How 57-Member itchy-O Stays Creative, Together, During COVID-19

Itchy-O / Backstage Flash Photography
Itchy-O has released a new video.
The avant-garde, ritual-obsessed noise band itchy-O has built its reputation crashing public events and dominating theaters across the country. The group was offering immersive musical experiences long before immersive art became trendy, and has grown into a major force in the Denver art and music scenes.

But social distancing doesn't come easily to the band. Nor does stasis. So itchy-O has stayed busy creating new music and also a distance. The band's most recent video, Milk Moon Rite, was created for the Onassis Foundation, to mark life during the pandemic.

Westword caught up with itchy-O to learn more about the ritual and how the 57-member group has been holding up through COVID-19 shutdowns.

Westword: What is a Milk Moon Rite?

Itchy-O (responding as a group): Itchy-O’s Milk Moon Rite is basically a space or platform we create together with our audience to communicate whatever we each feel is important to the universe, while the moon acts as an amplifier. Last year, itchy-O performed a two-day Disambiguation Ceremony where we shared some of our myth and lore with fans up at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park. That Disambiguation Ceremony was a reenactment of the birth of the Milky Way. This year, we were invited back, and the stars quite literally aligned with a Super Moon in perigee on May 7; this extra-lunar event would’ve allowed for a channel of correspondence to be made between this world and “the other.”

Then…COVID-19 happened, and our shows at the Stanley Hotel were canceled. While this affected where and with whom we could execute our ceremony, the stars were still aligned for us to engage.

A new partner, the Greece-based arts and culture organization Onassis Foundation, entered the picture, commissioning us to present our Milk Moon Rite for their international audiences. So, while under quarantine and following city and CDC guidelines, we captured this in a video.

Talk about the script you're using in the subtitles.

Since the organization is based in Greece, the YouTube subtitles reflect that. The following is the outlined script submitted for the Onassis Foundation:

‘Milk Moon Rite | itchy-O The Earth’s only natural satellite has orbited our sky as a massive emblem for countless religious worshippers across the eons. Known to the Greeks as Selene, the Hebrew Yarcah, and the Hindu lunar god Chandra, Egyptians also associated the moon with Isis, to name just a few. It personifies the mysteries of life and death, both scientifically and spiritually. With the moon in perigee, the point of its orbit closest to Earth, May 7th, 2020 itchy-O executed its own Milk Moon Rite with a call to the gods for balance between opposites; the passion/attachment to cure and the pragmatism to advance effectively.’

In this rite, we created a multidimensional interplay of narrative elements represented by different members of itchy-O, and a form of imitative or sympathetic magic. Simply put, we reenacted how we would like for things to unfold:

Beginning as a low oscillating synth patch that pulses before mutating, the ever-present specter of antagonist serves as a backdrop, reflecting a pandemic-laden sonic landscape. This is met with resistance: The shrieks and squeals of distortion mirror humanity’s chaotic push-and-pull reaction to such a disruptive force. Discordant as it is, however, it eventually fades into the ether of the night, framed by the explosive pyrotechnic outbursts of a natural world.

Central to confronting the accelerating viral vector are equally intensifying and purifying measures. The two percussive elements represent a focused balance between the passion and power driving a primal response to survive, tempered by the surgical precision necessary to deploy that drive efficiently. Eventually building to a cacophonous crescendo, the new treatment is unleashed, freeing humanity and restoring natural order in a baptism of flames as the virus howls in a death knell, sending a fossilized transmission of its memory to the heavens as an interstellar record.
What does ritual mean to itchy-O? Are all performances rites? From what traditions? Talk about why.

Generally speaking, performance as rite is a type of cosmic ceremony we share and invite our audiences to regale and feast in.

How are you all holding up through the pandemic?

Nothing concentrates minds like a crisis, and we see itchy-O as a spiritual antidote — and as much as we’d like to say our robust, primeval-futuristic-alien blood is immune to COVID-19…it’s not. This has been tough, and we have been hit just as hard as the rest of the music industry with boring financial pitfalls and stymied calendars. Itchy-O had an amazing year planned before all of this: the Milk Moon Ball in Estes Park, Sleeping Giant Fest in Jacksonville Florida, and now our Interplanetary Masquerade at the Oriental — scheduled for August 8 — is in jeopardy.

However, if there is anything itchy-O is good at, it’s adaptation. And with a slew of problem-solving experts in a number of relevant disciplines, we are navigating solutions that not only respond to the current crisis, but we’re adjusting to make our infrastructure stronger in the long run while producing content we are sure people are going to continue to want long after COVID-19 passes.

This pause in live shows has also given us time to compose new material, build new gear and engage our community online. Over the last year, we filmed most of our live shows in partnership with Evergroove Studio and QSC. We just closed out our From the Vault series of twelve weekly Saturday night HD concerts. It kept us connected to each other, the project and our community. Recorded shows will never replace the visceral, sweat-laden, unpredictable live experience we all crave, but we were grateful to gather around the virtual flame together, and we actually reached some new followers around the world. Our Patreon members have been incredibly loyal through all of this, and it has helped to keep the project afloat and the members hopeful.

When will you go live again? What will help you make that decision?

We are waiting for the powers-that-be to tell venues when and what they are able to do. We have some super-exciting plans that we are moving forward with, in good faith, but until we know what we are allowed to do and with how many people, we’re sort of stuck. Because we are mobile and immersive, we are thinking creatively about how we can connect with audiences safely. It may look and feel different, which we’re excited about, but we are planning a summer experience and fall show right now.

Our crew backstage can also exceed fifty, so there is a lot of work being put into our own standard operational procedures to ensure we are protecting each other once we are able to begin performing publicly; this is in addition to finding the sort of spaces that can accommodate this monster safely. It’s daunting, but we’re all deeply committed.

Find out what's next at itchy-O's website.