This past weekend Chicago hosted Sonar, an electronica festival that originated in Barcelona in 1994. Barcelona hosts the festival annually, but since 2002 the festival has manifested in various global cities: London, New York, Buenos Aires, São Paulo, Seoul, Frankfurt, Tokyo, etc. Most recently, it appeared in Chicago with a smattering of up-and-coming superstars in the world of experimental electronica, noise and glitch-pop. Part of the outstanding line-up that made it through from the Barcelona lineup took the stage at either the Cultural Center or the Pritzker Pavilion.
I found myself packed into a tiny theater located within the immensity of the Chicago Cultural Center. I had arrived just as the theater was close to capacity. Apparently a ‘listening room’ was prepared for the overflow but I heard the acoustics were atrocious. Besides, this wasn’t just a DJ set with one of the most interesting producers to come out of the L.A. electronic underground, but “a Visual Show” as well. Nosaj Thing had teamed up with two designers collectively known as “Fair Enough” to present an experience. In a denim suit, the narrow figure of Nosaj Thing (Jason Chung) appeared on stage behind his now trademark card table with an MPD32 mini-pad controller and a laptop.
The lights fell and visual-scapes began to engulf Jason Chung as he began mixing. Familiar melodies from his handful of beats that he artfully relies on could be heard throughout the continuous set. The visuals began with simple black and white lines that later morphed into everything from Mondrian-esque color shifts to a sort of 3-D trip into the universe. Using a visual mixer, Julia Tsao of “Fair Enough” was able to at times sync up with Mr. Chung to perform a beautiful arrangement between the two independent electronic instruments.
The translation work between musician and video artist left me wanting for a higher level of visual vocabulary from video artists generally, but I can by no means discount the effectiveness of the combination. Throughout the 40 minutes or so, the rows of chairs would begin rocking to the solid flow of the show. The effect was rows of heads swaying back-and-forth or rocking independently.