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juno reactor/medicine drum [pittsburgh, june 30]
posted on 15-Jul-2001 by anton
I did not know what to expect from juno reactor - I did see a few photographs from their concerts showing painted tribal drummers in their whole war paint splendor, suggesting a peculiar stage performance. on the other hand, the event apparently was marketed as a rave, and I did not know what to expect from the rave crowd either. I knew even less about supporting acts.

finding the venue was an adventure in itself. as good old rave traditions dictate, in order to find the location of the concert you had to follow a chain of vague references. finally, after practically stumbling upon the venue, we got inside of what appeared to be a small empty cinderblock hall with dim lights, glowing psychedelic toys, and other (I suppose familiar to any raver) shining attributes. as expected, the venue was filled with somnambulistic, sluggishly moving individuals dressed in a normal variety of raver outfits. after a few minutes the eye failed to register them at all, simply gliding through this colorful yet strangely transparent crowd hopping up and down to a bland, flat-sounding variety of trance.

medicine drum was the opening band for juno reactor. I did not know anything about the band that turned out to be such a wonderful surprise. medicine drum plays goa trance much in the vein of earlier juno reactor, featuring core members chris deckker and irina mikhailova. the latter joined the band a few years ago, contributing her many years of music performances, composing, and teaching in russia.

medicine drum started off with catchy, danceable goa trance, with chris deckker on drums, and irina dancing around the stage dressed in all white. she truly was the centerpiece, the figurehead of this performance; no one could get their eyes off her. irina's intense and truly trance-like, unpredictable performance included a few tricks with fire, gauze-like fabric, gorgeous chanting.

the band also included violinist kenji williams adding a few very nice touches to the overall sound, and alex newman on keyboards. all those instruments combined with tribal drumming of chris deckker and irina's powerful vocals created a truly exotic and magnificent sight.

music-wise it reminded me of "chemantra" by mother destruction - same lush, exotic atmosphere, non-stoppable dancy power rhythms, fast-paced keyboard lines and beautiful chanting. of course, I could not help viewing them as a close study of earlier juno reactor. maybe it's my limited exposure to the genre is speaking up.

the crowd seemed to be thoroughly enjoying the band, dancing like crazy (although who knows those raver kids - they would dance to anything with a beat - I still remember an unforgettable sight of them trying to dance to twisted layered chaos of autechre). I truly enjoyed it, which at the end of their set made me wonder what juno reactor would have to come up with to match the intensity of medicine drum.

after a short break juno reactor appeared the stage. the word "appeared" does not really convey the energy with which five painted members of amampondo ran out on stage, dressed in skirts and feathers, with their war paint, furry footwear and prominent pot-bellies. mystrious amampondo, described as "nelson mandela's favorite band" in all press releases, occupied the whole stage, equipped with all kinds of drums, horns and other exotic instruments. if you ever saw the cover booklet for "shango," you would have recognized them immediately. the complete absurdity of these almost naked, painted figures in front of this crowd, the initial shock and surprise is something that probably was experienced by everyone in the crowd. this very exotic, surreal feeling is what made this show so impressive for me.

a few moments later ben watkins took his place behind the keyboard. the set started out slowly, as the crowd was adjusting to heavier, more layered sound. gradually, the tempo increased and the drummers started getting more and more into the music, grinning at the crowd, drumming incessantly, sweating, and dancing.

and what got to me finally, were the first accords of "pistolero," with its wonderful tongue-in-cheek flamenco guitar and funky, bouncy, dancy rhythm. this is when ben, as promised on the flyers, grabbed an electro guitar and started laying down heavy cock-rock tunes on top of tribal trance. the crowd went crazy, the intensity of the whole show seemed to instantly jump up a few degrees, and it did not stop until the very end. it was interesting to see how much amampondo were getting into the trance textures, seemingly enjoying them.

juno reactor played all the favorite hits including "masters of the universe," "god is god," as well as few other tracks off "shango." towards the end, the intensity of the whole show reached its peak when amampondo started doing circus acrobatics and dance around the stage. for the encore they seemed to play and play, waiting for the last person in the crowd to cease moving, outdancing everyone in the crowd. the anemic body of truly yours finally could not take this any more, and I had to stop dancing a few minutes before the end of the set.

all in all, this raw tribal energy in an unbelievably powerful fusion with high-tech trance and colorful stage performance (not to forget cock-rock escapades of watkins!) proved to be an unbelievable sensory overload, a splendid, rich, intoxicating atmosphere. I could not believe how impressive it was, proving to be one of the most unusual, intense shows I have seen in the longest time.

picture gallery
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medicine drum
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juno reactor
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photographs © 2001 by alan mcclelland

related links
medicine drum website
juno reactor website

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