A Respite from holiday worries

Experimental music fest fosters a 'super nice' ambiance

Wednesday December 16, 2015 04:00 am EST
The eighth annual Respite counters seasonal malaise with an evening of drone music.

'Tis the season for tinsel and twinkles, for polished family portraits on cheerful glossy cards, depleted bank accounts, and endless tacky sweater parties. Fortunately, it's also the season for Respite, Atlanta's annual aural answer to holiday stress. This year's event promises a refuge for those who have grown weary of decking the halls. There will be no carols or jingles, just the soothing sounds of experimental music played by local acts. "It's meant to be comprised of warmth — these warm sonic sundries — and to give a calm atmosphere with hot drinks and friendly people and cozy music," says organizer and performer Nathan Brown.

Brown launched Respite, formerly known as Respite from the Cold, in 2008, when he was working as the music director at Eyedrum Art & Music Gallery. Many of the events he was helping coordinate were harsh noise festivals, and while he enjoyed the clamor and chaos of Atlanta's esoteric music scene, he also wanted to create a space for those artists to show their softer side. The first Respite was so well received that many of the bands asked to play again the next year, and a tradition was born.

Brown has dubbed this edition "the year of the octopus," in honor of its eighth anniversary. Keeping with the theme, he booked eight musical artists — including his own band Cave Bat, longtime Respite veterans Brainworlds, Rin Larping, and more — as well as storytellers who will share "octopus-related" tales between sets. The event will also feature sound installations and video projections that relate to the oceanic motif, though Brown isn't divulging many details just yet. "I don't want to give away too much because there might be some surprises involved, even to myself," Brown says. "But I can say that there is, at the very least, a subtle cephalopodic theme to this event."

Even for listeners familiar with the Respite roster, the show is one-of-a-kind, since the performers will tailor their styles and selections to fit the meditative mood of the night. Brown adds, "There are a lot of bands on here that if you go and see them, you'll never see the same thing twice."

Such is the nature of acts such as FiatNil (a team-up between Magicicada's Christopher White and Graham Moore of Blossoming Noise), hypnotic synth masters Box Elder, and electronic composer Jon Ciliberto.

Respite has had many homes, with previous editions taking place at Eyedrum, the First Existentialist Church in Candler Park, and a now-defunct Westside space called the Office. This year the event is returning to the Mammal Gallery and will draw visitors to the intimate upstairs gallery.

When the bands arrive, everything will be set up for them. All they'll have to do is unpack and settle in and "not really have to think about anything," Brown says. The same goes for audience members. When one performance is over, another will begin, gently guiding spectators from one ambient diversion to the next. Unlike a music festival, where crowds can get lost in the shuffle, Respite offers a more relaxing kind of entertainment.

"It's my favorite musical event of the year, and I think a lot of people feel that way, too," Brown says. "What happens is that everybody just feels super nice at these things."

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