May 24--Clay Nutting and Adam Saake put in long hours at their bustling midtown restaurants LowBrau and the Golden Bear. Again they found the time and money to put on what Nutting calls their "passion project," the Sacramento Electronic Music Festival, a four-day celebration of beats, loops and synth lines.
Running Tuesday at LowBrau, Thursday and May 31 at the Assembly nightclub and June 1 at a yet-to-be-disclosed location (a nod to electronica's rave past), the fourth annual event will feature 30 acts, some local and others national.
Creating the biggest buzz among local acts is Young Aundee, the musical venture of El Dorado County singer and keyboard player Andrew Southard (or Young Aundee) and veteran Sacramento musician, producer and soundscape maker Dusty Brown.
Young Aundee's first album, "Fear in the Fold," has just been released. Though it goes heavy enough on rhythm (often the point of electronic music), it contains infectious melodies and showcases Southard's elastic vocals, which climb easily from Depeche-mode downcast to R&B falsetto joy.
Southard and Brown will perform May 31 at Assembly.
"Young Aundee has this very fascinating voice, and he has a ton of style," Nutting said. "So you pair (Southard and Brown) up, and it just takes you away. It is very contextual and complex. It really tickles part of your brain."
Brown, 33, was part of the electronic Command Collective of about a decade ago -- a group to which Saake sought to pay tribute when he and Nutting mounted the first SEMF in 2010. Southard, 30, who also sings and plays keys in the electro-hip-hop group Who Cares, is another stalwart of the local scene.
Both Brown and Southard have full-time day jobs -- Brown designs for Microsoft and Southard works for an online record seller -- but "any time you ask Dusty and Young Aundee for something, they are available, they are on board," Nutting said.
The same might be said for Nutting and Saake, part-time music promoters with demanding jobs: Nutting co-owns LowBrau and Saake manages the Golden Bear. (Nutting also puts on the Launch music and arts festival with LowBrau partner Michael Hargis.)
Nutting and Saake know they will break even, at best, on each SEMF. Crowds have been robust enough that the festival moved from its first venue, the TownHouse Lounge, to the larger Harlow's last year and now Assembly -- the K Street performance space recently converted from the old Cosmopolitan Cabaret.
But it costs money to bring acts to town such as RAC (Remix Artist Collective), known for its remix of Lana Del Rey's "Blue Jeans" and performing May 31 at SEMF.
It's worth it to Nutting and Saake when acts who otherwise would bypass Sacramento on tour instead stop here and "build an appetite for this kind of music," Nutting said.
After the first SEMF drew lines down the block outside the TownHouse, "Adam and I kind of got together and said, 'We have an obligation to continue this,' " Nutting said.
Both are so busy that "sometimes it is really a last-minute thing," Nutting said. "This year, we kind of looked at each other and said, 'We better make it happen.' "
This year's out-of-town SEMF acts cover a spectrum of music you can put an electronic beat behind, including emerging San Jose hip-hop performer Antwon (May 30) and ADULT. (May 31), a veteran husband-and-wife dance-punk duo with avid followings in Europe and in their hometown of Detroit.
"People into the deeper cuts of electronic music will recognize" ADULT., Nutting said.
The best-known local act is Sister Crayon (May 31), but that's mainly because Brown, who has performed in Sacramento for so long that he once lugged entire desktop computers to gigs, is not playing under his own name at this SEMF. He's performing under the banners of his producing projects Young Aundee and Little Foxes (May 31).
Brown will use a MIDI digital music controller, synthesizer and a laptop to back Southard, who plays keys on the record but turns pure frontman on stage. Brown's singer sister Jessica will appear with Young Aundee as well.
Jessica Brown met Southard years ago at a gathering of teenage church choir members, and introduced him to her brother. Southard sang on Dusty Brown's 1999 debut album.
"When he was younger, I knew he was talented," Dusty Brown said of Southard. "I always tried to keep an eye on him and keep him involved."
Said Southard of Brown: "He's always been an influence, and he's one of my best friends."
Southard and Brown first worked together more recently, on a Who Cares project. Brown stepped in when Who Cares lost its beat-maker and producer.
Brown co-wrote and produced the rhythm- centric yet highly melodic "Fear in the Fold," the title track that's perhaps the catchiest song ever written about the apocalypse. (Southard, raised in a religious household, said biblical themes inform his work.)
It will likely be a crowd pleaser at SEMF, which draws more people than their regular gigs, Brown and Southard said.
"I am really happy about the Electronic Music Festival because it brings out all the people who said they heard you but never really did," Brown said. "It's like Easter Sunday, when people actually go to church."
SACRAMENTO ELECTRONIC MUSIC FESTIVAL
When: 9 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday and May 31 and June 1
Where: Tuesday's free "Le Twist" night with Blue Foundation (Tobias Wilner) is at LowBrau, 1050 20th St., Sacramento. Thursday and May 31 performances at Assembly, 1000 K St. The June 1 program is at a venue to be announced.
Cost: Free Tuesday. $12 Thursday and May 31. $10 June 1.
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