Devendra talks about his festival…

L.A. Alternative Press

Freak Fest
Five fitful days in the head, heart and record collection of avant-folkist Devendra Banhart.
by Lesley Bargar

The term “festival” is an incredibly loose one. In Los Angeles, it can signify everything from a breakfast special at IHOP, to a jump castle free-for-all, to a soy-celebrating street fair, to 100-ish musicians declaring Fuck Yeah!!! on the streets of Echo Park. Most recently, the word “festival” has been pinned onto what L.A.-based eccentric freak-folk overlord/event curator Devendra Banhart has termed Hypnorituals and Mesmemusical Miracles Hanging in the Sky. “It was all about putting words together that all link together and can flow like honey,” he explains.

…Well, despite that—for the sake of clarity, let’s say—we’re calling the five day event taking place this week arguably one of the most unique, diverse and noteworthy convergences of unconventional musicians and artists to take place in Los Angeles in the last five years. Honey indeed.

The event, curated by Banhart, features musical acts ranging from ’60s psychedelic legends to Vermont multi-instrumental collectives to local nouveaux hip-hop pioneers to first-time performers. “The curating thing is something that’s always interested me,” says Banhart. “Me playing a show is exciting and I love it, but it’s not as thrilling as choosing a show and hearing the music that you love live.”

The inspiration for the festival, as he tells it, was watching his friend Jonathan Wilson—who had previously only played in bands—get up at Tangiers and play his solo debut. “It was the first time I was seeing him play alone on this stage with these beautiful songs. I started thinking that I’d love to do a sort of mellow fest, a mini fest. That’s the idea of putting together this festival: It’s a lot of these people’s first shows ever—and that doesn’t mean that they haven’t been playing for years and years.”

To clarify, we asked Banhart to point out some of the Hypnoritual Mesmemusical highlights, and explain how and why these particular artists nestled their way into the heart of Devendra and onto the tiny, appropriately flamenco-frequented stage of the El Cid.

Entrance: For Entrance, the new record that just came out is like a new start. It feels like something so new. The only band I can compare Entrance to at this moment is Brightblack [Morning Light]. The way that Brightblack sounds is like how Entrance sounds, except Brightblack is on downers and Entrance is on uppers. (Tuesday, July 18)

Ruthann Friedman: She had a hit song [“Windy” by the Association]. She used to live with David Crosby. She can tell these stories! She has this recording of her jamming with Bukowski on the drums. I heard it at her house; it’s amazing. Ruthann lives about 10 blocks from me, so I went over and I said, “Do you want to play a show?” and she said, “Sure!” But she has some really big issues with the joints in her hands. She’s had to have some therapy and re-learn the guitar. So in some ways it is like a first show after that. (Wednesday, July 19)

Adam Tullie and Friends: This is Adam’s first show ever. I’ve known him for a long time. He runs a clothing company called Cavern. His music is just his recordings at home, and I’m the only person who has heard them. And I like it. So I’m like, “Adam, please, play a couple tunes!” I had to convince him. (Wednesday, July 19)

Nobody and the Mystic Chords of Memory: When I first moved to California when I was 13, my favorite band was Strictly Ballroom. I hadn’t heard music like that. Then I was hip to the Beachwood Sparks stuff, and All Night Radio, and all these little branches. It’s amazing. So Mystic Chords of Memory with Nobody is so good, and for me, being a super fan of their first band, to have them play was amazing. But in no way is it selfish, though. I mean, every song is pure pop pleasure. (Playing Thursday, July 20)

Subtitle: I found out about Subtitle from a bootleg tape, and I totally fell in love with it years and years ago. And I know Gino from Aron’s Records, and he instantly treated me fucking amazingly—with love, with respect. I fell in love with him. He’s just such an incredible human being. Being around him is so inspiring, it really is, you know? Gino is an amazing, amazing, amazing performer and lyricist and songwriter. He’s an amazing songwriter. Stuff like bubbles out, flows out. (Thursday, July 20)

Hecuba: No one has heard Hecuba, and they make the weirdest music I’ve heard in a long time. But it’s not weird in that it’s un-listenable or conceptual or cerebral. It’s weird in the way that it’s like jazz meets Beyonce meets Iggy Pop. It’s all these pop things thrown in the weirdest way together, and just barely joined together. Actually, another way to describe it is very Iggy Pop and Annie, the musical. I was like, “Please, would you play?” And they were like, “We’ve never played before, so this is the first show for us.” It worked perfectly for the festival. (Friday, July 21)

Michael Hurley: His history is legendary. The first album he ever made was made on the same machine that Leadbelly made his last album. From then on he’s been making records and records and records, but he’s always stayed way under the radar. Those who know him have all his records, and those that don’t, don’t. He’s someone to me that needs to play more and more and more and that people need to get hip to. He’s a legend, and a very special example of American uniqueness. An example of paving your own way, your own road, your own world. Incredible. And he’s so funny too, I love that. (Saturday, July 22)

Sir Richard Bishop: Sir Richard Bishop is legendary for Sun City Girls. On his own he’s done a lot of touring and done a lot of stuff, and made a couple records on Vanguard and all that, but he is someone who watching him live is a fucking mind-blowing experience. So good. So good! People need to see more of him, I want to see more of him. (Saturday, July 22)

Stuart and Caan: This is their first show in America ever. These cats are from the UK, but lived in India for a long time, and now they live in a bus in Spain, studying flamenco. And this is their first show ever in America. (Saturday, July 22)

Hypnorituals and Mesmemusical Miracles Hanging in the Sky takes place July 18-21 at El Cid. 4212 Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake. $10 per night.

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About Jay Babcock

I am an independent writer and editor based in Tucson, Arizona. In 2023: I publish an email newsletter called LANDLINE = Previously: I co-founded and edited Arthur Magazine (2002-2008, 2012-13) and curated the three Arthur music festival events (Arthurfest, ArthurBall, and Arthur Nights) (2005-6). Prior to that I was a district office staffer for Congressman Henry A. Waxman, a DJ at Silver Lake pirate radio station KBLT, a copy editor at Larry Flynt Publications, an editor at Mean magazine, and a freelance journalist contributing work to LAWeekly, Mojo, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Vibe, Rap Pages, Grand Royal and many other print and online outlets. An extended piece I wrote on Fela Kuti was selected for the Da Capo Best Music Writing 2000 anthology. In 2006, I was somehow listed in the Music section of Los Angeles Magazine's annual "Power" issue. In 2007-8, I produced a blog called "Nature Trumps," about the L.A. River. From 2010 to 2021, I lived in rural wilderness in Joshua Tree, Ca.

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