Manhattan Bridge seemed like it might make for an acoustical nightmare — the rumble of train and automobile traffic from above can usually be loud enough to warrant shouting, even when music’s not blaring. But it worked. At dusk, Kieran Hebdan, a London-based producer/DJ who records as Four Tet, faced the unenviable task of meeting that noise head-on, turning in a gargantuan, gooey, and sometimes psychedelic set of techno whose rhythms were never impeded. On the contrary, so many of Hebdan’s beats could be heard ricocheting off the face of condos for blocks, and that space under the arch (essentially a very short, very wide tunnel) took on a feeling not unlike that of the Great Hall at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. If anything, the people crowded into the D train upstairs were probably wondering about all that bass.
Most importantly, it provided an added layer of theater to every performance. Some acts didn’t need any help. Though heat-seeking Harlem rapper, ASAP Rocky (government name: Rakim Mayers), bonked his head on a speaker column when clambering onto the stage for the first time, his set became a talking point for the rest of the day. “Why the fuck are y’all standing still,” he asked, with a touch of menace, just before threatening to start a mosh-pit. He ended up starting one all the same, leaping off the stage knees-first with a few of his friends while frequent collaborator Clams Casino looked on from behind his laptop. “They fucking love me,” he shouted as he made his way out of said pit and back to the chaos he’d also prompted onstage. Up there, a dozen of Mayers’ accomplices were smoking and dancing, tossing cups of beer into the crowd in surprisingly tight spirals. Be sure that they’ve been keeping a close eye on the ascent and stage antics of Odd Future. “I’m not black and you’re not white,” Mayers said from atop his DJ’s table, posing between chants of “A-SAP.” “We’ve got weed to bring us all together.”
But it was Florence + the Machine’s headlining appearance here that was the happening’s one true pop moment. When the red-headed Londoner finally took the stage just before 8 and let loose with an opening barrage of cuts pulled from her forthcoming Ceremonials, leagues of camera-phones were raised like fists, totally in unison. Strollers were stowed away and well-dressed kids were hoisted up to sway atop their parents’ shoulders. Much of the occasion was dedicated to working out new material in a live setting, and Welsh, whose debut took her as far as the Academy Awards earlier this year, boasted a brand of swagger and vocal brawn that dwarfed everything else on the bill. Except that bridge. — David Bevan