WREST is a free-improvisational jazz and noise outfit featuring alto and soprano saxophone player Jack Wright. Since the late 1970s, Wright has traversed the physical and psychological outer limits of improvisational music. The late, great, Birmingham, Alabama guitarist Davey Williams once called him the “Johnny Appleseed of free improv.”
The collective is rounded out by bass player Evan Lipson and percussionist Ben Bennett. It’s the first round of shows the trio has played together in over seven years. For this show, they’re joined by dancer and movement artist Lucifer.
Someone somewhere once described WREST as sounding akin to two dinosaurs having sexual intercourse in a dumpster, or something like that, which is pretty close to the mark. Skronk, rattle, and roll, y’all!
A few locally-based improv. ensembles are performing as well: Priscilla Smith & Friend of Sunk Nameless and No Tomorrow are on the bill. Thread is an improv outfit left by Jared Pepper of Visitors, Memory Locks, and Apparition Trio. Guitarist Sam Wilson of Fuiste and Plastique will lead an improv ensemble as well.
Death is inevitable. It is the natural order that affects every living creature, and sooner or later, it’s coming for everyone.
No two people cope with the reality of the situation the same way. For Dusty Gannon, the singer, guitar player, and principal songwriter leading Athens’ rising goth and post-punk outfit Vision Video, death commands absolute respect.
Gannon is a former Army rifle platoon leader who served in war-torn Afghanistan, and until this summer, he has worked for five years as a metro Atlanta firefighter and paramedic. He is no stranger to death, and fostering a healthier relationship with it is the idea lying at the heart of Vision Video’s latest single, “Beautiful Day To Die.”
The song also offers the first glimpse at what Vision Video has in store with the group’s forthcoming second album, Haunted Hours, set to arrive October 14 — just in time for Halloween.
“Beautiful Day To Die,” takes shape around a simple, powerful melody that’s layered in rich musical textures that open up an emotional evocation of mortality. Gannon wrote the song by pulling together aspects from different stories that he witnessed firsthand to illustrate the sentiments that fill the air when someone dies.
“There is a bizarre energy that happens when somebody has been pronounced dead,” Gannon says. “ A lot of the time it’s terrible, and awful, and sad, but if you look closely at it, and if you don’t shy away from it, you’ll see these beautiful moments that are hidden alongside the grief.”
Pushing the idea forward, Gannon relives the details from one of his recent shifts as a paramedic, when he pronounced an older patient dead on the scene.
“There was really nothing that we could have done, and there was nothing that this patient’s daughter could have done,” he says, while walking through the steps that are taken before a person can be declared dead.
“While we were waiting for the coroner to arrive, I was sitting in the kitchen with the patient’s daughter, and she was telling me all of these stories about this person, about their kindness, and about what an amazing life they had lived,” Gannon recalls. “There was so much sadness, but there was also this small and intimate celebration of this person’s life taking place. It was painful, but it was also beautiful. That is one of the motifs behind the song.”
This is just one of the stories behind the 10 songs that make up the new record. Haunted Hours is stylish, and steeped in shadowy imagery, while remaining existentially buoyant.
Vision Video was born in the summer of 2017 when Gannon and drummer Jason Fusco started playing music together. Singer and keyboard player Emily Fredock and bass player Dan Geller joined the band soon after.
Geller is a co-owner and Chief Technical Officer of Athens’ Kindercore Vinyl pressing plant, and he has a long history of playing in Athens indie, pop, and rock-and-roll bands, including Kinkaid, the Agenda, I Am the World Trade Center, as well as the Booty Boyz DJ team.
The band’s name gives a nod to Athens’ once-great, but now defunct video store, bringing something that they all loved back from the dead — at least in name.
Naturally, after living through his experiences during war time, and then confronting death repeatedly in the civilian world, Gannon needed an outlet where he could exorcize the many traumas that he has endured.
In April of 2021, Vision Video’s debut album, Inked In Red, arrived as a self-released offering. Songs bearing titles such as “In My Side,” “Static Drone,” and “Organized Murder” came out blending grim imagery with a gothic snarl, paired with campy horror film imagery.
Each of these elements coalesced around a colorful, modern take on a classic goth, new wave, and post-punk musical lineage touching on everything from Joy Division and New Order, to the Cure, Bauhaus, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and the Sisters of Mercy. Each song was propelled forward by barreling dance-floor rhythms and major-chord songwriting.
The group’s cover of “Picture Of You” adds warm tones to one of the Cure’s most charming numbers.
And, of course, not all is so austere with Vision Video. A campy song about Gannon’s affection for the felines who walk among us, titled “I Love Cats,” proved to be something of a viral hit, sporting lyrics such as: “I love cats, so much more than I love humans. They’re adorable, hilarious, and not one of them is a Republican …” and “They might keep you up all night, but they’ll never take your human rights.”
If Inked In Red laid the sonic blueprint for Vision Video’s sound, Haunted Hours builds upon its foundation by slowing down and stretching the group’s ethereal pop drive to a dark and seductive breaking point.
Songs like “Cruelty Commodity,” “Death In A Hallway,” and a muscular reworking of Joy Division’s “Transmission” are so voluptuous that their hazy textures become tangible.
Gannon’s vocals meld perfectly within a lingering atmosphere marked by reverb and space. From the sinewy title track and “Nothing Changes” to the lingering reflections in “Unwanted Faces” and “Burn It Down,” the album strikes a balance between simplicity, urgent pop melodies and contempt for the failing world.
As such, the album is an assured follow-up that entrenches Vision Video’s stature as more than a flash in the pan for Athens music.
