HoCo Fest 2017!

Holy sh*t! Sixty acts! Wicked sideshows! Five days! Downtown Tucson!

Each Labor Day weekend, the fine folks at Club Congress host the HOCO Fest, the city's biggest, finest musical bash of the year. Version 2017 of HOCO (the twelfth annual!) runs Wednesday, Aug. 30 through Sunday, Sept. 3. Beyond its lineup of 60 heady acts there'll be killer sideshows too, including a vinyl record fare, a producer's workshop, yoga works, art openings, and more. Also, KXCI radio will be hosting the grand opening of its new studio inside the Congress Hotel.

Anyway, we here at TW HQ would be remiss not to point out how impressively curated the music is on this year's five-day fest. From the street-poetic storytelling of Tucson rapper Lando Chill to Mexico City's cliché-destroying Mexican Institute of Art, from the smart punk of New Zealand's Maniac Cop to the perfect frontera of Sergio Mendoza's Orkesta Mendoza, there ain't a weak act booked. And because of said dearth, we had a tough cobbling together our own curated list of artists we recommend. But we did. We also present an Eric Swedlund feature on legendary soulman Lee Fields

(Blurbs by Brian Smith, Brett Callwood, Margaret Harstad, Jeff Gardner and Swedlund.)

For tickets and more info go to hotelcongress.com/hoco.


Lando Chill

Wednesday, Aug. 30

In a game ruled by being hard, former TW cover star Lando Chill refuses to conform. Yes, he writes from a place of vulnerability, without the (boring) posturing or (the even more boring) braggadocio. Instead of enslaving his vision to the form, whether sung, spoken or rapped, Chill's music is an organic extension of self. It is real and open-hearted, rivaling Brother Ali in clarity and sincerity, but instead of preaching, he asks questions. He'd never be so gauche to profess to have the answers. More reminiscent of a modern-day Maya Angelou than any hit-seeking rapper, on "Save Me" his feelings of abandonment by a lover uncover the true reason he feels lost; "My dad would've raised me, but God took him from us." In the African-American tradition of storytelling, he explores legends and personal struggles at once; he is the boy who spoke to the wind, and the kid who wonders, "Pops am I making you proud?" Confessional and sincere, Chill is a true original, willing to offer unironic glimpses of his gentle soul. A Tucson gem.


Wednesday, Aug. 30

Bass sensation Stephen "Thundercat" Bruner springs from jazz to hip-hop to duets with Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins with equal enthusiasm.Recording with Kendrick Lamar, Erykah Badu, Kamasi Washington and Flying Lotus made him a household name (well, in musical circles) but it's Thundercat's own records—2017's Drunk and 2013's Apocalypse in particular—that've earned the most praise. Drunk, for example, is a 23-tune odyssey of space-age funk, futuristic-fusion and a fresh statement on the continued vitality of jazz. "Them Changes" (after the Isley Bros.) and "Tokyo," have become crossover hits, of sorts, appealing to fans drawn in from his hip-hop session work. Just 32, Thundercat is versatile and virtuosic—and many say a visionary player who can settle into a deep groove or shift on a dime to put a song into an entirely new orbit. It's fitting that Drunk is an album about escape, distraction and exploration.



Thursday, Aug. 31

Those who caught New Jersey's Ho99o9 (pronounced Horror) when they hit the Moldy Pueblo on Mike Patton's Dead Cross tour will know how much of a spectacular mindfuck they are live. Mashing Ministry's grimy industrial scrum with Manson-esque (Marilyn and Charlie) goth-horror, some Suicide minimalism, and smart, skull-crush hip-hop that'd do old Massive Attack proud, few new bands excite more than Ho99o9. The main duo of theOGM and Eaddy work together because of their musical and, perhaps, ideological differences—sorta like a brainy punk-rock Outkast. Tension is critical. On record they're great, but live is the shit.


