Middle of Nowhere festival brings electronic music to Iowa City

Middle of Nowhere festival brings electronic music to Iowa City

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The name of Iowa City's newest music festival, Middle of Nowhere, is a tongue-in-cheek nod to people's expectations of what Iowa and Iowa City are thought to be: rural, Midwestern locales that really don't have much to offer.

Middle of Nowhere exists to break that preconceived notion by establishing Iowa City's first and only electronic music festival. The two-day festival that features four shows with 15 electronic musicians in downtown Iowa City aims to not only provide plenty of bass-bumping tunes, but also to educate locals about the city's ties to electronic music.

“We though an electronic music festival would propel the music forward, artists forward and the scene forward and bring back that culture to town,” Simeon Talley, one of the festival's two organizers, said Tuesday.

“Once people understand the reasons why, how we are connecting the festival to the city’s history, people really start to dig it and appreciate it more."

The festival — with concerts at The Mill, Blue Moose Tap House, Trumpet Blossom and Gabe's starting Friday night and ending Saturday night — will explore "the history of electronic music," festival organizer Phil Ricks said, by having some of the nation's best electronic musicians perform music from the roots of electronic history.The festival's headliners include Los Angeles musician Daedelus and the Seattle-based SassyBlack.

Why explore the history of electronic music in Iowa City? Talley explained that the invention of the first ever digital synthesizer took place at the University of Iowa back in the 1960s.

According to the University of Iowa Electronic Music Studios' website, the first digital synthesizer was built in 1965 by James Cessna for a thesis project he did under the tutelage of renowned UI professor James Van Allen.

Though other commercial synthesizers would go on to be used in the late 1960s by bands like The Beatles, The Doors and Simon and Garfunkel, Cessna's synthesizer was considered a major advancement for digital recording.

To explore the history of electronic music, musicians will perform music from the different eras of the genre. SassyBlack will DJ during her performance, spinning records focused on Chicago house music from the 1980s and early 1990s, Ricks said, at her 8:30 p.m. Friday performance at The Mill.

Other concerts include the Techno Showcase with Kevin Callison, Seth Nichols, Carnap, Kevin Bassett and bTsunami from 8:30 p.m. Friday to 2 a.m. Saturday at Gabe's. At 8 p.m. Saturday at Trumpet Blossom Cafe, Collidescope, Posphenese, Brett Nauke and Purcha$e will perform. The last concert of the festival will feature headliner Daedelus alongside Dan Toomey and Z340 from 9:45 p.m. Saturday until 2 a.m. Sunday at Blue Moose Tap House.

General admission festival passes for all concerts are available through Little Village's website for $35. Tickets can be purchased at all the concerts at the door.

“We want to show people what electronic dance music really is, but not what you’d expect at the Florida EDM concerts with the bunny ears and fluffy boots,” Ricks said.

The festival will also "hold up a mirror to Iowa City's electronic music scene" both past and present, Ricks said. Current local area electronic musicians like Brendan Hanks, Matt Rissi and Brendan Spengler will all be performing throughout the festival. Former Iowa City-based techno musician Ben Mealhow, known by his stage name bTsunami, will return from Colorado to perform as a part of the festival as well.

"We're trying to show Iowa City what it has when it comes to electronic music, and it has a lot," Ricks said.

The festival came together due to Talley working with Ricks, a former underwriter for the UI student-run radio station KRUI, collaborating recently for the FlyOver Fashion Festival. Talley was one of the co-founders of the now two-year-old FlyOver, and Ricks was helping supply music for the festival. Both DJs and lovers of electronic music, Ricks said they bonded over their appreciation of electronic music.

“We started getting into the history of electronic music in Iowa City and thought wouldn’t it be cool to combine all the elements of electronic music again and make it into a festival?” Ricks said.

Most of the festival was plotted out, organized and scheduled over the last four months. Ricks and Talley were able to form relationships with other local groups to help make the festival possible. SCOPE, the UI student commission that brings concerts to the university, and Little Village have helped present the festival.

Talley also said all of the venues were also eager to work with them and help breathe life into the first-time festival.

For Talley, it's the feedback from the artists themselves that has given him the most pride.

"The initial feedback we got from the artists, they really seemed to dig it. That signified we were doing something right. For me, once I get some of that initial validation, I’m just going to make sure it's the best event we can put on," Talley said.

Reach Zach Berg at 319-887-5412, zberg@press-citizen.com or follow him on Twitter at @ZacharyBerg.

If you go

What: Middle of Nowhere Music Fest.

Where: Various downtown Iowa City locations.

When: Starts at 8:30 p.m. Friday and runs until 2 a.m. Sunday.

Tickets: Can be purchased at the door of all venues. Tickets, along with a general admission pass for every concert, can also be purchased online via littlevillagetickets.com.


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