When DJ Panic takes the stage, he holds a vinyl LP in one hand and a hack saw in the other, poised to re-imagine the concept of a DJ “scratching” a record. With his experimental group Spaceships Panic Orbit, Panic filled a dimly lit hall of GW’s Building J with freeform electro-jazz last Sunday night, performing alongside improvisational dancers while images from a film about the Apollo Moon Landings flickered on the wall.
GW’s Washington Free Collaboration dancers tore across the stage, clambering over each other, the musicians, the audience members in an explosion of movement, while improvised sound effects, tape loops and live instrumental music blended into a chilling, eerie clamor. There was a sense that all notions of normalcy had gone fleeing out the door.
And all the while Jeff “DJ Panic” Bagato sat on the floor next to the amplifiers, scraping albums and twirling knobs, so that you’d think that he was not just a participant in this chaos but its origin.
About a year and half ago, Bagato convinced GW music professor Peter Fraize to book him the recital room in Philips Hall. He had became inspired by the efforts of another concert series called Transparent Productions, which brought experimental music acts to perform in a variety of D.C. venues. Bagato said he wanted to do the same thing for D.C. area experimental musicians, to give them a sense of community and place where they could play.
“If you’re in a rock band, all you have to do is rehearse a little, maybe put together a demo and you can find somewhere to get onstage,” he said. “For experimental artists, it’s a lot harder. They don’t have a home … there’s no real scene the way there is in say, Baltimore’s Red Room.”
Bagato said even when experimental musicians could get gigs, it was hard to ensure that they would receive any compensation for their performance or that the environment wouldn’t distract from the show.
“(The artist on stage) would really be starting to get into something, and then the bar starts running the cash register for the next half hour straight,” Bagato said, explaining why experimental artists increasingly rely on donated spaces like Phillips Hall or Building J, which, through the sponsorship of the music department, are available on a monthly basis for an experimental concert series that Bagato calls “The Electric Possible,” featuring a variety of experimental artists with a heavy electronic tinge. Bagato said the Phillips space is ideal because it provides a comfortable dedicated listening space. Since it is rent-free, it also allows all the door money to be given to the performers.
Professor Peter Fraize said he agreed to book the Phillips Hall space for Bagato’s concerts because he wanted to expose GW students to more than just traditional jazz and “dead white classical composers,” while admitting that the concert series remains “fundamental” in nature.”The majority of GW (music) students are at a beginner or intermediate level,” he said. “But we’ve always had a few very advanced students who take an interest in wider array of styles and we’re happy to expose them to more experimental music. As the clich? goes, you have to know all the rules, so that you can break them.”
There weren’t a whole lot of rules left by the end of Sunday’s performance. Both the music and dance defied expectation, with performances removed from both subtext and traditional forms. While performances like this can be seen as intellectually challenging and provocative, they didn’t please everyone.
“I didn’t particularly enjoy it,” said senior Omo Lola, who was attending the performance as part of a modern dance class. “The dancing was nice, but the music was much too loud. I wish it had been toned down some.”
Bagato isn’t out to please everyone, however, just to give a home to a voice that could easily go ignored, leaving people who grew tired of mainstream music with nowhere to turn.”This is about cross pollination, the flow of ideas and giving a forum to things that would otherwise go ignored,” Bagato said. “And the word gets around. It’s a small community. We’re getting there.”
The Electronic Possible will perform Jan. 9 in B-120 Phillips Hall.