Thursday, Aug. 31

Straight outta Texas (um, Austin), the Impalers play the sort of uncompromisingly brutal hardcore punk that'll leave you hyper-aware, numb, sweaty, with maybe some butterflies inside your trou or skirt. That's not easy to do. New album Cellar Dweller is 10 blasts of scuddy and honest cultural-political feedback that nobody asked for but—in keeping with the legacy of real Nazi-hater punk—we're getting it anyway, and we need it. Songs like "Nazi Burning Man" and "Nuclear Cabaret" are as gloriously backdated as they are topical, yet reveal a necessity as never before. Chaos crammed into a bottle, shaken and then released. Three chords and the truth!

Jock Club

Thursday, Aug. 31

A key part of Tempe-based EDM collective Ascetic House, Jock Club, aka Andrew Flores, blends house and old-school Detroitish techno with some tribal percussion and innovative programming, resulting in sonic soundscapes that embrace the traditional while managing to expand boundaries, even if the focus is about what gets people dancing and shtupping, or whatever. This April saw the release of the excellent Morphism EP, four colorful tracks stuffed with Flores' mad skills, and his kick-drum infatuation (see the title track). Best tune: "Head Ache," a gloriously repetitive (and vividly modern) sexual workout whose insistent hooks suck you in and then grab you by throat, head and crotch. Inescapable.


Thursday, Aug. 31

Killer, hard-tourning death metal from AZ? No joke. Gatecreeper offer everything down-tuner aficionados enjoy: guttural, impenetrable vocals, dazzling, freakout-speed instrumentation, and suckerpunch songs like "Craving Flesh" and "Rotting As One." But there's more than that: All hail masculine grindouts when tackling gender truth, as in the band's mighty, anti-asshole (Trump) gob "Patriarchal Grip." Sure, death metal isn't for all of you, but like, say, dubstep, there's pure joy inside the emotional intensity, if you pay attention. Sure, this quintet's debut head-splitter, 2016's Sonoran Depravation (Relapse), mines the death-metal motherlodes—from Sweden to Florida— but it's their own obsessions and turmoils that make them pit worthy.

Kate Mo$$

Thursday, Aug. 31

In name alone, Kate Mo$$ (no, not the spindly ex-pinup) takes the piss out of celebrity worship and gluttonous, consumer culture. So it makes sense the quartet occasionally gigs with Ho99o9—both mind-blowing grindhouse outfits make it their business to blur genre lines. Their self-titled EP, dropped last year, is unrelenting; just wave-upon-wave of brutal industrial-electronic slams, topped with persuasive, perfectly nasal-y punk-rock vocals and staccato word-riffs. Some moments recall Ministry, or sometimes Prodigy at their genre-bending best (when Keith Flint started singing). But comparisons are odious, as one famous dude once said. Ask the band, they'll tell you they need to be seen live. So "fuck off."

Tommy Wright III

Thursday, Aug. 31

No joke, one of Tommy's songs kickstarts with 30 uninterrupted seconds of gunshots. He might as well be named Tommy Waits III because this Memphis rapper's style is as raw, lo-fi and unforgiving as that classic singer's voice. Modern bombastic hip-hop like Denzel Curry, Migos, and Lil Ugly Mane owe big debts to Tommy, since he helped start the scene back in the early '90s and has been keeping its spirit alive since. If you've ever wanted to know what it's like to commit a slew of crimes on a hot Memphis street corner in 1993, dig this joint.

John Maus

Thursday, Aug. 31

If his recorded music isn't the most intense din on earth, his live shows are. This philosophy-professor-turned-post-punk-animal ain't just '80s electronics and sugary hooks. A longtime collaborator with Ariel Pink, Maus' catalog is crammed with synth-pop, new wave, electronic, and even the occasional medieval flair(!). And his education wasn't left behind in the classroom; we mean, who knew you could rock out and get woke at the same time? If you wanna a dance, by all means don your fave soft-shoe, but don't be surprised if the singer jumpstarts the pit himself.


Thursday, Aug. 31

If song titles like "Crawling on Bruised Knees" and "Primitive Struggle" don't hint at the kind of music to expect, the repulsive and unnerving album artwork will. Pharmakon is the solo music excursion of Margaret Chardiet, whose had such comfy musical genres as "death industrial" and "black noise" hurled her way. You might think a one-person show could seem a bit sparse, but when her distorted death throes are the only recognizably human sound in a sea of screeching synths, you'll realize her presence extends far beyond her flesh and blood. Brace yourself: bring spare bandages.

