Thursday, February 19, 2015

Off to Dreamland

What if? What would happen if we extended our thinking and kept trying new things? It’s a question that’s pushed Tim Barnes moving forward for decades.

Barnes grew up in Southern California, where he could have carried on his mom’s love of the surf. Instead, he moved to New York City, where he established a sterling reputation as a percussionist, playing along indie rock and avant-garde acts like Sonic Youth, John Zorn, Milford Graves, Jim O’Rourke and MV+EE. Now 47, Barnes has lived in Louisville for eight years, where he runs the music and visual arts space in NuLu called Dreamland.

It’s another chapter in a life spent trying to help introduce others to fresh sounds and ideas, a practice which goes back to a suburban high school existence where he felt different from the average kids who went along with the trends. Barnes says he’s merely another link in a chain going back to his mom and uncles, who first turned him on to new sounds. “I was ruined,” he laughs.

He went on to spend 15 years in Manhattan, where the “softening” of indie rock, as he calls it, led him further afield from even their mainstream. “It was wonderful, I had a great time and met some great people, got to play on some great records – but then when it hit ’97, ’98, it all turned towards electronic music and stuff, and then all those bands that I loved: Polvo, The Grifters, all those classic indie rock bands from that time – it stopped everything. No one was interested any more. There was the Chemical Brothers instead.”

Witnessing artists like Stereolab, Tortoise and the Rachel’s reinvent the independent music scene inspired Barnes, who had been playing in a band, Ditch Croaker, with a short-lived major label deal. “It was a weird time, but it was a cool time. ‘There’s a fresh canvas here’.”

He was working for a film editor who took his turn opening Barnes up to some of that freshness – ambient, industrial, darker tones from Throbbing Gristle, Zoviet France and other provocateurs. A visit to New York’s Vision Festival pushed him forward again. “I didn’t know what to expect, except that there would be a lot of free-jazz. [Influential bassist] William Parker curated the first couple of years. And there he was, standing behind a table, dishing out chicken and black-eyed peas and greens; you’d get a plate of it for, like, two bucks. You ate, and all the artists were selling their records – it was the first time I’d experienced that, in that kind of setting. Everyone was so nice … I was, like, ‘My people!’”

Barnes brings that warm, welcoming vibe to Dreamland, where the experience feels more like a visit to someone’s home than a sponsored, corporate business-driven nightclub. Due to their location, the venue starts and ends events early so as to not keep their neighbors up. Having toured around the world, it’s a different environment than the one he had previously mastered.

In Manhattan, “For some reason, I felt like I should do something else,” says Barnes. He transferred some energy into running and other healthy pursuits, “like… what’s the movie about the guy who runs across the country – ‘Run something’…?” Forrest Gump? “Yes, that’s it!” he says.

On his journey, Barnes says: “It has led me to this place where I’ve been able to connect with a lot of different people, but also have the sense of having a passion for – I hate always using the term ‘experimental music’ – ‘fringe’ or ‘extended thinking,’ not stopping at a certain point, but the constant ‘what-if?’ sort of thing.”

Having booked musicians in offbeat venues in Manhattan, setting up Dreamland shows wasn’t the hard part. The financial realities have kept him on his toes. For this second year, Barnes is planning more film screenings and lectures and hopes to include modern dance performances. Their next music showcase, this Saturday, celebrates a new compilation by a local electronic label. Barnes isn’t planning to slow down this year. “I just said ‘yes’ to my biggest (financial) risk to date,” he says. “I’m a little nervous. Because you never really know.”

c. 2015 The Voice-Tribune

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