Photo by Jessica Shirley-Donnelly
Now in its sixth year, SubZERO’s reputation for being San Jose’s coolest event hasn’t diminished. In fact, it’s become the day of the year that many San Jose residents invite their San Francisco friends to come down and see that amazing things really do happen here.
It isn’t any one thing that makes the festival so special. There is a sense that anything at SubZERO is possible. Art and music aren’t just happening on stages, they can be seen and heard on the streets, in booths and hidden in any and all obscure corners of the SoFA District, waiting to be discovered
What also makes SubZERO, arriving June 7, somewhat of an anomaly is that the festival connects the different art and music scenes in the area in a way no other event has managed to do in San Jose.
The city always seems to struggle to link up the fragmented segments of the arts scenes.
Organizers Brian Eder and Cherry Lakey, of Anno Domini Gallery, somehow bring artists out from their obscure nooks of the city and get them to share the small three-block space of South First Street.
“It’s meant to be a snapshot of our local culture, which is also an echo of something larger we all feel connected to,” Eder says. “We’re really out to be inspired ourselves. I think it helps us to communicate with the culture that we love because we’re not just on the outside looking in. For us it’s an annual celebration.”
While a lot of unexpected gems will be the best parts of SubZERO, there are a lot of high-profile musical acts booked on the different stages. Even on these designated stages, bands feel a heightened obligation to bring an extra layer of creativity to their performance. This is SubZERO, after all. Some highlights this year:
No band better epitomizes the spirit of SubZERO than Corpus Callosum; the band has played the festival every year except the first. With their blend of indie-folk songs, puppetry and full-scale theatrical numbers, Corpus Callosum always brings something different to SubZERO.
One year, Corpus Callosum took up a large portion of the street for an interactive puppet show. At another performance, they showed off their new touring bus by playing a set inside it with the audience also crouched inside. This year, they will be playing the Secret Garden Stage. Singer Dax Tran-Caffee will also be putting on a puppet show with his side project Villainette.
New to SubZERO comes the East Bay’s Mad Noise, an eclectic indie-folk troupe with elements of jazz and blues (band members play guitars, drums, upright bass, cello, harmonica and trumpet). They got their start as buskers, but now play any and every type of show—though they still busk once a week on Saturdays at the San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market. Typically, their sets include mostly covers, which are completely reimagined. At SubZERO, they’ll be doing an electric set on the Anno Domini stage, playing mostly originals off their forthcoming LP.
Another SubZERO favorite, these three local electronic producers break ground by essentially doing live electronic improvisation and jamming with each other with machines, making fresh beats and songs on the spot. It’s all live, so sometimes something goes wrong. Some of the equipment they use, they fashioned themselves, like the Beatseqr, which Steve Cooley built from the ground up. They’ll be playing the Gore Park Stage. This year for the first time, they are incorporating a light show and projected images while they play.
Ben Henderson has been a part of SubZERO in one form or another for several years. In 2009, his band Good Hustle collaborated with San Jose Taiko and marched down First Street in a big parade before getting onstage. This year, he performs on the Anno Domini Stage with his new group, Brother Grand, with him on vocals and acoustic guitar and Endika (Panthelion) on upright bass. The duo plays stripped-down versions of Henderson’s heartfelt solo material, with some new material they’ve written. Their dueling guitar work is gorgeous. They’ll even be selling CDs made especially for SubZERO.
Lakey and Eder met Rick Maciel, the principal member of Halo Between, at his recent residency at the Montalvo Arts Center. Though he lives in Mexico, he travels around the world playing with anyone who will join him. His act is a strange take on electronic music. He samples, mics and electronically manipulates children’s musical instruments. It’s dazzling to watch, but the final product is also quite spectacular. He sings over it, too, so there is somewhat of an accessible pop element, making it that much more amazing. He plays the Gore Park Stage.