Musician Michael Travis hasn’t always been on board with electronic dance music. The drummer for Colorado jam-grass band String Cheese Incident had always preferred music being made the traditional way – with instruments.
That view changed 20 years back when he was on a ski trip in northern New Mexico. He was ordering coffee and the coffee shop was playing a record called “High Fidelity Lounge,” which is a mix of electronic music with real instrumentation. Its hybrid sounds caused Travis to change his digital tune. Since, he’s been part of a number of bands that mix EDM with plugged-in instruments, including EOTO, and the most recent band Snakes and Stars.
Snakes and Stars will perform tonight at the Animas City Theatre. Opening the show is Nu Bass Theory.
“I was a purist,” Travis said. “If it’s not real instruments, then I don’t want to hear it. But that CD was my first entry point where I was obsessed with the merging of real instruments and synthetic drums and synthetic sounds.”
The other half of Snakes and Stars is drummer Aaron Johnston, whose past musical endeavors include playing with Brazilian Girls and David Byrne, among others. Travis and Johnston met when Johnston sat in with the String Cheese Incident at a show in New York City, and after the two drummers “hit it off in such a great way” as Travis remembers, they’ve been itching to continue to play together. Snakes and Stars is a perfect project for two dudes with a mutual interest in electronic music driven by live instrumentation; it’s funk driven, jam-heavy music that is made up on the spot.
If you go
WHAT: Improvisational electronic music with Snakes and Stars, opening the show is Nu Bass Theory.
WHEN: Doors open at 7 p.m. Friday (Feb. 24).
WHERE: Animas City Theatre, 128 E. College Drive.
TICKETS: $20. Available online at https://bit.ly/3EuKjee.
MORE INFORMATION: Visit www.animascitytheatre.com.
“I’ve always been a big fan of improvised music, or the arm of improvised music or what I call spontaneous composition, where you’re trying to make it sound like it’s a song already but you’re making it up as you go,” Travis said. “Aaron is playing entirely electronic drums but it’s all live, and I’m playing synth, bass and guitar, and it’s all live or live looped, but it’s all made up on the spot. We never play the same song twice, and we go as we go. But the electronic idiom has always been super compelling because it’s so tribal and dance-oriented. And wedging the Grateful Dead-style ethos of long extended, nonscripted jams was always compelling, too, so trying to put those in the same place has always been fascinating.”
This improvised method of making music is similar to Travis’ band gig with the String Cheese Incident, where a show can consist of bluegrass, rock, funk and free-form jazz. File what Snakes and Stars do under dance music, with hints of techno and drum and bass, world-beat and traditional funk. However, it’s such a young band there isn’t a definitive phrase that captures their sound. With so many influences and a mission of genre-crossing, there likely never will be; it’s how the whole thing is kept fresh.
“I don’t have time to think about trying to adhere to any particular genre or I would err on the side of copying. But when it’s all in the moment, I just start hitting stuff it immediately gets ‘cross-genred’ just due to the lack of time to think about it. But I definitely love nodding to those idioms that are popular but just running with it. And you know the sky’s the limit, we can go anywhere. We’re trying to keep it danceable, but I do have a bass and a guitar up there and we can do funky kind of vibes, or do super heavy bass music vibes or anything in between,” Travis said. “So yeah, the improv forces cross genre-pollination.”
Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager. Reach him at email@example.com.