First U.S. Redbull SoundClash Concert Review
by: Brooke Mason

September 25, 2008 marked the first U.S. Redbull SoundClash Concert. After success in Europe Redbull finally produced the experimental two hour event in the states and I was there to witness a clash of two fantastic Los Angeles based trios, The Crash Kings and Nico Vega. Before the show I had a chance to speak with both bands who are currently both in production of their first full length albums.

The Redbull SoundClash event is structured with each band playing original songs, playing each other’s songs, playing a cover, playing a continuous song between two bands after a sound break and also playing in multiple genres including reggae, country and dance. The concept was a first for the sound tech crew at the venue The Vanguard on Hollywood Blvd.. Generally this is a special event venue and the stages are manipulated accordingly. Industrial track lighting on four separate arches is set up between two opposing stages with multiple video screens for multimedia. The stage set up for this event really wasn’t conducive to the actual venue – you could potentially watch a show through the windows in the upper tier of the club.

The Vanguard was a good choice for the event; built for sound with wood floors, sound proofed ceilings and carpeted walls. Despite the insulation the venue retains a combination of lounge and warehouse feel and large black and white silk screen prints of iconic figures including no less than Frida, Madonna, Einstein, Ghandi and John Lennon. The venue includes multiple bar sections in an upstairs outdoor patio, two bars off of each stage and one bar in an upstairs indoor lounge with dimly lit chandeliers and plush sofa seating. If you know your L.A. clubs this is a combination feel of The Knitting Factory and El Cid - a larger than average club space but small enough to compact a crowd.

I briefly discussed the production with both the director and the producer. They set up two separate sound islands and linked the PAs together on one console with the intention of channeling the sounds of each band back and forth to create a stereophonic interactive experience for the audience. Both of the bands rehearsed their combined sets over a course of a month. The technical crew then charted out and rehearsed a schematic.

The Crash Kings are a trio of drums, keyboard and bass (Tony and Mike Beliveau and Jason Morris.) They kept reminding me of Maroon 5 and The Buzzcocks – alternative rock with some punky moments. The band has been playing regularly at The Roxy and throughout L.A. for the past two years. The band is signed with Custard/Universal and is currently in production of their first album working with producer Dave Sardy (Jet, Wolfmother, Oasis, Cold War Kids) for an anticipated release next year. For the show they actually composed the majority of the entire set so what the audience was hearing was something entirely new and may never be heard again, although RedBull may release the footage for one of their upcoming RedBull Music Academy films.

For a musician the experimentation and ability to create on demand is both challenging and fun! Aja laughed as she sang her rendition of reggae saying, “You will never hear me do this again.” Though it was in the style of reggae, the song did very much retain the ethereal style of Nico Vega. I was very impressed! But Crash Kings did have this round in the lead since they had that ever vital bass line. Overall the experiment really drew attention to the conventions of style but also challenged the bands to really make a game of it.

The winners of this battle of the bands were rightfully so – donning their fur skins like gladiators. Nico Vega are currently signed and featured artists with MySpace Records, already in post-production for their upcoming Spring 2009 self-titled debut release. The band has already released multiple EPs and it is a relief that after four years the band is still together to be recognized by a wider audience as this music is truly good stuff. Lead singer Aja Volkman has got the vocal energy that rock has been sorely seeking out since PJ Harvey and Courtney Love decided to play ostrich.

Nico Vega is not a reference to Greco-Roman mythology, but taken from the name of the founding band member’s mother Nico Vega who was Mexican, not Greek, and who was a major influence on lead singer Aja Volkman. When asked of their musical influence Aja and Rich Koehler (lead guitar) cited Black Sabbath and Tina Turner. This combination of influences is a good description for the sound of the band. Primal rock, shades ofMazzy Starr, PJ Harvey, Courtney Love. But mostly a sound that is completely refreshing with lyrics coming straight from the heart. Political and sexual messages told with such rawness you feel that shamanistic catharsis of rock and roll that has challenged generations to revolutionize the world. Yes, only a low tuned guitar and drums for Nico Vega and yet powerful enough to really bring that audience interaction, helped by the on stage rain dance by Aja and Rich. The ceiling condensation was dripping so I started to wonder if Dan Epand on drums really was channeling thunder!

Technically the night went very smoothly and all together the show entire was a true avant-garde experience. The Red Bull SoundClash event concept really raises the bar on multi-stage shows!