Sam Lopez, organizer of the San Diego Experimental Guitar Show, by Chris Woo.Every time Sam Lopez uses his “metal” voice to describe the first-ever San Diego Experimental Guitar Show, his 4-month-old son Oliver gurgles happily in the background.
“In the noise scene, there are a lot of band names that are very graphic,” explains Lopez, who organized the event. “Like Aborted Lamb or Stapled Forehead. Rrrrrrrrrrarrr. Harsh noise!”
The baby giggles. “He's got guitar in his blood,” Lopez says. “In two years, I bet he'll have his own article.”
Like father, like son. Lopez, a noise-rock musician who's performed under the name Zsa Zsa Gabor for four years (“It's not blatantly demonic, but underneath it is”), is all about his ax.
“I've been playing guitar forever,” he says. “To me, it's my weapon. Guitar should be used as a weapon.”
But, to his dismay, Lopez contends that many musicians now consider the guitar an antiquated relic. Or, worse yet: “Guitar is dead.”
“There are a lot of bands that don't even use guitar. They're more keyboard-oriented. But they run their keyboards through effects pedals and amps. It's almost like they're substituting them for guitars.”
The guitar, he states emphatically, is not dead. And to prove it, he's gathered up some of San Diego's most cutting-edge experimental artists.
“Guitar is an instrument that can be played different ways, tuned different ways, looked at in different ways. We're not doing the G chord, C chord. To me, that's old-fashioned. We're musical scientists reaching for a different kind of sound and tone.”
Lopez drew on his contacts from San Diego's noise-rock scene and from the many shows he's booked throughout the years to create an all-local lineup that ranges from a former Zappa guitarist (Mike Keneally of Scambot) to a first-time soloist (Michael J. Stevens). Each will play a 20-minute set addressing an obvious question: What is experimental guitar?
“It's not just using a delay pedal,” Lopez says. “No. You might have a guy playing guitar with an egg beater, or with a human skull. As a genre, it's definitely not a mainstream kind of thing. People will either walk away thinking it's crazy or thinking it's cool.”
Lopez has videos of the show's performers, but here's a rundown on each of the artists in Lopez's own words:
M&M Blues are a no-wave, no-blues duo. They play angular, discordant music. They bounce weird scales off each other to create an alien musical tapestry.
Michael J. Stevens (hING, Bug on a Leaf) is another weird entity who plays the same kind of thing as me: experimental, avant-garde. I think he was—not afraid, but maybe cynical about the whole scene. He needed somebody to bring him out. This show, he's actually playing solo for the first time.
Estaban Flores (Van Clitt, BWATWOB) is more of a noise artist. He plays guitar, mostly—loud, abrasive, discord, guitar, feedback. That's where he's coming from. He's from a black-metal background, and he's utilizing that black-metal color to his music. He's the youngest guy on the bill—20 years old.
Peter Graves plays for a band called Roxy Jones. He's the wildcard of the bunch in that he's not from a noise background. Yet he's still able to paint these beautiful landscapes with his music.
David Wightman is an enigma. He's a candidate for a Ph.D. [at UCSD]. You don't know where this guy is coming from. When he gets on this stage, he unleashes this creative, visual beast that is very influenced by heavy metal, without being heavy metal, so it's kind of ironic. It's heavy metal without all the accoutrements that go with it, other than his long hair and his shred-style guitars.
League of Assholes [which features Lopez, Keneally, Marcelo Radulovich of Me Me the Moth and Nathan Aguilar of Census]: I don't want to call it a super-group. Let's call it a group. Turn it up to 12. The San Diego Experimental Guitar Show happens Saturday, Jan. 2, at Soda Bar. www.sdxgusa.blogspot.com.
Note: The original version of this story had David Wightman's name spelled wrong. Apologies.