STS9 headlines Snowmass event
Probably the most impressive artistic achievement in Sound Tribe Sector 9’s résumé is this: The quintet has managed to keep a clean slate. From its beginnings, the band explored about the widest range of music possible, playing electronica sounds with a jam-band aesthetic. A decade later, the northern California-based band – comprising guitarist Hunter Brown, bassist Dave Murphy, percussionist Jeffree Lerner, drummer Zach Velmer and keyboardist David Phipps – feels the same sense of freedom it had when it was a trio in Atlanta.Sound Tribe Sector 9 – commonly known as STS9 – is best known for their all-instrumental live performances, which, combining the sonic palette of techno and the looseness of jam-jazz invite high-energy dancing. Fans accustomed to the concerts, however, are likely to be thrown for a loop with “ARTiFACT,” the band’s new CD, due out Tuesday, Feb. 8. The album, the band’s first studio release in five years, is minimalist, ethereal and collage-like, with strong echoes of soul and electronica and nary a hard-driving jam in sight. It is very much a chill-and-listen experience, with guest vocalists Audio Angel and Cosmo adding to the soul vibe.
“What we do live is a different planet than working in the studio,” said Lerner, the most recent addition to the band, who joins his bandmates in a headlining gig tonight at the Snowmass Conference Center. (The show, part of the Massive Music & Movies series, opens with the surf documentary “Riding Giants,” and features opening act, hip-hop duo Blackalicious.) “So they’re going to be different expressions. We wanted to put out a record that we wanted to listen to, not necessarily what our fans would expect of us.”When STS9 was formed – as a trio of childhood friends Velmer, Brown and Murphy – the focus was on tightly structured songs. After Phipps added his keyboard explorations, the lid was popped off.
“We went to the opposite spectrum, a lot of free-form music. It was raw and primal,” said Murphy. Over the last three years, the band has headed back in the direction of structure, added Murphy. “But there’s always been something underlying the STS9 sound – that backbone of freedom, of letting the music go where we want it to go. We got focused that it would be something that would grow and evolve.”That lack of boundaries was essentially built in to Sound Tribe. Starting with the near polar opposite influences of organic jams and synthesized electronica, there has always been plenty of room for exploration. And though several bands, like Particle and Lotus, have come along in their wake, STS9 was the first to fuse the styles. “There were not groups or people doing this,” Lerner said.
Murphy claims that STS9 is a “reflection of our time,” meaning that the members – ranging in age from 26-34 – grew up not just with rock and jazz, but also hip-hop and techno. For STS9 and its contemporaries, the issue of combining real-time instrumentation with modern effects is a constant challenge and source of creativity.”The question of our generation and generations to come is the organic aspect that we are, and the technology we have to use,” Murphy said. “That’s a lot of what we are and what we’re becoming – that balance.”Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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