big ears 2018


Jon Foster picks five must-see acts of Big Ears 2018.


It will be his first time at the sonic candy store for the aurally adventurous. Every highlight on the schedule tells a story. 


Yuka C. Honda

When I was in middle school I watched MTV pretty religiously. This was the time right before the internet made the world smaller and music much easier to get ahold of. I mixed 120 Minutes, Alternative Nation, and Headbanger’s Ball without thinking too much about it. Outside of these three shows there were a host of smaller, random ones that usually ran for a season or two.

Squirt TV’s run was short, only a handful of shows on MTV after moving from NYC public access. One of the guests was Cibo Matto. This was in 1996. I became a Cibo Matto freak. Right as I got to college and my mind started expanding outside of indie rock and hardcore and into free jazz, new music, and noise, Yuka Honda started putting out solo records on John Zorn’s Tzadik records. I loved those too! In a way, I can trace my musical development through Honda’s records with Cibo Matto as well as her electronic solo records.

The Thing

Mats Gustafsson fits right in there. He fits right into so many of my interests. His music is often a missing link between heavy rock and roll and free jazz. If I were going to try and hook a friend onto more jazz leaning music, someone who might have spent a lot of time listening to the Stooges, I would suggest them The Thing, or Mats Gustafsson.

Wu Fei

I know nothing about Wu Fei. I have no idea what her music sounds and I’m not planning on doing any research. One of the exciting things about Big Ears is that you’re pretty much assured an engaging listening experience. I don’t expect to be bored with another band playing another mindless garage rock song. It’s a festival where stumbling into something with an open mind means you might find music worth staying for.

I do worry that too much variety, too much ‘intense’ listening might spoil things from show to show. You know, like that effect where you go to a new country and everything looks new on the first day, but by the second or third day you start to acclimate to your surroundings? Is that a thing, getting bored with free jazz skronk, bassoon bands, solo trumpet players, acapella ensembles, laptop music, and banjo virtuosos?

Tal National

It seems that ten years ago I started to take notice of a trend. Whenever I would get around friends that had a deep love for music, they would play a lot of West African rock and soul music. Everyone was playing those Soundway Compilations. You know the label that would take a period of time in Nigeria and highlight the best rock and funk records from that time.  Slowly but surely I started to buy those compilations and well. It didn’t take long before I was addicted to The Funkees or those early King Sunny Ade records.

Thankfully the focus has shifted from artists of the 60’s and 70’s and into contemporary musicians. I’ve even noticed a trend of African musicians touring the US. Just this past fall Mdou Moctar played my hometown, Winston-Salem to a decent sized crowd. The last time I was in that room another nameless band from Brooklyn played angular indie rock.

Tal National’s new record Tantabara, is on fire. It’s an energetic record, a colorful record, and a rhythmically complex record. They will be the perfect band to see after a couple days of beard stroking and searching for the right words to describe the music you just saw. Gut punch music!

Jaga Jazzist 

Jaga Jazzist are the band that I’m looking forward to. I love them so much. When I saw their name on the schedule I knew I had to go. Getting to see them play a full set of their own music as well as one with Ståle Storløkken & Jon Balke is doubly-good.

There’s a moment, just one second, maybe two, on their 2013 Live with the Britten Sinfonia record where I almost loose it every time. I never really loose it but I can feel the tears just on the edge of the eyelids, when they’re warm and flooding their staging area. The song is “One Armed Bandit.” The long intro goes for four minutes before you hear the proper start of the song. The horn meanders, cuts through the bouncing rhythm, the strings slice…it drops out. Marimba comes in…then out. Flutes soar above the mix of the gigantic rhythmic soup. Right before the eight minute mark, four minutes after the melody first appears, the whole band along with the orchestra comes together. It’s so much sound that it’s difficult to properly make sense of, aural overload of the best kind. That version of “One Armed Bandit” lasts over fifteen minutes and I cannot think of a song that makes me happier.  

Jon Foster is a mail-artist, teacher, and passionate defender of math rock.