L.A.’s Culture Collide Festival eased into an eclectic start Thursday night, with bands and performers from around the world playing on a tight campus of venues centered around Sunset and Glendale in Echo Park. With five venues operating at a time, the crowd seemed mostly concentrated at The Echo and its downstairs counterpart, the Echoplex.
Starting at 7:30 with Sweden’s Nervous Nellie, and Taymir, a very young Netherlander garage band with strong similarities to Franz Ferdinand and the Strokes, audiences were scant except for those waiting to get into the Echoplex. Taix French restaurant, located at the epicenter of the festival, has two rooms serving as venues, along with the adjacent Echo Park Methodist Church. Both had initially low turnouts to begin, but the bands were varied and enthusiastic. South Korean duo From the Airport released an onslaught of fuzzed out industrial beats and guitar shred against a spastic projection show, while Atwater Village’s Haunted Summer filled the church with multi-instrumental swells of glorious noise and harmony for the twenty or so onlookers scattered through seats typically occupied by worshipers.
In the Echoplex’s expansive basement room, LA’s Holychild had attracted a writhing mob by 8:30, lead singer Liz Nisitico cheering the crowd as her band whipped the room into a synthpop frenzy. With a strong finish, the growing crowd was lubricated for the funk grooves of De Lux, a band that instantly brings to mind the post-disco of the Talking Heads with tight rhythms, hooky vocals and a rich patchwork of synths and scratchy guitars. By the time Sweden’s animated Mø took the stage with her ensemble of multitasking rhythm masters, the Echoplex was packed full of happy drunk-dancing college kids getting bleary-eyed in the haze of pounding dance pop.
For those with more earthy tastes, Mutual Benefit delivered a wistful, yearning but hopeful set upstairs at the Echo. Atmospheric but warmly grounded in tender pastoral Americana, Jordan Lee’s daydreamy project is objectively beautiful with lush harmonies and melodies, and the crowded room seemed locked in a gazing lull. Lee’s voice, pleasant and soulful but not ornate, brings to mind Iron and Wine and Fleet Foxes. Joined by the soothing harmonies of his band mates, Lee seems less like a front man and more like one more member of a strikingly talented and emotionally linked collective. Chatting between songs, Lee’s softspoken anecdotes got effortless laughs like a sparkle-eyed lovable friend with an infectious excitement for everything and a knack for funny but humble self-deprecation. His personality lives in his music, which could often go much, much larger and sprawling, though it is refreshing to see a band avoid the lure of hugely epic compositions when there is clearly so much potential for them.
Less than a third of the way down the roster, it’s easy to see the incredible value that Culture Collide’s thirty-dollar wristband can get. The next two days will also include a world stage set up between Taix and the Church, with indie rock juggernauts Cloud Nothings on Saturday and veterans Clap Your Hands Say Yeah! on Sunday, so likely a much larger crowd as well.