Wednesday, February 03, 2010

The Whitehaus Family Record

On any given weekend night in Jamaica Plain, by some fleeting word of mouth from friends of friends of friends you might wander up the dim wooden porch that is decorated with polaroids or a gutted antique radio or other found art projects. Upon entering this house you’ll realize that it might be the strangest and most interesting place you could’ve gone tonight. Creativity is strung from the ceilings and walls as a dumpster diving collage of broken instruments and equipment, random knick knacks and toys. The house itself buzzes and croons, becoming an amplifier for anything from sloppy, silly, sensitive folk to psyche piercing digital experiments. Its white rooms transform into a stage, a screen and willing host to various performance and projection anomalies. It’s more than just a living art project, a venue, a DIY record label or an art collective; it’s the Whitehaus Family Record.

The collective's label has over 50 releases; the most recent is a double LP label sampler, featuring tracks from some of the now over 20 active artists on the roster. All of the albums are handmade, hand stamped and hand printed artifacts that use 100 percent recycled cardboard. And they’re only five bucks.

The artists are an eclectic and creative bunch. You’ll be humming along to the soul-warming, hypnotizing and giddy folk and blues of Gracious Calamity, Avi Jacob, the Cups and Be Law. Mind bending instrumental, noise, and cassette tape experiments are the specialties of Atomfoam and Morgan Shaker. Digital loop and sampling vortexes swirl from the pedals and speakers of the sometimes wacky Truman Peyote, or the tribal infused Many Mansions. The slam poet veterans Brian S. Ellis and Casey Rocheteau will have you tumbling along to the rhythmic, unrestrained collisions of humor and poignancy. Meditative electric guitar bands, like the brooding Manners and Hare Krishna-influenced Prince Rama of Ayodhya, could be spiritual portals to the center of the universe. Then there’s the Whitehaus supergroup: Peace, Loving. It’s a live experience like no other, as members of several label bands surround the audience, shake large chimes made out of buzz saws and scrap metal, and weave through the crowd while playing banjo, singing or yelling poems.Outside of the house, groups can be caught at their local haunts like The Milky Way, The Alchemist, The Middle East and P.A.’s Longue. Alternative venues include churches, basements and art galleries. Although non-traditional, these shows are coated in a unique charm and become nights to remember, like stumbling upon a secret speakeasy and just happening to know the password. A lot of times they’re free and because they’re not at bars, there’s no age limit.

Each year Bostonians get a concentrated dose of the collective when the planets align for Blastfest in March. It’s a patchwork of label artists and friends that audibly mimics the controlled chaos of the haus art projects (which also serve as the set decoration). Last August also marked the beginning of the trance inducing psychedelic bizarro-circus called Weirdstock.

The group formed three years ago as friends playing music in an apartment and it has grown to become an unparalleled collective infecting the whole Greater Boston area. Shows began as “hoots” or “hootenannies,” which are essentially open mics where anyone who wandered off the street could play. The refreshingly accepting environment revolves around the group’s patented “Yes Wave” ethic as Jamaica Plain’s cosmic center for positivity. The collective encourages any kind of performance from music to jokes - even fire breathing.

Some of the most eerily odd and irresistibly interesting acts at the haus have fused several styles. One night a band started with a traditional guitar/bass/drum arrangement, then did a ten minute recorder solo, broke down into puppetry, and finally ended by spazzing out while wearing instruments made into costumes, like a cymbal mask. Another night featured an overhead projector with various fabrics, transparencies and cut-outs streaming through, as the light spilt onto the horrified face of a grizzled interpretive dancer, all to dissonant violin.

Things are getting serious around the haus these days. They’ve started recording on a reel to reel eight track and a slew of new releases from Manners, Avi Jacob, Shai Erlichman, Gracious Calamity and The Cups are about to be unveiled. Check out the website, go to some shows, pick up a cheap record of awesome music and buy yourself a screen printed Yes Wave T-shirt. Soon, you’ll be able to say you knew The Whitehaus before they got big.

Published in Performer Magazine, March 2010 issue.