Band: Underwater Dance Party
Date: Friday, Sept. 1, 9 p.m.
Venue: The Merry Widow, 51 S. Conception St., www.themerrywidow.net
Tickets: $8 at the door
Even though Mother Nature may feel differently, summer is drawing to an end. With the coming advent of fall, musical talents from Mobile and Birmingham are combining their efforts to throw an aquatic extravaganza that brings together indie and electronic music in an aesthetically stimulating “avant garde” setting.
Azalea City mix-master D.J. Charles III is collaborating with Birmingham indie pop all-stars Creature Camp for the Underwater Dance Party. Creature Camp is also bringing KinZie from its hometown. KinZie will keep things lively with an eclectic sound reflecting everything from indie rock to shoegaze.
While locals have yet to experience this event, Creature Camp keyboardist Chris Hemphill says Birmingham serves as its birthplace. Hemphill and his bandmates decided to throw a party with an underwater theme. Even though it wasn’t billed as a costume party, Hemphill says party guests showed up wearing costumes with a nautical theme. This former Mobilian hopes The Merry Widow installment of the band’s Underwater Dance Party will have the same results.
“I used to go to a lot of costume parties when I lived in Mobile,” Hemphill said. “I’d always see people go all-out for shows, so I hope to see the same thing here and bring some classic elements into Mobile. I’m clearly a fan of electronic music. So we collaborated with DJ Charles III to put this party together. We’re trying to bring back the whole dance party scene and combine it with synth rock.”
According to Hemphill, mixing aesthetics with music is nothing new for Creature Camp. He says the band lives by composer Richard Wagner’s concept of “Gesamtkunstwerk.” This concept dictates that a musical performance should go beyond the simple notes played onstage — the context in which the music is presented is just as important.
Hemphill says “the visuals, the sounds, the atmosphere, the temperature and the smell” combine into one experience. He believes using Wagner’s ideology creates a stronger emotional connection to the music.
“You have musicians that will show up and be wearing cargo pants and not really focused on the appearances,” Hemphill said. “You’re missing out in music these days if you’re not looking at the total context of how people will experience your work. It’s more than just the notes that we play.”
Before Hemphill joined the band, the group’s attention to avant garde aesthetics and synth-driven indie pop did not exist. In the early days, he said, Creature Camp’s lineup was composed of blues and indie rock enthusiasts, and the band’s sound was more guitar driven.
Hemphill entered the band with a musical philosophy based on “electro-acoustic music and avant garde and minimalism.” When he brought an electronic element to this rock mix, Hemphill says, the band struggled with establishing a trademark sound. However, Creature Camp’s members were determined to create a sound that pleased its members’ diverse musical tastes.
On a personal level, Hemphill found his biggest challenge was “opening the minds” of his fellow band members to the experimental and psychedelic elements of house music and EDM that he wanted to bring into their rock world. After many arduous rehearsals, Creature Camp’s sound began to take form, and its members began to appreciate one another’s influence.
“After long, hard sessions and debates, eventually everybody finds their pocket and their zone,” Hemphill said. “You start finding new ways to appreciate the music. You start hearing nuances and details that highlight things like, ‘Oh, these are blues riffs being played here alongside krautrock.’”
Creature Camp then decided it was time to introduce its hybridized sound to Birmingham. Hemphill says the band chose a small, local festival called “Porkside at Parkside” to showcase its music. Creature Camp realized its sound was, as Hemphill describes it, “weird.” With the sole desire of getting their music out to the locals, the band decided to play with no expectation of compensation. The hours of rehearsal, debate and experimentation paid off. As they rolled through their original material, Hemphill says, the crowd was energized by their new indie pop sound.
“There was dancing, and the people who organized the festival got on stage and apologized that they weren’t paying us,” Hemphill said. “They got the crowd to help out and arranged a payment. It’s definitely the way that you want your first show to go.”
These days, Creature Camp is preparing for the October release of its debut album “A Lost Experiment.” The group found the perfect guide for this musical journey in the form of producer Daniel Farris. Given his work with experimental bands such as St. Vincent and Polyphonic Spree, Farris’ studio background seemed perfect for Creature Camp’s music. Hemphill says Farris’ experience with offbeat musical styles allowed them to experiment in new aural dimensions. Overall, Hemphill says, the finished project is a mix of “tangy synth hooks” mixed with a darker lyrical theme.
“It’s danceable, although it sits on this melancholy layer of the lyrics,” Hemphill said. “It’s high-energy, upbeat music but there’s a melancholy and sorrow in there too. So, there’s a little death here.”
“Psychic Waves” is the public’s first taste of “A Lost Experiment.” This track is a rocking overload of synth that reflects the modern indie pop craze. However, this track has its roots firmly in the ‘80s New Wave era that has inspired many modern bands. The instrumental work on “Psychic Waves” finds its muse in the classic work of The Cure. However, the electronic elements flowing throughout the track add an almost modern psychedelic edge to the single.
“With synthesizers, there’s an unlimited range of sounds and unlimited things that you can do,” Hemphill said. “People get to hear new ways that musicians can express themselves when they listen to this stuff.”
Until the release of “A Lost Experiment,” the only way to fully experience Creature Camp’s sound was at its live performances. With Wagner’s concept in mind, the band’s live shows might be the best introduction to the band. The addition of a costumed crowd full of sailors, mermaids and mermen should only amplify the overall vibe of the evening. With a diverse mix of music and a potentially unique atmosphere, the Underwater Dance Party has the makings of one of the most memorable local shows of 2017.