By Team Backbeat
By Amber Taufen
By Jon Solomon
By Tom Murphy
By Jesse Livingston
By Alejandra Loera
By Stephanie March
By Tom Murphy
There's a reason that Sound Tribe Sector 9 has a following in towns like San Francisco and Boulder. While some bands rock for a cause, like forgiveness of Third World debt, and many rock just because, Sound Tribe is among a select handful that rock for healing -- though healing what, exactly, is uncertain. Sound Tribe Sector 9 isn't in the biz to achieve world domination; rather, the five-piece has formed a sort of musical commune with a new-age/Zen approach to creating art (minus the religious connotations).
9 p.m. Sunday, December 30, and Monday, December 31
Fox Theatre, 1135 13th Street, Boulder
"I don't think we have any aspirations," says percussionist Jeffree Lerner. "We're just following our hearts, continuing to grow as people and as musicians -- no real goals for where we want to go."
"We feel that a new understanding of vibration could usher in the next evolutionary step for this planet," reads the band's press kit, which feels more like a manifesto, complete with sayings such as "Time is art," "You are love," "Peace is now" and symbols appropriated from exotic religions. The bio states: "New forms of art, technology, agriculture, medicine, architecture and design, and a higher collective consciousness may all be realized through vibration and music."
You can almost smell the patchouli, can't you?
STS9 continues to broadcast this nouveau-hippie worldview on its latest release, Offered Schematics Suggesting Peace, the group's third full-length on Atlanta's Landslide Records. The album abounds in (mostly) live dance-oriented music that's marked by loose, skittery drumming reminiscent of free jazz. Swirly, purring flute (courtesy of Kofi Burbridge), muted guitar, keyboard and enthusiastic djembe and tabla accents all contribute to the electro-noodling whole. It's the kind of music you hear in the background while shopping for crystals or seeing and being seen at small urban sanctuaries such as private homes that have been opened up for a public poetry reading or a sitar recital. It's green-tea-and-incense music that has a lot to say but doesn't feel the need to scream to make its point.
With all this talk of vibrations and agriculture and stuff, you might be wondering what the point is, already.
"We definitely have our internal standards of how we want to present ourselves," says the soft-spoken Lerner. "We love being part of concert events like the Earth Day Festival. It was a real holistic event. Leonard Peltier's sister was there, the Dalai Lama's assistant was there -- powerful people. It's more than just going to see bands. It's about what's going on in the world. It's kind of what we want to get into, as well: being part of a greater consciousness, playing a musical role in a larger event. I think it's a collective path that comes from wanting to offer that space through music."
The players -- Lerner, Hunter Brown (guitar), David Murphy (bass), David Phipps (keyboard) and Zach Velmer (drums) -- strive to create a holistic live experience by incorporating lights, screened projections and improvisational art into the show, as well as providing a forum for local artists at the gigs. The purpose, as articulated in the song "Baraka" (from Offered Schematics), is to help everyone who participates "find something special in this short journey together." Says Murphy, "We really feel like the music we play is everyone's music. It's not our music. We don't play it; it's everyone in that room making the music."
The community experience doesn't stop there. According to the group's Web site (sts9.com), anyone can add to the experience by contributing to the "Time Is Art" capsule at one of Sound Tribe's three shows in Denver and Boulder next week. "Bring small items such as crystals, trinkets, poems, prayers, intentions, art, photos to be placed in the capsule every night," the page reads. "Share the love and creativity." (If you're sharing the love and creativity with everyone there, including the musicians, do you get a cut of the door, too?) If any STS9 fans -- also known as "Vibrationists" -- are unable to contribute to the experience in person during one of the band's live appearances, it is still possible to contribute on the Web. The "Communication Lowdown" is a "a free spirited place to express your intentions and address topics that propel our state of existence to a higher sense of enlightenment." There, aspiring bards contribute haikus and poems with titles like "extra cranium capacity" and "JA TRUTH ZEN GRAPHIC ART IS HERENOW OM.:." and post them amid other pieces that often appear to have been written in a winter-chilled VW van with tie-dyed curtains.
"The name is a crucial thing, in the sense that we are a sound tribe, beyond the five musicians that are involved in presenting the music," says Lerner. "There are so many people involved in what we're able to bring. There is no star musician, no one [person] in the spotlight. It's really a group thing." The STS9 team includes a gang of ten crew members, including a sound engineer/massage therapist and a supplier of crystal mandalas. While there is no hydroponics expert or candle roadie on staff, there is an artisan who crafts custom-made hemp tickets to each show, which are later put up for sale on the band's Web site.
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