Maniac Cop

Thursday, Aug. 31

Geography ensures that we rarely hear even the best bands out of New Zealand. But when we do, they are memorable and reflect back U.S. and U.K. musical idioms through an original filter—Th'Dudes for pop rock or Puke for punk. Maniac Cop is no different, making distorted, post-Albini smart rock, minus the anger. Four out of five "Cops" are drummers, so these are rhythmically-textured tracks, filled out by fuzzy guitar and reverb-drenched, barely audible vocals. Discernible lyrics are sincere, "I love myself, cuz there's nobody else." Other times, no words are necessary, as on "Heart Attack," where the basic beat starts quickly and then slows way down, dramatizing a theme like The Residents. The vocals are percussive and well-metered, think "Supersex"-era Morphine or Frank Black at his finest. And the songs are super short, making similar US bands feel ironic, self-important and lengthy when Kiwis can accomplish all this in less than 120 seconds.


La Luz

Friday, Sept. 1

Founded in Seattle in 2012, the surf-noir quartet La Luz combines fetching four-part harmonies, some catchy doo-wop, early garage jangle and edgy 'verb of surf-rock guitar. After two albums on hometown label Hardly Art, La Luz relocated to Los Angeles in '15, ready for a clean slate after a tumultuous period that included a severe accident that totaled their van and equipment. There, singer-guitarist Shana Cleveland, keyboardist Alice Sandahl, drummer Marian Li Pino and bassist Lena Simon regrouped and coughed up their killer breakthrough second album, Weirdo Shrine. Recorded in a San Dimas (!) surf shop with godhead Ty Segall producing, the LP revealed a looser, wilder sound, topped with psych dimensions, post-punk nods and a rattletrap garage punch.

Karima Walker

Friday, Sept. 1

This local singer/songwriter's music is as quiet and evanescent as the early desert mornings she inhabits. If that sounds like bad poetry hyperbole, hold on. See, some of her songs are straightforward folk tunes, and when the echo and delay pedals come out she's swallowed up in the layers of her own gentle voice. Subtlety is a virtue, and it soothes, a Judee Sill incarnate. Luckily the intangibility doesn't extend to her lyrics, which range from introspective to downright poetic. C'mon with the lavender incense and purified water.

Frankie Cosmos

Friday, Sept. 1

If you ever wanted to relive the balmy, finger-painting, Animal Planet-gazing, afternoon-napping days of kindergarten, then listen to NYC's Frankie Cosmos. This indie popstar's simple yet sweet acoustic jingles work like cozy blankets illustrated with fatherly firefighters, mirthful dogs and busses in rain. On the surface. See, she's deceptively smart, and works over the senses like how Fred Thomas's songs do; there's real ache and tender mercies under the hummable simplicity. And much like dreamy days, her music doesn't last so long in that most songs are less than two minutes and even her full albums can hide beneath the 20-minute mark. Always always want more. Her legions of fans can attest to this. Music still can engage on subtleties, minus the boring histrionics.

Orkesta Mendoza

Friday, Sept. 1

Slip into your boots and tap it out. Clap and mambo with local legends Orkesta Mendoza. Now considered (not just by us but the gooddamned world at large) to be the perfect frontera band, Sergio Mendoza and his five skilled multi-instrumentalists play a mix of Latin styles, including cumbia, mambo and ranchera, combined with indie, psych and straight ahead rock 'n' roll. The result is a fun and playful celebration of life, in English and Spanish, with Latin rhythms alongside electric slide guitar, cajon keeping ritmo for bright, beautiful horns. Cuban, Mexican and Arizona sound stylings are artfully woven together in a buen bien mezcla that will leave you grinning and feeling almost cultured—these gentlemen always don their finest, be it dapper suits, Guayaberas or Folklorico chaquetas. Equally at home with all the countries and customs they represent, Orkesta Mendoza will inspire and invite you to join them in celebrating "Caramelos" (beautiful Latina women) and "Las Calles de Tucson."

