The LEAF, now in its 39th season, is a well-honed mix of eclectic arts, the great outdoors, family-friendly activities and fun in the sun (and occasionally the rain). But with three days packed full of entertainment, it might be easy to overlook LEAF’s nighttime offerings. Don’t: Fall LEAF’s after-midnight lineup includes Bhangra-Celtic fusion, jazz-tronic dance parties, Afro-Latin power-funk and techno contra.
The latter — contra dance set to electronic music — wasn’t invented on the banks of Lake Eden, but it might as well have been. The fusion of folk aesthetics and modern soundscapes attracts a younger crowd, but as Julie Vallimont of the dance band Buddy System points out, everyone is welcome. “It’s not about being cool. You should be able to walk in as who you are because for me, the magic of contra dance is being accepted into a community.”
Vallimont, who also performs with Boston-based traditional contra band Nor’easter, is a classical pianist who used to go to raves in the 1990s and started writing electronic music “back when MIDI [Musical Instrument Digital Interface] was a real pain in the butt.” She sees a connection between the trance beats of club music and the repetition of contra dance moves: “The band plays off the dancers, the dancers react to band. That synergy is so incredible — it’s what drew me to playing for contra dances in the first place.”
But there’s still an organic approach to Buddy System’s performances. “Unlike hitting ‘play’ in iTunes, it’s all loops and samples and MIDI, some of which we’ve sequenced in advance, some of which we’re looping on the fly,” says Vallimont. In real time, and in response to the dancers, sounds and textures are faded in and out and triggered: “It took a lot of years of experimentation to figure this out.”
Noah VanNorstrand approached Vallimont last summer about starting a techno contra band. He plays fiddle and digeridoo and adds vocals and percussion both synthesized and with his feet. Vallimont plays jaw harp, accordion and synthesizer. “So there’s that combination of live instruments, plus the computer,” she says. “I wanted the electronic music to be as interactive as the acoustic music was.”
Local multi-instrumentalist Ben Hovey also knows about the intersection of acoustic and electronic music. He plays up to 26 gigs per month with special events group The Business, Russ Wilson’s swing band, vocalist Kat Williams and as a solo project. He also just completed an Ableton certification so that he can teach music production with that hardware and software.
At LEAF, Hovey will perform two nights as HoveyKraft, in which he plays keyboards, trumpet and electronics, often simultaneously. Percussionist Phillip Bronson (Jonathan Scales Fourchestra) will sit in; Hovey says the Friday night set will be “a more R&B, funky side of things” and Saturday will be “more on the Latin side, making it dance-friendly so people can get down.”
The HoveyKraft project, with its deep grooves and energy-infused lounge, has a fairly simple trajectory. Hovey started playing piano at age 5. His dad was a trumpet player and computer programmer. In the late ’90s, Hovey joined a live hip-hop group in Lexington, Ky. where, “if we wanted to have melody and harmony at the same time, I had to do both.” So he already had a base in multitasking. “Ableton Live allowed me to be able to do stuff on the fly.”
But for all the technology at his disposal, it’s the trumpet that Hovey says makes his one-man band accessible. “You’d think older people would be scared of electronic stuff, but when there’s a trumpet in there, and the acoustic and the soul and the roots, they appreciate it.” At the same time, he says, “I’d love to expose younger people to what’s possible, musically. You’re not just up here pushing buttons. There’s more expression you can get with incorporating live elements.”
When it comes to fusion at LEAF, Vancouver’s Delhi 2 Dublin might win any mashup contests. The band boasts a heady blend of East and West (especially in its namesake Bhangra and Celtic combo) as well as ancient-meets-modern. Tarun Nayar plays both tabla and electronics, and says his setup keeps growing. “I have lots of friends who are pure electronic musicians,” he says. “I grew up playing classical Indian music, so it’s always been important to involve the Indian side with the electronic side. If I divorce them, I don’t get any meaning out of it.”
Delhi 2 Dublin also incorporates fiddle, a double-headed drum called the dhol, guitar, sitar and high-energy lyrics for performances that run the gamut from “dub reggae to breaks to just straight-up happy dance music,” according to the band’s bio. And although the group is a hit at world-music events — following LEAF, Delhi 2 Dublin heads to Indonesia, Malaysia and Australia — Nayar says that the band loves folk festivals, especially those with a family-friendly atmosphere like LEAF’s.
In fact, Delhi 2 Dublin formed at Vancouver’s Celtic Fest in 2006 and has “always felt comfortable with big crowds and big sound systems,” Nayar says. The shift to indoor stages came with a focus on songcraft and the realization that more subtle material was better suited to theaters: “There are certain songs we can’t play when we’re rocking a festival set, because there’s a certain energy in the room, and that energy needs to be honored and fed.”
LEAF offers the best of both worlds: Delhi 2 Dublin performs a 6:15 p.m. set on the Lakeside stage, followed by a 1 a.m. show in Eden Hall. “We’ll probably play some of the lighter stuff in the daytime,” says Nayar, “and save some of the harder punches for the evening, when we can really let go.”
WHAT: The LEAF, theleaf.com
WHERE: Lake Eden in Black Mountain
WHEN: Thursday, Oct. 16-Sunday, Oct. 19. Tickets are only sold in advance. Weekend pass with camping is $163 adults/$138 kids, community pass (Friday-Sunday, no camping) is $109/$96, day passes are $48/$39 for Friday and Sunday, $58/$52 for Saturday. Parking is $5 per vehicle