APAture Festival: Music Night

The APAture Festival (Asian Pacific American artists) is currently underway here in San Francisco. It began last Thursday (September 18) and continues until next Saturday (September 26). The APAture festival showcases the work of Asian American artists and is produced by the Kearny Street Workshop, who also co-produced the Present Tense Biennial exhibit.

We actually begin with the second night of the festival: “Music Night” at the Poleng Lounge. The music was relatively mainstream, focusing on hip hop and rock artists who all happened to be of Asian or South Asian heritage.

Nomadik Messengers opened the evening with Bay Area hip-hop by way of the Philippines. Hip hop is generally about the words, but I find myself focusing on the beats, samples and instrumental sounds in the background, and I liked their use of classic funk and R&B from the 1970s (for which I have a soft spot). In his set, Mandeep Sethi (originally from the Los Angeles hip-hop scene but now residing in San Francisco) did call out the mighty MPC 2500 while creating words about social consciousness and cultural issues. Compared to the other hip-hop artists, Hopie $spitshard’s sounds were less old school and more infused with electronics, sirens, and synth noises reminiscent of contemporary dance clubs. Her words and stage presents was also fun, including her line “I’m glad you guys are here because it makes it more funner…and less creepy.” Her high energy vocals seemed to melt from one line into the next, and were full of electronic effects.

Lumaya’s music was a stark contrast to the hip-hop sets, and quite reminiscent of 1990s indie rock from my college years. As one would expect from an indie-rock power trio, it was loud and hard, with both blues and chromatic elements. Lead singer Olga Salamanca’s vocals and presence were the central element and her ethereal but forceful voice seemed to blend musically into the rock vibe, but it was somewhat hard to hear what she was saying due to sound issues in the room.

Johnny Hi-Fi’s style of pop rock seemed to be from a different era than Lumaya, either a decade earlier (1980s) or later (2000s). I think this as much due to lead singer/guitarist/keyboardist Eric Hsu’s visual style as well as the style of the music. The keyboards gave the group more of a singer-songwriter sensibility as well. Sometimes it seemed a little over-emoted, at other times a bit light, like a small-club rock show where people dance and hop around. I did like the last songs, including their soundtrack to a documentary on domestic violence (a topic in sharp contrast to the otherwise light and fun nature of their music); and especially the encore song which was sung in Hsu in Chinese. I thought this was a fitting way to conclude the event.