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Wednesday, April 23, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 54.0° F  Overcast
Music

TOUR STOP

Snake on the Lake Fest: Indie without much rock

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The two acts headlining this Saturday's Snake on the Lake Festival make a singular point: Indie is a distant cousin of the thing we once knew as rock.

The Chicago quintet Tortoise is frequently tagged as one of indie's original "post-rock" bands. Their instrumental tracks are a blend of ambience, electronica, minimalism and jazz. They trade in the old formula of drums, guitar and bass for dreamy swirls of music that includes marimba, keys and electric harp.

Seattle's Damien Jurado unplugged his guitar in the mid-'90s, even as most Northwest bands were still trying to live the grunge dream.

Jurado released his ninth studio album earlier this month, and it's mostly a sparse, confessional, delicate affair. You might even say Jurado's songs are ballads, which used to be uncool in the heyday of rock (remember all those Barry Manilow wisecracks?).

Snake on the Lake is sponsored by WSUM, the UW-Madison radio station run by students who didn't grow up in a music culture dominated by rock. Meanwhile, both Tortoise and Jurado have been making albums since most of today's college students were in elementary school.

The post-rock prevalence of indie is stamped all over the fall schedule of WSUM. Y Mae Sussman, the lead organizer of Snake on the Lake, broadcasts Scandinavian pop on 91.7 FM every Friday afternoon at 3. On Tuesday mornings at 8, she co-hosts "Serve Chilled," a one-hour show featuring "old-world vinyls, electronic chill and a bit of smooth jazz."

Of course, rock still has its place in indie culture, and other bands playing Snake on the Lake make that point.

Awesome Color is a psychedelic punk-rock project from Michigan that can bust an amp with the best of them. Madison's own Pistols at Dawn play surf-rock, though the band's references to "retro" and the Ventures read like an admission that they've taken up music's past.

The rest of the festival acts fulfill the modern obligation to make music that transcends rock. Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson carve out a niche where folk and grunge aren't two ends of a musical spectrum, but blend together seamlessly as one. El Valiente, another Madison band, makes instrumental tracks that are as frequently built on ambient dreamscapes as rock adrenaline.

Snake on the Lake is sure to electrify you with its sonic diversity, even if electric guitars won't rule the lineup.

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