Raising the Underground: Discovering new sounds and spaces as Hassle Fest 7 approaches

By Jonathan Donaldson

For Boston-area fans of the multi-colored, ever-spiraling, overlapping music scenes of the underground, the time has come for your moveable feast. On November 5 to 7, the BRAIN Arts Organization — the team behind the Boston Hassle website, Hassle shows and Boston Compass newspaper — brings Boston Hassle Fest 7 to Cambridge Elks Lodge, Out of the Blue Too Gallery, and Brighton Music Hall. It’s their event biggest yet, with roughly 50 rare and/or unusual bands and artists scheduled to perform at the annual party.

And this Hassle Fest serves as a jump-off for even bigger plans in 2016: A new, all-ages venue space long-plotted by Hassle Honcho Dan Shea. “It’s about trying to get people to care about music that is being made here,” says Shea of the future space. “We want people to get involved through making art and supporting art in rising up our community.”

That venue and Hassle Fest 7 are being funded, in part, by an ongoing Indiegogo campaign, which with three days remaining has pulled in more than $6,000 — but only 60 percent of its goal. As the crowd-funding campaign wraps up, the attention turns to the music.

So on the one side, there is you, the listener. On the other side is a hell of a lot of new sounds to discover. What is in-between really doesn’t matter. Scenes, schemes. Blah, blah. Underground music is for everyone. Whether you want to learn more about the outer limits of punk/hardcore/hard-rock, electronic, hip-hop, pop tunez, noise/experimental, performance art or any of the delicious intersections in between (I am loath to use the term “psych” here because that seems to refer to just about everything these days), now is a good time to check out what’s out there and see what’s on the other side. That’s exactly what I did, making a little time with each of the artists on the bill, and that was time very well spent.

Night 1, a co-host split between Cambridge Elks Lodge and nearby Out of the Blue Too, is the most Boston-heavy event of the fest, with 12 out of 15 acts being local. Of those, I have already expressed my love for the Super Mario World-aided, hamsters in go-karts sounds of World Cup and the Ramones bedroom rock of Free Pizza (which features Jesus Vio) on my 2014 year-end list. Add to this list, layered, left-field, compositionally forward techno from Homeworld and Sitting Adult and a set from laffing-gas punks New England) Patriots, and you’ve got yourself a pretty great show.

But headliners Downtown Boys are a consensus pick for one of the best punk bands in the world right now, and the dense brass sound of their debut, Heavy Communism, does plenty to convince. Another big draw is New Jersey’s Home Blitz though, whose latest LP, Foremost and Fair, with its wild display of rococo, pop deconstruction was one of the biggest first-listen smacks in the face this writer has had in a long time. The ambiance of the Elk’s Lodge alone is going to make it hard for me to skip this one if we can only pick one.

Night 2, at Brighton Music Hall, is going to pack in a crowd ready to rock it down with solid indie-rock/grunge-revivalists Screaming Females and Exploding in Sound’s heroes of the guitar, Pile. More jabs from experimental noise/punk Bostonians the Channels will add to the sweaty mess, which is then going to be curiously mopped up with stuff like the startlingly beautiful New York City avant-garde sax ensemble Battle Trance, because hey, that’s how Hassle Fest rolls it.

My personal picks for the night go to the ultra-blown out, noise/techno of NYC’s dreamcrusher (which, if performed extremely loud, could be life changing) and the melty cartoon savant pop of fellow New Yorkers Cloud Becomes Your Hand, whose Rock or Cakes, released last year on Northern Spy, also gave my head a 360. But hey, I’m a weird pop guy.

Night 3, also at Brighton Music Hall, will bring a smoking finale from noise-punk progenitors Flipper — a band which for years has often been the object of many statements such as “they were weird, but not weird like Flipper” — and the have-ya-heard-their-new-sound? sounds of Guerilla Toss (currently in Kraut/funk mode). If this isn’t enough to make you want to make a flip-flop smoothie and grow hair on your eyelids, there is way more on this bill, which is probably the strongest night yet.

The biggest discovery were my fellow Ohioans in Obnox, whose work in the sacred intersection of soul/funk/garage/hip-hop is something really to be heard. When the image of the American flag on the cover of his latest LP, Know America, made me think of Sly & the Family Stone’s “There’s a Riot Goin’ On” and that didn’t bother me, I knew I was on to something special. Also, I must mention the extremely strange, never-the-same-thing-twice, prodigy-pop of some guy from Florida named Jake Tobin; probably the most organically creative material that I heard from all 45 acts. And of course, it had to come from someone who sounds like a completely ordinary rando. That’s the beauty of underground music.

This doesn’t even get into Western MA’s sons-of-Thurston, Curse Purse, or Detroit-based minimal techno legend Terrence Dixon, or ex-Battles MOMA-rocker Tyondai Braxton, who might in fact deliver the gnarliest, deepest and most abstract sets of the night.

So come as you are, and make some temporary friends in some of these glorious noisemakers, who are here for your direct edification and entertainment. Full lineups are below; dig in and discover.

Boston Hassle Fest Night 1: Thursday, November 5 at Cambridge Elks Lodge, 6 p.m. to 11 p.m., and Out of the Blue Too Gallery, 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. All ages.
Black Beach (Boston)
Cave Bears (Boston)
Downtown Boys (RI)
Free Pizza (FL, formerly Boston)
Home Blitz (NJ)
Homeworld (Boston)
JOSS (Boston)
Listening Woman (Boston)
Negative One (Boston)
New England) Patriots (Boston/ME)
PC Worship (NYC)
Sitting Adult (Boston)
Urochromes (Boston)
Whip Appeal (Boston)
World Cup (Boston)

Boston Hassle Fest Night 2: Friday, November 6 at Brighton Music Hall, 5 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. (all ages until 11:30 p.m., 18-plus after)
Battle Trance (NYC)
Cloud Becomes Your Hand (NYC)
Container (RI)
Dent (Boston)
dreamcrusher (NYC)
Mini Dresses (Boston)
Pile (Boston)
Screaming Females (NJ)
The Channels (Boston)
Unguent (PA)
Unicorn Hard-On (RI)
Via App (NYC)

Boston Hassle Fest Night 3: Saturday November 7 at Brighton Music Hall, 2 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. (all ages until 11:30 p.m., 18-plus after)
Ben Hersey (MA)
Curse Purse (MA)
Dan Melchior (OH)
Flipper w/ David Yow (CA)
Guerilla Toss (Boston/NYC)
Heathen Shame (Boston/ Seattle)
Los Condenados (MA)
Jake Tobin (FL)
Obnox (OH)
Olivia Neutron-John (DC)
Ono (IL)
Palberta (NYC)
Pucker Up (Boston)
Pure Matrix (NYC)
Serengeti (IL)
Terrence Dixon (MI)
Lesser Knowns (Boston)
Tyondai Braxton (NYC)

Hassle Fest