Oneida

I am on holidays, so the Mr Hyde of Live on 35mm has been let free to take possession of this site and contradict its founding B&W-on-35mm-film-only philosophy. Enjoy this moment, holidays won’t be long, you won’t see colours here for a while.

It looks every three bands I write one is from Brooklyn. A measure of the amount of music being made there.

And it is Brooklyn again this time, but with a difference. Oneida do not belong to the contemporary wave of NYC music. They have been around for quite a while.

Oneida are a strange beast in the music panorama. Probably not my favourite beast but I told you it is my Mr Hyde ruling while I’m away.

Oneida represent a perfect example of genre defining band which has been in the music underground for quite a long time, so it fits this month leit-motif of influential, although not famous, bands.

Born more then 10 years ago, this is a band that is worth listening, especially if you are in love with a very simple concept: repetition.

Repetition in music is risky, some people get bored, some people get irritated, some just walk away.
Oneida members clearly don’t belong to any of these categories because they made of repetition the core of their compositions. They master the art of loops and recursive circles. Mostly instrumental the vocal parts are the only break to endless looping.

If with the previous article, Roky Erickson put in music paranoia, Oneida set obsessions to music.

An Oneida song can last few seconds or be a 20 minutes suite but rarely the concept at the foundation changes.
I reckon the length is about how long they feel the repetition has to go on to make (to them) sense.
Which is “fair enough” for the average listener but can be “brilliant” if you are sympathetic and enter into a particular loop.

This is exactly what happens listening to one of their gig or, to be precise, what happened to me attending their recent Garage concert in London.
I found some passages quite hard to digest but during the set I discovered that there is a perverse beauty in being enraptured by their obsession. It must be my Mr Hyde again. Fact is my body was moving to the rhythm of an obsessive compulsive disorder redirected into a sound.

In over ten years, Oneida recorded ten albums. They have a lot of experience to learn how to master the formula quite well. I am not suggesting one, can tell that the two opening tracks of Teach One Each One, Sheet of Easter and Antibiotics, belong to those loops that get me moving.

The recipe is eclectic. Take a mixture of odd sounding keys coming from the Krautrock school, mix it up with slices of harsh guitar riffs, support everything with the pivotal role of a jazz-ish influenced rhythm session, spice up and everything with the colourful touch of echoes of psychedelia and beams of noise and transform it in a circle.

Psychedelia goes beyond the music when live. It embraces multimediality. A continuous video is projected on the background to amplify everyone’s experience.
Nothing very original, it fits with the cliché of psychedelic films seen in the past 5 decades. A beam of light displaying a colourful circle on the back of the drummer with a kaleidoscopic progression of white lights, optical designs and multicoloured shapes. This was also the only source of light present on stage.

Oneida play a live soundtrack of the world seen through one of those kaleidoscopes we use to play when kids.

The inescapable loops (shall I refer to them as repetitions?) go well with the film. Especially when I realize that even the colourful lights are going in a circle. It is called obsessive compulsion for a reason!

After approximately half an hour in, I do agree with my friend that being inside Mr Oneida mind must not be a comfortable experience.

I haven’t yet fully understood where the seducing aspect of repetition reside but I acknowledge they exist.
Repetition is helpful to get lost in deep thoughts. The music acts as a source of energy to keep yourself in that kind of steady state.
I guess drugs help to experience this as well. The no-smoking policy, now active at any indoor gig, must have pissed off many Oneida fans.

I don’t do drugs and in general I am attracted by the opposite approach. Music that takes unexpected turn and surprises me. Despite this distance, or because opposites attract each other, I enjoyed the concert and even listening to most of their albums at home.

From a strict reporter point of view, telling about which songs they played would be beyond my capacity, but my small camera snapped the setlist and if you are really interested let me know and I’ll post in the comment, I don’t want to stop the flow of images and it is not really that relevant.
I get out of the venue singing Up With People, this is for sure.

Oneida are touring their latest release, a mammoth 3 CD opera called Rated O and most of the set was picked from it.

If the album title is an open homage to Queens of The Stone Age’s Rated R or simply a clever move I don’t know.
When I read that a triple CD of new material was out I was surprised and their label, Jagjaguwar, must be praised for the courage.
It is nice to see that exists a record label which gives complete freedom to its artist to let them publish what they feel right even if it looks a suicidal move in the marketing perspective.

To the average music fan, even of radical music, Rated O would be best approached as three separate Oneida albums. Not because there is no consistency but because there is too much.
If you can listen to over 2 hours of Oneida loops in one go either you are Mr Oneida (hi, thanks for reading hope you liked the pics) or you may need to consult a good specialist!

There is not much good stuff on youtube but you considering what I wrote so far there is enough on their [myspace] good animation on the official [website].

If you really want more (for the lucky who can access it) has pretty much their entire discography, I am just coming out of the fourteen minutes of Sheet Of Easter an it has been exhausting, the linked youtube live version is just 8’36”. Goodluck

I suggest you go to that vintage toy shop, buy a kaleidoscope and listen to the album with one eye closed and the other looking outside the window through your multimirrored cartoon tube. It will be a colourful experience.

Photo tip

Why Colour?
Oneida concert was lit only by the light beam coming from a projector showing this movie made of continuous optical, coloured shapes.
Repetition in every aspect of the show needed to be interpreted photographically. How?
This is one examples where making use of a bizarre situation helped to portray the obsessional approach to music I was experiencing. Well, my way of seeing it, of course.

With no light on the band, the outcome could only be silhouette over the circle of light on the back.
Darkness implies slow shutter times and impossibility to focus properly, so I opted to shoot the lights and leave the band dark. This would have left a constant theme on all the pictures (obsessive? checked) and represented the darkness I imagine in the minds of such musicians.

I worked on B&W too, but I always say that “I care of colours only when colours care” and this gig colours were important.
Usually concerts are randomly lightened, colours works live with a particular song but lose their meaning when translated on silent 2D images. That is why omitting lights, depriving the observer of information, let the imagination free and makes B&W photograph more catching.

Tonight B&W film couldn’t record the essence of such a lightshow since the colours (with the shapes) were the key aspect of it. Time to get out of the bag my stilish digital compact and give it a go.

A photographic representation of Oneida musical repetition.
Live (not) on 35mm, It won’t happen often, hope you have enjoyed it.

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~ by Valerio on September 22, 2009.

One Response to “Oneida”

  1. Love, love, love this band

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