Sometimes all you need is a sampler to carry you through a show. I realized this as I watched Mystery Cave at Tin Can Ale House last Saturday. Tweaking knobs and punching buttons on a sampler and some other gear, Mystery Cave's John Christopher Harris II conjured a fluid, glimmering universe of shapes, sounds and textures, including all sorts of percussive kicks, cracks, pops, snaps and claps.
A fixture in the local scene, Harris seems to play at every forward-thinking electronic show I go to. He takes cues from L.A. beatmakers like Flying Lotus and Teebs, pushing bass music and instrumental hip-hop to otherworldly extremes. Though it's not exactly danceable, he got a handful of people grooving at the Tin Can. Some in the crowd even got a little crazy: At one point, I saw a friend of mine crouched on the floor, shaking her head up and down like she was participating in a tribal ritual.
The previous band's set was much stodgier. With their big surges of lush, solemn, electro-tinged rock, L.A.'s Seven Saturdays felt like a cross between The Album Leaf and Kings of Leon. But while they seem perfectly tailored to evoke thoughtful nods from the crowd, their performance fell flat. The band's smoke machine did little to add to their mystique (mostly, it just made them impossible to see), and the two singers who took turns onstage were so serious that they might as well have been a couple of Scott Stapps singing on a mountaintop, like in the video for Creed's "With Arms Wide Open."
In a recent article in Pitchfork about L.A. band Local Natives, vocalist Taylor Rice expressed his fears about the rise of electronic music: "Is it snide and insecure of me to say that electronic music is the scourge of the Earth and kids aren't gonna buy guitars in 15 years? Totally." At the Tin Can, I saw that Rice has reason for concern. While Seven Saturdays brought in a much bigger audience, and most had cleared out by the time Mystery Cave started, it ended up being the guy with the sampler who left people wanting more.
As he closed his set at around 12:45 a.m., Harris said, "That's it"—to which a woman in the audience yelled: "That's it?!"