Record Dork

Delving deeper than you ever wanted to go. This week: Ports Bishop's Future Friends.

Future Friends is a well-designed but not overly refined 60-page, softcover compendium of photography by Ports Bishop, a New Yorker who in the summers of 2004 and '05 attended two intimate, outdoor music and art festivals featuring a small horde of underground freaks active in the neon-drenched psychedelic arts and crafts scene that has been thriving for several years now in such East Coast hubs as Providence, R.I., and Brooklyn, N.Y. According to the introduction by publisher and artist Hanna Fushihara Aaron, the first outing was "in Connecticut named Future Friends and the second [was] in Ontario, Canada called Earththunder. ... Like members of different tribes of a nation without borders people gathered from all over the Northeast."

Of course, for Bay Area denizens, Fushihara Aaron's utopian narrative immediately evokes visions of techno-hippies throwing a weeklong rave in the Nevada desert. And indeed, Bishop's assortment of staged portraiture and candid snapshots reveals verdant forest landscapes wherein young people sport tribally painted faces and ragged homespun outfits featuring mystical silk-screened imagery. There is even a fantastical Day-Glo purple and green tent shaped in the image of a massive tree trunk, which was designed by artists Barbara Schauwecker and Tom Hohmann; the latter is pictured as one-half of the duo the USA Is a Monster, purveyor of Rush-inspired hardcore and elfin druid folk.

But whereas Burning Man culture exudes a millennial intensity, and its trance music and visionary art retain a slick professionalism, Bishop's lens has captured the sloppy, DIY punk rock spirit and Saturday morning cartoon juvenilia underlying this quirky little subculture from back east. There is Brian Chippendale, of the prog-noise act Lightning Bolt, hammering his drum kit while his head is covered in a peculiarly stitched, maroon-and-mustard mask and a gauche, rainbow-painted tennis visor (a total truck-stop artifact). The outfit by the name of Slow Jams attempts to unleash its lo-fi karaoke rap while violently bouncing up and down on a gigantic trampoline. Noise musician and gifted illustrator Kites tinkers with home-crafted gear that resembles hand-painted children's furniture from the 19th century (albeit after the acid has kicked in). And then there is the dude wandering through the crowd and donning a furry pink bunny mask with a miner's light strapped to his noggin. God only knows what shenanigans he's up to.

Now, I'm from the Northeast, so I totally believe such freaks as Lightning Bolt, the USA Is a Monster, and Bobbi Clothes (the first two record for the hip Load Records) have revitalized American independent culture in recent years, merging the pastoral surrealism of the hippies and the audacious in-your-face antics of the punks. And Bishop's Future Friends is a fine attempt at bottling a bit of this novel fusion.

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