Mexican Institute of Sound

Friday, Sept. 1

Political, whip smart, ironic. Just one of these three adjectives is hard to pull off with musicality, but Mexico City's Mexican Institute of Sound ganó the triple crown. Whether directly addressing the problems in "Mexico," where violence and corruption has citizens "saber que el tuyo no es tuyo," (knowing what is yours is not yours) or playing against Latin-lover stereotypes, "Escribeme Pronto. Soy pasionante, pero yo no soy tanto" (Write me soon. I am passionate but I am not stupid), the singsong/rapped lyrics are always on point—witty and aware of U.S. and Mexican cultural shortcomings. But it's not just the lyrics in this post-Beck hip-hop outfit that succeed. On "Mexico," traditional, heroic-sounding horns are slowed down to be clownish; turning a cultural touchstone on its head. In "Escríbeme Pronto," sped up mandates to "Dance!" are dropped in above '50s Mexico-by-way-of-Hollywood orchestration. This is parody at its finest—razor sharp, danceable, fun. Like Ozomatli, this banda just gets better live. All hail group leader Camilo Lara! All hail group leader Camilo Lara! Not to be missed.


Cherry Glazerr

Saturday, Sept. 2

LA indie stars Cherry Glazerr dropped 2017's Apocalipstick, which is weirdly appropriate album title if you consider their home base, a reeling L.A. metropolis where you can sense sticky lipstick traces (Clara Bow to Belladonna) and tragic American cultural history (anything Tate, Barrymore etc.). While the trio sports a decidedly downbeat tone inside deceptively upbeat tunes, like the dance-pop "Trash People" and the psych-popper "Sip of Poison," the band mirthfully expresses an ironic glam side (minus the one beardo) with glitter and bangs and sass. The dual female vocals throw you—there's smart, Morrissey-worthy moroseness beneath the sugar and singsong. It's fascinating juxtaposition, a smart yet fun reflection of their hometown and beyond.

Keithcharles Spacebar

Saturday, Sept. 2

Unlike a lot of rappers, Atlanta's Keithcharles Spacebar is in total control. He creates beats, writes rhymes and packages them in style, with killer low-rent vids that highlight his subtle irony and understated humor. But it's his slow, intense and staccato delivery over psych trance pop that makes him compelling. "We're All A Little" might be a modern redux of Tricky's "Genius" with its deliberate, sexy flow over strobe-like dynamics. His positive joints recall PM Dawn, melodic and uplifting, with nods to monogamy and an internal moral code, even if delivered in more traditional "bitch and ho" speak. Descending minor notes and Keithcharles' slight South Florida drawl, halfway between gentleman and gangster, draw you in. A dope-smoking ladies' man till the end, with panache and a runaway imagination, Keithcharles is a deck of Big Boy and Andres3000 shuffled back together; a smooth, but hard-edged, sweet time.

DJ Orange Julius

Saturday Sept. 2

DJ Orange Julius deconstructs modern American consumerist culture: media, gaming, commodification of sex etc. In 2015's "Gangs," a montage of TV voices debating gangs as a threat vs. a racist construct is superimposed over the bleeps and boops of early video-game weapon fire. As he often does, Julius changes up the tempo midway through the track into a second movement, which opens up and then settles down into "187 on a fuckin' cop." Other times, Julius just revels in the joy of mindless repetition; "Bring It Back" sweetly recalls of Fatboy Slim's classic "Funk Soul Brother." This music has three major, recurrent components: sped up R&B, rap lyrics or sentiments (such as "Penetrate Dem Guts"), and complex, programmed dance beats, intentionally unsophisticated in tone, like an '80s Yamaha keyboard. DJ Orange Julius' cutting board manages to castrate all three usually sexy genres at once—irony is a hard groove to find and an astringent juice to swallow.

DJ Sid the Kid

Saturday Sept. 2

For more than a decade, DJ Sid the Kid has been bringing the pop, the Top 40 slam (of all possible genres) to the good folks of Tucson. And there's no end in sight. This recurrent DJ at Club Congress is a turntable giant at his Saturday night dance parties. Listen (and watch) with bended ear for Sid to work Michael Jackson (his fave) into about any set and watch nostalgia change the countless faces in the crowd. This open-format DJ look is really a tone setter; his true musical gift is song curation, song placement. His deep knowledge of pop music makes for deceptively complex mixes. "It's always the DJ's fault when no one's making money," he says. Of course, no one says, "hang the DJ" when folks are randy and moving, out on the floor.


