SunSquabi and Exmag exist at the intersection of Hip-Hop, Jazz, Funk, Rock and the setting of an Electronic music experience. Known for their blazing guitar solos, heavily-syncopated rhythms, and dazzling lights, SunSquabi has pushed forward a brand of music they call The Hydro Funk Experience. On the other end of the bill, there's Exmag -- a three-piece band comprised of Eric Mendelson, Tyler Dondero and Dave Carls with each splitting time between guitar, keyboards, synthesizers and controlling the Ableton Software. Exmag's brand of music teeters the line between a form of Hip-Hop rooted in the style of J Dilla, Jazz reminiscent of Robert Glasper, and plenty guitar solos that add a nice edge to their music. After releasing Live in Boulder and Part I, respectively, SunSquabi and Exmag set out on their joint tour. After stopping by Philadelphia's Foundry at the Fillmore, Kevin and I talked about our experience at the concert, and some of our takeaways.
Stanley: The day finally came - we got to see Exmag in concert! People typically don’t go to concerts for the opening act, but this is Exmag! General reactions to Exmag’s set?
Kevin: Man...Exmag did not disappoint! There's a unique atmosphere of confusion, comfort and "wow these guys are killing it" listening to Exmag lay down fire instrumentals while also being surrounded by a sea of white people freely dancing to the beat of their own drum--kinda reminded me of a silent party but without the headphones and we were all listening to the same song. But back to Exmag, these guys did not come to play around! I feel like they incorporated almost every genre of music (hip hop, jazz, electronic, funk, etc.) while still having a clear distinct sound of their own. I'm glad they left room for each band member to go off and solo/improv some because I live for that stuff at live shows--gimme something a little different than the albums/EPs, which they did. I think a big reason why I love this group so much is because of the keyboard/synthesizer, it's a major bias I have. It's such an underrated instrument and they feature it heavily. Once I hear that instrument in a song, I turn into Leonardo DiCaprio from Django, "You had my curiosity but now you have my attention" type situation. Another underrated portion of this show was the amount of words said or sung while Exmag played--there were little to none. They couldn't resist fully and brought up a rapper (he was from Philly so I will allow it) but overall I prefer the band to have the shine without the need for words. So yeah, Exmag was amazing and it was awesome not having to wait through an opening act to hear them, as for me they were the main course.
What you think though? Batista thumbs up or down?
Stanley: Batista thumbs down! (A good thing in this case)! I really liked their set! I thought they all complimented and played off each other well. Though they bill themselves as an "Electronic" band, they have plenty of Jazz, Rock, Funk, Hip-Hop in their music, like you said. The thing I enjoyed the most was that they were just jamming for what felt like the entire time. There were some coordinated lines and sections of songs, but they looked like they were completely comfortable on stage, just jamming. And plenty of guitar solos. I agree on the words - though I really wanted them to do "Going Down Slow".
We went into this show cold turkey - never heard/heard of SunSquabi. I know, for me, this was my first indoor, real-life electronic show (Save Taylor McFerrin in the park). What were your thoughts on SunSquabi's set?
Kevin: Definitely Batista thumbs down--they went off! But honestly I went from not having heard of SunSquabi or their music to almost not being able to hear after the show was over. My eardrums were on their last legs. SunSquabi uses every volume decibel to play their music. I will say their energy level was consistently high throughout their set--their energy never waned once, the guy even started playing guitar on his head towards the end. I can't say that their music is up my alley but I can respect the musicality, emotion and sheer force in which they play. I almost felt though, that their sound was a little more accessible than expected. I don't know, maybe I'm off base here but it seemed to me that once you got past the loudness, their music was more palatable than Exmag's and kinda samey/generic. Also I want to touch on the lights/presentation. I think it added to the atmosphere and energy they were dishing out, the crowd loved it. All in all, I can say I experienced an indoor electronic show--outdoor may be better if I were to go to another one. How did your ears hold up?
Stanley: My ears were done. I was washed going into the concert, but afterward I was completely done. Just a small rant on The Foundry: By far the worst sound system of all of the small-mid sized venues. I’ve been to different types of shows there, and it’s just never right. It’s always some combination of the music being imbalanced/not mixed proportionately, or too loud. Now, I won’t put all of the sound on them (this time) because SunSquabi was traveling with their own people, but it was annoying. That said, I thought SunSquabi’s level of musicianship was incredible! They went non-stop for at least 15 minutes at one point.
I thought the lights were a great addition! I think them using their own set up allows for consistency and it matched the music perfectly as opposed to the venue arbitrarily assigning light patterns.
Kevin: Oh The Foundry's sound is trash. I’ve also been to all types of shows there and I can’t think of one time that it was enhanced by the sound quality there. The Foundry must be in bed with someone to be getting all these shows there consistently. But what about the demographic/vibe at the show? I’ve thought about it some since the show. In comparison to other shows you may go to, what are your thoughts on that? I’ll let you take the lead on this one
Stanley: What? That we were 2/4 Black people in the room and the other 2 Black people worked there? The race dynamic was interesting, for sure. Going in to the concert, only knowing Exmag/their style of music, and not knowing anything about the headliner other than what I saw on Instagram, I didn’t expect a large non-white crowd. And to no surprise, there were very few non-white people there. After having been to the show and thought about it some, I was surprised by was the style of music of Exmag and SunSquabi sounds are rooted in. They both had obvious electronica leanings, but both bands are without a doubt doing traditionally, black-styles of music. If I divided SunSquabi’s sound into a pie chart (I love pie charts) the biggest piece would be funk. If I did the same for Exmag the biggest piece would be R&B/Soul/Neo-Soul.
What are your thoughts on the demographics for the show?
Kevin: Hey don’t forget the rapper. That made a strong starting five of black people there that night lol. But like you I was completely not surprised by the lack color in the building...but man for a group who has its sound based in music created/popularized by black people, it’s kinda shocking once you put it into context. I’m not ever shocked by white people at shows, it’s commonplace, but to see a nearly packed house for music that sounded like that with little to no black representation was something.
There is also something to the lose yourself to dance vibe at these type of shows. No words are said but everyone just walks around looking for dance partners as the music plays. Definitely a different vibe than other shows I have been too. And none of them are better or worse, just different.