Ashton is, perhaps, best known as the guitar player for Leeds, U.K.’ early ‘80s post-punk outfit the March Violets. He also did a stint performing live with Xymox, the early ‘90s iteration of Dutch darkwave act Clan Of Xymox.
Ashton has also served as Vision Video’s live bass player for several shows surrounding the Haunted Hours sessions, and continues filling in when he’s needed.
Before recording, Gannon wrote most of the music’s skeletal parts including the melodies and the chord progressions for the guitar and the vocals on his own time. As a result, the rest of the group had months of lead time to consume the demos while thinking about their parts to add, which were written while they were in the studio, working out the songs.
“That allowed us to edit on the fly, and there were no set opinions about any one piece,” Gannon says. “If something didn’t work, we changed it then and there. If somebody had an idea, we would field it. Sometimes it worked. Sometimes it didn’t. But it was crafted in a malleable way where, on the fly, we could say, ‘That part doesn’t jive, let’s change it to this,’ and that’s part of the reason it’s so different from the first album.”
Ashton agrees, adding: “It’s just a more mature and spacious expanse. Dusty brought in a different writing approach which really paid off.”
Vision Video may prove the ideal outlet for Gannon to deal with anxiety and darker subject matter, as it relates to sadness, misery, warfare, inequity, and mortality — things that he’s witnessed personally — that can be expressed through aggressive lyrics and performances. But what has garnered equally as much (if not more) attention for Gannon is the Tik Tok character that he has created, called Goth Dad.
“The idea behind Goth Dad,” Gannon says, “Is to create a pure and wholesome character who makes people feel comfortable, safe, and accepted. There aren’t a lot of good father-type figures out there. My dad’s awesome,” he adds. “I was fortunate as a kid to have a really good, positive role model as my dad.”
The Goth Dad character that he plays has gone viral on social media via a series of short video clips that touch on everything from make-up tutorials to corny jokes, such as “What do you call a goth lawyer? Siouxsie Sue!”
“I have been trying to cultivate this place where people can bond and commiserate, and speak their mind about things safely and respectfully, hopefully positively,” Gannon says. “But even if it’s not, that’s cool too. It’s about finding a place for like-minded people to feel like you’re not alone. That’s like the worst part of having post-traumatic stress, anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, or anything like that. When you’re feeling like you’re totally in your head and alone, and even if you understand that people are there for you, sometimes it feels like it’s impossible to relay that to anybody,” he adds. “Those are the things that I’m working toward, and I hope that I foster that sensibility.”
Still, it’s the music, and creating a spectacle during live performances with Vision Video that encompass the most important aspect of everything Gannon does.
“It’s like the difference between Twilight as a vampire series and Near Dark,” he laughs. “They’re both about vampires, but they have very different tones, they fulfill very different purposes, but they both fulfill something that’s meaningful in people’s lives.”
Despite Goth Dad’s popularity online, it is onstage in the material world with Vision Video where Gannon is at full tilt. Live, he takes cues straight from the Cramps’ vocalist Lux Interior’s playbook, imbuing high-energy rock with elements of an undead drag cabaret show.
“Of course, I want you to be in the message of the music when we play live, but I also want it to be fun, I want it to be a party,” Gannon says. “That’s the most important thing above everything else: Did you have a good time? Was it safe?” he asks.
When dealing with so much darkness and confronting mortality, levity plays a key role in bringing such death-afflicted music to life.
Southern California hardcore icons the Circle Jerks are on the road again, celebrating the 40th anniversaries of their first two albums, Group Sex and Wild In the Streets, both recently reissued by Trust Records Company.
The show also marks the Circle Jerks’ first show in Atlanta since they played the Masquerade in December of 2006. Were you at that show?
For this tour, drummer Joey Castillo (Danzig, QOTSA, BL’AST!, the Bronx, and more) joins the classic lineup, featuring bass player Zander Schloss, guitar player Greg Hetson, and frontman Keith Morris.
Trust Records also recently reissued 7 Seconds’ 1984 debut LP, The Crew. Both 7 Seconds and Negative Approach (!!!) fill out the bill in Heaven at the Masquerade. Friday, July 22. $32.50 (adv). 7 p.m. (doors).
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High Key Disco is a weekly residency featuring Treasure Fingers and Jeremy Avalon—two of Atlanta’s premier DJs spinning electronic music, funk, and disco in the cafe at MJQ. $5. Every Tuesday night from 11 p.m.-3 a.m.
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For the time being, every Sunday evening from 6-10 p.m., the weekly jam has moved just a few doors down to the lot near the corner of Ralph David Abernathy Blvd. and Peeples Street, where there’s plenty of space to get spaced out. Under the direction of alto saxophone player Quinn Mason and percussionist Dallas Dawson, an assemblage of the city’s finest players lock into each other for a massive and seemingly telepathic group improv blast before opening up the stage. They’ll play for as long as the law allows—the noise ordinance kicks in at 10 p.m.
In this new, temporary outdoor setting, the weekly jam has taken on a whole new vibe, summoning a rejuvenated sense of community spirit in the West End. These performances are about catharsis, purgation, and finding mental and spiritual balance in the shadow of a world in turmoil.
Witnessing so much energy, and engaging with live music on such visceral and cerebral levels, after so many months spent in lock down is a powerful and emotionally riveting experience that’s not to be taken lightly—you need it more than you know.
Bring a lawn chair—it’s outside, but wearing a mask and maintaining that six-feet of social distance makes everyone feel a safer, and little more comfortable.