Editor’s note: this is the second post in a series of articles for Speakeasy titled “Athens Steez.” Through the course of this series’ run, Speakeasy plans to cover the ongoing house show scene in and around campus along with commentary on the music. Rick Bannan is a reporter for Speakeasy Magazine as well as the bassist and vocalist for local punk band Tidal Tales.
Here’s his definition of the series name: “‘Steez’ is a portmanteau of ‘Style’ and ‘Ease’ that has been adapted as a phrase used similarly to ‘Swag,’ but is much less beaten to death by contemporary media.”
The livetronica band Manitoa is set to play local house venue The Spacement Sept. 27.
For those (like the author, at least initially) wholly unfamiliar with what “livetronica” means, the term describes a blending of traditional jam band aesthetics like The Grateful Dead and the electronic styles of trance and drum and bass music. A good example might be Philadelphia-based act Lotus, or the Athens-borne act Papadosio.
The group Manitoa exemplifies this style, but also demonstrates cues from acts decades before, like Mahavishnu Orchestra and the more contemporary Shpongle. Their personal take on the sound incorporates your standard jam band grooves via bassist Ed Q (as is his stage name) and guitarist Eric Turner, but differentiates itself as a band by the samplings and trance-styled keyboard and composition of the electronic dynamo of the group, Collin Lesko.
“A lot of [our material] is just like transformational ideas; stuff like Quantum physics,” Lesko said during their Wednesday rehearsal. Lesko elaborated that the predominant motive for his side of the music-making is getting out “good messages and cool ideas.”
Lesko attended both Ohio University and Hocking College, though, “now I’m just working on music,” he said. Should the sonics exhibited from their practice be any indicator of that work, Lesko and the band are definitely working hard.
The house where Manitoa practices is located on a gravel road off of State Route 56 (the road that eventually becomes Union Street as one travels eastbound.) The house is recessed into the landscape and relatively soundproof given the trees – a perfect place for jamming. Dubbed “The Spaceship” by the band, the house is filled with dozens of colored lights, plants, musical equipment and sounds. The space certainly looked like a place fit for interstellar travel.
While Speakeasy was present for Manitoa’s practice, the band worked on a song which they planned to debut at their upcoming performance at the Thornville, Ohio event known as “The Werk Out Music & Arts Festival.” The song, titled “Create Your Reality,” was prominently sectioned on a chaotic whiteboard filled with chord changes and myriad parts and phrases of their set. The song features the prominent bass lines and synthscapes that define the group’s sound. Punctuating the lead riffs and rhythm of the song are vocal samples of “The Illuminatus! Trilogy” author Robert Anton Wilson, which fit nicely with the general mind-bending aesthetic of the band.
A recent Logan, Ohio-based event known as Rootwire Festival was the location of the video near the beginning of this article. Bassist Ed Q’s other “profession” is that of event coordinator for the event, which according to him had its fourth year of shows this past August. Q has been involved with the festival since its inception.
Q has defined Manitoa as “Tribaldance Rocktronica” and cites its development as an organic experience from their previous acts and general interest. Keyboardist Lesko started working around on Ableton, and before he and Q came together had never played a keyboard or piano, though he did play for OU’s Marching 110 as a trombonist previously. After some time jamming around Athens, the band decided to fill out their roster, beginning first with a drummer (DJ Reber, recent OU Geography graduate) and then their dual guitarists, including former locally-based band First Street Heat guitarist Eric Turner (who is the compositional specialist for First Street’s spiritual successor, SassafraZ.)
“A bunch of random Athens bands dispersed, and this is the result,” Q mentioned. He spoke of the multitude of previous acts the current Manitoa members were in, including the aforementioned First Street Heat and other guitarist Mark “Mavis” Meredith’s band (and local act) Elemental Groove Theory. Q himself played in the band Jazz Cream Assassins, but now has set his focus on both the festival he helps run and the band in which he currently plays.
While the Spacement show Sept. 27 is the main reason this article was written, the next show for Manitoa is at The Werk Out Festival this Saturday. The band is slated to hit the stage at 3 p.m.
Interested in the Spacement? As with all house shows, the best place to look is the “official” Athens Music Scene Facebook page – ask someone there (maybe even one of your friends) and they’ll direct you to that venue.