07 Jul 2014 — Evelyn Malinowski
I wrote about Missoula once before in an essay about what it's like to see electornic music in a rock town that thinks it has it made. Relatively, Missoula does have it made, since it's the single best spot in the state for music and art. Now it's time to announce its techno side. Next month, Missoula will host a three day electronic music conference, which displays a brilliant line-up, including John Tejada, Natasha Kmeto, Lusine, and Nordic Soul. Yet, the DAT will do more than bring quality electronica out from different corners of the states, and join them in this particular corner few people have ever heard of: it is bringing to the fore why a place like Montana is a hitherto under-considered most excellent location for experiencing techno, as its geography has the potential to poetically complement aspects of electronic music culture.
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This year on August 1st to 3rd, the Digital and Analog Technologies Music Conference, or DAT, will launch in the small city of Missoula. While the acronym is colloquially catchy and urban, and the spelled out name seems rather relevant but not overtly laudable, the unique thing about this conference does not reside in the name. Or does it?
Like anything, we easily do but usually shouldn't judge a thing by its name. For example, what about the name “DAT” says Montana, rural electronica, and celebration of how both digital and analog technologies have shaped dance music? Does “DAT” by itself equal to what Wolfgang Voigt once called “adult techno”? Yes, this conference proudly calls itself a “conference” rather than “American rave” or “Burning Man” or “EDM Party of The Northern Rockies,” which is one way of clearly stating its mature and intellectual intentionality, even though, jokingly, "dat" is baby talk for "that." In what way does this event really display its polygonal complexity?
According to an outsider, Missoula, a town of about eighty thousand occupants, seems like an unlikely hub for electronic music, nor does it appear as a destination for discussing the integration of digital and analog technologies. At the same time, Missoula is a likely hub. It's the most city-like, artistic community in the state, although worldly and fascinating individuals pop up just about anywhere throughout this expanse of breathtaking land. Montana, if you aren't sure, can be found north of Wyoming, south of Alberta, northeast of California, and west of everywhere else. With its statewide population only recently reaching one million, Montana offers unexpected geographical, as well as cultural, diversity. Yes, some of the redneck stereotypes are true, but until you see what's going on here, you may not be able to conceive of the majesty, true-spiritedness, and capacity for the diversity this place possesses.
First of all, there's space. Montana gives you space, whether you need a cultural break, are seeking out a concentrated utopia somewhere off of the mainstream radar, or escaping into the mountainous wilderness (be careful because there are loads of bears, wolves, lions, and moose out there, so let's not over-idealize); or if you just need a long drive, bike ride, or horseback tour out on the plains that lead up to the Rocky Mountain Front; or if you need space for throwing expansive festivals, pow-wows, for building ranches, a new self, etc. Not sold yet? Unsure of how electronic music would fit into this equation, especially now that I've mentioned horses?
Seeing as how this is a space-giving destination, there is of course plenty of space for cultivation of not only of crops, but also dreams, imaginings, individual development and methods for diversification. Be that as it may, we do not take kindly to developers - especially if from out of state – conducting their business here and forcing property taxes to reach the sky; we see not only exploitation in this prospect, but also unsustainable triviality, and this observation is a symptom of the attitude here, part New Age, part cowboy: it is an attitude that accepts stoically the fact that, in the end, the mountain wins.
Montana has been diverse even before the white man made it this far northwest. This landscape has been the home for various Native American tribes for centuries upon centuries, reaching back to the mystical pre-time world, where they lived with, hunted, utilized, and celebrated the diversity of wildlife available at the time. Today, Montana is one of the states with the most federally recognized Indian Reservations, and one of few states to proudly enforce Indian Education for All curriculum within the public school system.
Among many noble perspectives of Native tradition is the one that calls on us to remember what the land means, and how the landscape can inspire stories, ancestry, and growth. With that in mind, and in recalling the idea of a space-giving, imagination-cultivating location, we begin to assemble thoughts on how Montana and music, especially instrumental, ceremonial music, can go hand-in-hand, as music with little to no lyrics certainly leaves plenty of space for imagination by minimizing verbal disruption in listening. One of the chief characteristics of quality techno, as we well know, is the extraneousness of lyrical verse. We need more beat and less conceit! What this amounts to is the possibility that Montana is actually an unbelievably ideal place for listening to and experiencing electronic music.
