Bathysphere keeps it weird

MICHAEL RIETMULDER | Updated 7/2/2013

First-ever fest brings experimental flavor to First Ave.

A Place to Bury Strangers headlines Bathysphere on Saturday.
Photo by Emily Berger

Alan Sparhawk and crew may or may not have anticipated the vitriolic backlash they received after Low dropped its infamous half-hour drone bomb on unsuspecting garden rockers last month. The morose-rocking Duluthians could’ve saved themselves about a zillion hate tweets had they pulled that at a different Current-sponsored festival instead.

Attendance-wise, this weekend’s Bathysphere: A Psychonautical Voyage mini-fest at First Avenue won’t sniff the mud-encrusted shoes of Rock the Garden’s 11,000 attendees, nor is it a full-on drone-a-thon. But it is angled at appreciators of similarly slow-burning head trips.

“We actually invited Low to play the show and they had Rock the Garden going on,” said Bathysphere organizer Collin Axell, adding that Low’s RTG commitment precluded them from playing the fest.

Though no Low, Axell’s two-night takeover of First Ave features a stable of cult favorites and upcoming outsiders that specialize in shoegaze, space rock and psychedelia. Playing a set from guitarist/vocalist Dean Wareham’s long-defunct Galaxie 500 catalog, dreamy New York City duo Dean & Britta top Friday’s bill. Scuzzy Brooklyn shoegazers A Place to Bury Strangers headline Saturday.

The rest of the 21-band lineup features acts like Sonic Boom — the pseudonym of Spacemen 3 and Spectrum founder Peter Kember — veteran psych scourgers the Telescopes, seldom-gigging softies Highspire (members of Morning After Girls) and fuzzed-out Mexican duo Lorelle Meets the Obsolete.

As much as Bathysphere was an effort to bring in out-of-town bands that Axell loves (he’s been pushing for a Highspire date for a decade), he said the event is also an opportunity to showcase the Twin Cities’ psychotropic trove of homegrown talent. Local all-stars First Communion Afterparty (and offshoot Driftwood Pyre), Magic Castles, Pony Trash, Flavor Crystals and Axell’s own Chatham Rise are slated to perform.

“Whenever we go somewhere and play, people always compliment us on the great base of bands that we have here that are … in that sort of subgenre,” he said.

Axell hopes to make Bathysphere an annual occurrence. With the more avant-garde Heliotrope on hiatus this year, the inaugural festival — which was already in the works when Heliotrope was nixed — somewhat fills an outsider void. Even the name Bathysphere, a deep-sea discovery vessel, alludes to its aural-uncovering ambitions.

“Part of the meaning is surfacing new music and these new, beautiful, cloudy sounds,” Axell said, “and also bringing more of a fan base to some of the other bands that have established that.”

Whether or not Bathysphere becomes a Twin Cities fixture, at the very least Axell can share the feeling he gets from these feet-staring, star-reaching sounds with others this weekend.

“It takes people to a different space than where they are,” he said. “A lot of it is very introspective, so it gets you thinking about things that you may internalize and there’s also a really blissful component to it that just makes you feel good.”

Surely even Internet commenters can’t hate on that.


With: Sonic Boom, Dean & Britta, A Place to Bury Strangers and others.

When: 7 p.m. Fri. & 6:30 p.m. Sat.

Where: First Avenue.

Tickets: $15.