Folktronica is a silly name for a genre.
From a distance, the two should've never been combined. Their origins are separated by hundreds of years. Seriously, centuries. But if you really dive into what defines each of the individual genres, you start seeing some striking similarities. For one, folk music traditionally came from unknown composers. Songs and sounds were passed down through generations with little recorded origins. While nowadays we have a recorded history of just about everything that happens, early electronic music consisted of beats created of simple rhythms that didn’t always have composers attached to them. It was music meant to be shared and toyed with (not unlike the pre-stocked beats in your latest version of GarageBand).
Folk music also became one of the first fusions of cultures. Traditional folk was primarily oral, but as time moved forward and cultures mixed, different instruments were added giving way to new and exciting combinations of sounds and storytelling. Today’s electronic music offers the most comprehensive blend of music imaginable. Hundreds of sounds and instruments can be programmed into a single device and mixed with the touch of a button. Samples of traditional African drum beats can be fused with a Cantonese tiqin fiddle if one feels so inclined. It's the sounds of the entire world mingling with each other in a way 19th-century citizens could've never even dreamt about.
But as silly of a combination of genres as it may be, one band has managed to truly define today’s definition of folktronica. England’s Alt-J burst onto the scene two years ago with their impressive debut album An Awesome Wave. It was a fresh, new sound that many people didn’t know how to categorize. Marrying a delicate sparkling of guitar, schizophrenic drum beats, and textured a cappella vocals, Alt-J had seemingly fused two genres that most people would not have considered compatible. The album went on to gather numerous nominations and awards, including the Mercury Prize and the BBC's Album of the Year.
This year, Alt-J released their sophomore album This Is All Yours. It immediately rocketed to the No. 1 spot on the UK album charts. While not as beat driven as An Awesome Wave, This Is All Yours skillfully blends light, airy vocals and instruments with deep rhythmic booms. At times evoking an almost medieval folklore, Alt-J have dove deep into the rich history of England to give listeners a full-bodied dose of their capabilities as artistic diplomats of multiple eras and genres.
On their past Portland stops, Alt-J have sold out their performances in quick fashion and their upcoming shows are no exception. This time adding a two-night stint at the Roseland on October 16 and 17, tickets to both shows sold out almost immediately. There has been no announcement if more tickets will be released, so those looking to hear the unique sounds of today’s folktronica may have to dig deep into their satchels and pony up for the hefty asking prices on Craigslist. (Or hang tight till December.)
Opening for Alt-J both nights are British ambient electronic purveyors The Acid. Comprised of DJ and record producer Adam Freeland, professor of music technology Steve Nalepa, and Australian artist RX Y, The Acid offer a slow burn of beats topped with Thom Yorke-like vocals. Brooding recordings of lo-fi sounds are craftily mixed with scuttled thuds and scratches, then topped with passive, pulsing throbs that provide an easiness that creeps up on you throughout the night. Little is known about their recent forming but reviews point to an excellently constructed album (below) and an even better live performance.