Tara Emery, co-creator and head curator of the DAT, met me for coffee recently at one of local bakeries, where one goes to acquire the best espresso in town. We laughed about how some of the artists booked for this first year might be expecting a truly rural setting, where there's a town that tourists pass through in the blink of an eye, and that the showcases will be out on leased acreage, Summer Of Love style. “Let them think that, so they can have that Montana surprise!”
Emery was born and raised here in a “hippie household,” she says. She graduated from Hellgate High School (Thurston Moore's favorite high school in the country purely due to its name (it refers to the canyon barricading the east side of the valley)), spent time in Pacific Northwestern cities, and is a mother, as well as a grandmother. I asked her when it was that she first realized that she was surrounding herself with everything electronica, despite the fact that she and her family are happily planted in rock-loving, small-scale Missoula. “I'd say late 90s. It was The Orb.”
For years, Emery was geared toward participating in festivals dedicated to tilling and expanding techno culture hubs. After several years of regular volunteering with family festivals like Communikey in Boulder, Colorado, and Decibel in Seattle, she realized what drove her to be so involved: it was about gaining inspiration, experience, and general know-how, for curation of her own festival. Thus, it's DAT time.
Apart from their love for the music, Emery and her partner in DAT curation, Logan Foret, share the dream of a mature techno culture in the States, as well as a more substantial one in Missoula. Deliberating on how to benefit that cause from Missoula, they are calling the DAT a “conference” rather than a “festival,” which reserves the more intellectual experience, somehow. By announcing Missoula to the techno scene, Emery and Foret wish to simultaneously awaken the reality that techno can be anywhere, even in Montana, and perhaps this can temper the overall American attitude toward techno.
Wait, we have to back up again: other than this being a special conference in a small city surrounded by bear-infested mountains, and besides it being Emery and Foret's maiden launch of their long-in-the-making brain child, this festival carries a feminist, egalitarian hue. From its purple and pink banner, to its greater mission to nurture the growth of this sub-culture, like a mother, the DAT is undeniably feminist, and proudly expects that, by its second flight, the artist line-up will be at a fifty-fifty gender ratio. If you have read any of our pieces on the topic of gender in electronica, you will already know that NFOP finds this commitment highly important and supportable, as does Natasha Kmeto, who is booked to blow the DAT away. More broadly, the geographical factor of the DAT persuades us to realize that, while we advocate gender equality in electronica, some of us may have biases when it comes to where to experience quality music, culture, and art. The DAT awakens city/rural prejudice and engenders some consideration for smaller communities that have hub potential.
Conclusively, what is remarkable about this conference, besides it being in Montana, an adult-techno party, gender-aware, and nationally recognizable, is that its name quite simply testifies against any conservative, black or white attitudes that may arise when considering any kind of duality, and in this case, the future of electronic music: will it be digital, or can it still have an analog turntable at the stand. Shit, why not both?
So throw out your stereotypes and put your leather boots or rubber sneakers on! The DAT is a premiering powerhouse fueled by passion for music, techno lifers, regional and international artists, and a whole bunch of what it takes to make you think differently. The premiere line-up includes the legenadry John Tejada (Kompakt), Lusine (Ghostly International), and a NFOP favorite, Natasha Kmeto (Dropping Gems). There will be live visuals from Albertan soundwave artist Clinker, and a spout of sets from Seattlites Cyanwave (Innerflight), J.Alvarez (Hypercolour), and Decibel Festival daddy Sean Horton aka Nordic Soul (Basic_Sounds). On the roster we also have Chicago's Sassmouth (God Particle), local techno pundits Kris Moon, Hendawg, and Mike Stolin, and other people, like yours truly.
If you happen to be passing through the area at the end of July or at the onset of August, or feel inspired to go out of your way, you can find more information and purchase tickets on the DAT's website.