Out of the current crisis will emerge a large quantity of artistic output, most certainly. For many musicians, isolation is not new: There’s always another chord to loop, another vocal track to harmonize and another layer to agonize over before deleting for good. But this quarantined world is far away from sticky, beer-soaked floor of a venue or the backyards full of JUUL vapor. Memories of these immersive worlds are touchstones back to the familiar normalcy of the past, an escape that now seems filled with disease vectors.
Though it may be changed forever, these experiences are a crucial piece of the W.O.E. puzzle, according to Jackson. “The whole point of the live — especially underground — experience is actually being there,” he says. “The people that you’re with in the show, you feed off that. Depending on how people are responding you change how you perform or you change what you play.”
For the past three years, JaMile Jackson and Brian Tester (performing as W.O.E.) have crafted an improvisational blend of minimalist techno and noise. Their new record Ultrawarm Indices, out via Glowing Dagger Records, offers a satisfying execution of IDM concepts, with rising waves that build, crest, and fall away. As listeners, we’re held captive by the thrum of balanced chaos. W.O.E. use analog and digital electronics to make music in a scene that can be perceived as alienating, though they’ve added push of texture and unscripted innovation.
W.O.E. live at the Dildo Fatory
One fear, among many, is that the community which makes underground music will be lost. Slim’s is the latest in the local network of venues to shut down, though beloved spaces have been struggling to remain in the rapidly shifting economy of the Bay Area for a long time. Jackson remembers moving to Oakland from Florida and finding his way into the underground scene, attending shows in homes and warehouses. Back then, shows were inviting events that offered unity and compassion.
“In the underground scene, going there, you’re afforded that camaraderie on the outskirts with other people who share similar views and artistic concepts as you,” says Jackson. “I hope that kind of thing doesn’t get lost. The big shows are always going to happen. It’s our stuff, the homegrown stuff that’s going to get hurt.”
It was soon after the Ghost Ship tragedy that Jackson and Tester decided it was time to join forces for a project. The initial idea involved finding the limitations and boundaries that they could set upon themselves, so that they could build their freeform industrial noise within. Theirs is a conversation, the oscillating back and forth of each musician’s choice in a given moment colliding with the cycling loops, synths, and drum beats.
“Both of us sort of have that problem, or feature, in what we do, to have challenge be a part of presenting your art,” Tester says. “The actual structure of the music presented itself, basically, once we found a way to work with the equipment limitations that we set for ourselves.”
“In the underground scene, going there, you’re afforded that camaraderie on the outskirts with other people who share similar views and artistic concepts as you,” says Jackson. “I hope that kind of thing doesn’t get lost.
Ultrawarm Indices finds the project in a more fully-formed shape, executing songs that are structured within certain boundaries and instrumental limitations. In their recordings are captured moments drowned in electric drama — something like watching a thunderstorm pass in the distance, your thoughts wandering but your skin and ears alive.
“The process for us is more about the sounds than the structure,” says Jackson. “After three years of working together on stuff we’ve gotten much better at understanding each other and understanding the process.”
In lieu of their record release show, they’re premiering a new video, shot and edited by Glowing Dagger execs Megan Biscieglia and Dustin Khebzou, which features a performance last summer at the California Academy of Sciences aquarium. Hypnotic and ambient underwater textures play out across the visual backdrop of exotic aquatic life, in a video that we can call a placeholder for a live experience. While it’s not the ‘real-deal,’ this piece can be enough, for now.
Tester hopes that things will improve when we find the other side of these terrifying times.
“Now that everything is shut down, these glaring positions are visible — like who is calling the shots and why,” he says. “This could be the time where people say, ‘We need to get the basement cleared out and put a P.A. down there.’”
Enjoy the video below and find their full record here.