The first thing you need to know about Boulder, Colorado, is that it's full of hippies. The second thing that you need to know is that it's an expensive place to live. People from nearby Denver—a significantly larger city—described it as "The Bubble." I found myself mentally comparing various encounters to the sketch comedy show Portlandia and its relentless send-up of hipster culture. As the weekend dawned at this year's Communikey in Boulder, if you wanted a cookie filled with gluten—actually, make that anything with gluten—you would have had a tough time finding it the bustling farmer's market downtown. Locally-sourced marijuana throughout the festival, though, was no problem at all.
Communikey is part of a large group of festivals around the world, casually arranged under the ICAS banner. Mutek, Unsound and CTM are among its members, but while you might see a few artists booked at each—Pole is a clear favourite, so is the visual artist Lillevan—the events are distinct to their organizers and, of course, their local audience. Given the size of Boulder, it's striking to see its varied lineup. Avant-garde artist Laurie Anderson headlined the festival. Kyle Hall played the biggest dance event. "Dub-pop" duo Peaking Lights closed things out.
In short, even mega-nerds had something to learn. Highlights of the festival included the show-stopping performance by Nils Frahm, whose lengthy emotional solo piano pieces balanced delicately on the right side of maudlin. His German accented stand-up comedy in between compositions, and an impromptu improvisation with an audience member that stopped on a dime and was interrupted by a hilariously timed iPhone ringtone, made for one of the event's most memorable moments. Claude Young and Shawn Rudiman's DJ/live PA collab lived up to high expectations. The two vets have been playing techno so long that it must come easy, but it was still uncanny to see the two giving each other space at exactly the right moments throughout.
After a false start, Biosphere and Lustmord's atomic bomb testing-inspired piece turned out good—but not great. The visual element was pitch-perfect, acting as a narrative that led you from landscape to machine to human to bomb. At times, though, both artists—decked out as scientists with pressed shirts and simple black ties—seemed unsure that things were progressing the way they wanted.
Whether a single performance was good or great seems a bit immaterial when thinking about Communikey, though. The fact that a Norwegian and California-based sound artist were playing to a standing-room only crowd in Colorado is a bit incredible. So is the fact that plenty of the same people were on a dance floor in the insurance-hell but rave-fantastic indoor parkour gym, Apex Movement. For a few days in April, Boulder felt like a different kind of bubble than it normally does. One with a lot of electronic music (and otherwise) on offer.