Speaking between sets on Friday night, one long-time Boston Hassle volunteer articulated a rather somber mission statement: Boston Hassle exists to get its “foot in the door on the way out” as skyrocketing real estate weighs heavily on Boston’s once thriving underground music and arts scene.
However, an uninitiated showgoer would have trouble sensing that threat at Hassle Fest 8, the two-day festival at which this volunteer spoke. Last weekend marked the eighth year that Boston-based arts collective Boston Hassle has hosted Hassle Fest, and the sense of underground community that Hassle fears is being stomped out has never felt more alive.
Hosted at Allston’s Brighton Music Hall on November 4 and 5, this year’s installment saw some of the biggest names in the festival’s eight-year history (which in previous years includes the likes of Kim Gordon’s project Body/Head, California garage star Ty Segall, and local favorite Pile) alongside smaller names in the local scene. While this year’s lineup boasted impressive acts like Girlpool, Silver Apples, and Wolf Eyes, some of the less eye-grabbing names across a number of genres dominated the stage and ultimately stole the show. Below is a small sample of the artists who helped make Hassle Fest 8 the resounding success it was.
Invitingly upbeat but resisting approachability, New York-based electronic duo MACULA DOG put on one of the most memorable sets of the weekend by leaps and bounds. As outlandishly intriguing and complex as the music they play is their unique stage setup; the two members play with their backs to the audience, with each projecting a blown-up, unsettlingly intimate real-time feed of their face onto the wall in front of them, all while controlling a vast array of synths and samplers that resemble the cockpit of an airplane as much as they do instruments. The music itself might, at the expense of reductionism, be compared to less melodic MPP-era Animal Collective, but such comparison inevitably falls short. MACULA DOG are pushing the frontier of electronic music in exciting ways, and are without a doubt an act to keep an eye on.
If you haven’t heard IAN SWEET’s LP Shapeshifter already, you probably will; smart songwriting with pop appeal accentuated by vocalist Jillian Medford’s distinctive sighs and squeals have propelled it from relative obscurity to such buzz and acclaim in the months since its release that it’s hard not to anticipate a meteoric rise for the trio in the near future. Also putting on one of the more danceable sets of the weekend, IAN SWEET take the structure and style of the more traditional alt-rock from which they draw to new heights, due largely to Medford’s shimmering guitar work, at times subdued and tranquil, at times sharp and biting. In an age when the genre can feel oversaturated to the point of redundancy, IAN SWEET are a prime example of innovative, guitar-based rock music, sticking out effortlessly from the dizzying crowd of both Hassle Fest and the music world at large.
PS: Catch IAN SWEET with Lady Pills and Florist at the Great Scott in Allston this Tuesday, November 15!
BANG! BROS put on the most cacophonous live set I’ve ever witnessed, and I won’t try to do it justice by praising it with words or drawing arbitrary comparisons. I’ve included some of the few recordings I was able to find of them. If you see their name on a lineup, drop everything and go (but whatever you do, don’t google them).
Drawing from elements of each of the above acts and so much more, Guerilla Toss defy categorization like two positive ends of a magnet. Their Facebook page categorizes them as “skull-pop // rage-psych // mosh-funk // post-jam // world-shred // space-punk // chump-jazz // free-spaz,” each of which is equally true and insufficient. A single Guerilla Toss track is a whirlwind journey of noise through punk and funk alike, switching between genres, tempos, and time signatures without missing a beat, held together by their exceptionally tight and prominent rhythm section. Despite the complex and fractured nature of their music, Guerilla Toss played the most danceable set of the weekend, and the crowd went off in a way unlike that of any other set I witnessed. This, above all else, was a vote of confidence for the continued longevity of Hassle’s niche in the Boston scene; those who were inclined to mosh were kept in check by those who weren’t; taller men (by and large) went out of their way to make space for people usually made unsafe by such an environment; in short, people looked out for each other in a way that was neither taxing nor oppressive, making for one of the most fun live music experiences I’ve been a part of in recent memory.
Hassle Fest and Boston Hassle as a whole may think themselves a last vestige of Boston’s DIY scene, but the sense of collectivity (not to mention the lineup) they’ve been able to foster bodes extraordinarily well for the future. In the coming years, Hassle is seeking to open up a venue of their own, but such a venture takes time, effort, and, of course, money. If you’re inclined to support them and the underground arts scene they represent, consider donating by clicking “Boston Hassle” above.