Saturday Sept. 2

Tucson-raised Euro faves XIXA can be as ethereal as the Sonoran ghosts they tend to channel. They really are skilled snakehandlers with the psych cumbia, which is one part hard rock, one part traditional arrangement. The kill it with dramatic live shows to, and lofty blends of Old West, indie rock and Latin-roots music—XIXA could only hail from the rich musical corazón of Tucson. Whether singing in English or Spanish, the band weaves heartbreaking narratives that reflect life-after-ayahuasca. Equally capable of post-Dick-Dale surf rock, indie-Mexrock, and straight-up cumbia, their versatile, in-depth knowledge creates transcendent soundscapes, with so much piquant spooky flair that it reflects the wide-open desert. Sonically, this is regional music, folks—in a time when regionality no longer exists. Many of their songs, such as "Cumbia del Paletero" (the popsicle vendor) are fun and danceable, yet they soar with the challenging stuff, such as "Living on the Line," where a call-and-response between Tom-Waits-like growls and American-blues sincerity creates a tension worthy of the harrowing beauty of la frontera.


Plastic Disease

Sunday, Sept. 3

A recent finalist in the "Best DJ" category of our Best Of Tucson polls, Plastic Disease, aka Tamama Jenney, has been risen through the Arizona club scene since she began 11 years ago. She's a former member of Alter Der Ruine, thanks to her abilities as a synth player and singer, and she doubles as a member of hip-swiveling EDM duo I Am Drugs. But it's her solo work that charms most. Whether DJing or producing new music or helming dance parties, her soundscapes transcend simple song structures—it's depth with darkness and light minus dreaded melodrama. She inspires movement, from the dancefloor to the bedroom to the wild nights under super Sonoran skies. She's all that.

Yves Tumor

Sunday, Sept. 3

As aural performance artist, Yves Tumor uses repetitive, hypnotic synths and often-distorted clips of the human voice to examine heavy concepts. Like Laurie Anderson or John Cage, dude is more interested in raising questions and making you think than he is in making pretty music. This is post-modern art, yo—stark, confrontational. In "Limerence," Yves examines context; a woman's voice clearly states, "Say something." At first she seems pissed, but when we hear it again, after learning that she wants her boyfriend to "say something" for posterity, the same clip is entirely different. Fucking brilliant. In "When Man Fails You," the listener is assaulted by endless, atonal bells, and there's something empty, sadistic yet purposely overwhelming about this tune. Yves' music is like walking into a museum video installation and taking in dismembered limbs. Open minds and hearts will likely be provoked, shaken and discomforted. Good! So save those psychs for later—but go—this music is profound enough to challenge your assumptions many times over. Plus, he's gorgeous.

Willis Earl Beal

Sunday, Sept. 3

Willis Earl Beal is the real deal, kids. A Chicago-born blues singer with the prowess of R.L. Burnside ("I've got nine inches like a pitchfork prong, so honey lift up your dress and help me sing this song"), the gutsy imagination of, yes, Tom Waits ("I cruise through the flesh in my hotrod hearse") and that all-important connection between brain, heart and throat too-rarely heard in singers today (on a duet with Cat Power, he blows Chan Marshall's usually-arresting vocals out of the water.) Beal claps hands and plays spoons. He's a student of African-American roots music the way that Old Crowe is of bluegrass or Gillian is of Americana. So no, there's no corporate backing here, thank Christ, so he ain't answering to anyone. Yet, his new, modern take on the devil's music is swagger-y sexy, authentic, steeped in old Robert Johnson and Willie Dixon. You might have seen him on Tucson streets busking by the telling moniker of "Nobody," wearing a Zorro cape and mask, but that ain't no gimmick. He's been lauded in newspapers the world over, but for, he says, all the wrong reasons. We assume it's all about the music, man. Since 2012 he's released more than a dozen albums, singles and EPs. Could very well be the best things stationed in Tucson at the moment, if he chooses to hang here. 

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