music / Columns

Jam Central Station: STS9

November 12, 2016 | Posted by Jeff Modzelewski

Over the past 15 years, there’s been a dramatic rise in the popularity of various types of electronic music. While most people previously thought of electronic music primarily as “rave” or “club” music, a handful of bands have had success taking this sound out on the road. Some of these artists are DJ’s while some rely heavily on samples and pre-recorded material. Some artists, however, are able to weave together the “electronic” component of their music with “live” music. In these instances, computers turn into instruments and are played in a very similar way that a guitar or a drum kit is played. One of the bands that have been most successful in creating this type of “livetronica” sound is Sound Tribe Sector 9.

STS9 got their start in the musical hotbed outside of Atlanta. They were close enough to Athens to be influenced by the music coming out of that college town while also far enough away that they weren’t part of that music scene. While some members of STS9 had known each other for a while, the whole band came together in the late 90’s. They bonded over a variety of shared beliefs and common philosophies, with a strong influence from the Mayan culture and calendar. The band’s original name, Sector 9, is a direct reference to the Mayan calendar, and the band has continued to study and explore that culture.

The band, which has maintained their independent nature since the beginning, released their first album on their own label in 1999. Interplanetary Escape Vehicle didn’t make any real waves, although their energetic live performances began getting attention. They released two more albums in quick succession on Landslide Records. Their second album, the live Sector 9 – The Brown Album was the last album they released under the name Sector 9. A copyright issue forced the band to change their name, so they added “Sound Tribe.” They released Offered Schematics Suggesting Peace in 2000. They also began to build relationships with artists in the “jamtronica” scene. Most notably, they were asked to play the annual Disco Biscuits festival, Camp Bisco, in 1999. They followed that up with performances at High Sierra, Gathering of the Vibes, and Austin City Limits. These early festival performances helped expose the band to a wider audience.

The band relocated to Santa Cruz, California in 2000, and quickly began to develop a local following. The band’s early performances were highly improvisational, often veering significantly from the original song structure. Songs would change from show to show, and would often develop into performances that were completely unrecognizable from the song they started out as. The band wasn’t the only part of their live performances, either. From their early days, the band enlisted others as part of their “Sound Tribe.” Their shows didn’t just consist of music, but things such as the stage setup and the light show became an integral part of the show. The band also often has live painters creating interpretive art pieces based on their performances. All of these elements helped STS9 stand out in a crowded California music scene.

2002 saw another live release from the band. Sessions 01 helped keep the band in front of fans. They relentlessly toured the country, playing headlining shows at clubs along with sets at festivals like Coachella and the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. A major break came for the band in 2003 when they played their first late-night set at Bonnaroo. Their performances continued to impress, and the band differed from most other “jam bands” in that their improvisations weren’t centered on one member soloing. Instead, the band moved as a unit through a song, and often let small variations in the music build into major changes. This type of organic improvisation assured that every show was different and that no audience member felt that they were getting the same performance twice.

The band continued to tour and perform to modest club crowds. Their stock rose substantially, however, with the release of 2005’s Artifact. This was the band’s first studio album that came close to capturing their live performance sound. The band themselves have said that this was the first album where they felt comfortable in the studio, and the results speak for themselves. Within the next two years, they moved from playing clubs and side stages at festivals to playing theatres (and occasionally amphitheatres) and being the top-drawing late night festival act.

They played festivals across the U.S., in Europe, and in Japan. They even were listed as headliners for smaller U.S. festival, and played some of the biggest stages at Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, and Coachella. The success of Artifact caused the band to move away from performances that were almost completely improvisational to a more structured live sound, but that didn’t diminish the energy that they brought to the stage. They played their first show at Red Rocks Ampitheatre in 2006, and played two sold-out nights at the venue in 2008. Despite no radio support and the fact that they released their albums independently, STS9 had become a major touring and act and festival commodity.

In 2008, the band released Peaceblaster, an album that highlighted the “friction” between the band members different styles that they are able to mold into a coherent sound. The album is a more accessible version of previous works, relying slightly more on typical instrumentation and less on computerized samples and loops. This doesn’t mean that STS9 had unplugged their laptops, however. Quite the contrary. The band continued to upgrade their equipment and find new ways to generate sounds for their music. With each software and computer update, STS9 has found a way to weave new music together, mixing live performance and technology.

In 2009, the band surprised fans by announcing the release of Ad Explorata a mere 2 months before it came out. Fans were surprised that a new album would be released so close to the band’s very successful Peaceblaster album, but they were pleased with the results. Only about half of the material had been previously road tested, but the old and new songs fit together well. The band celebrated with their first ever all-acoustic set, and a full schedule of headlining and festival shows. The band and the fans enjoyed the all-acoustic set so much that they released the recording as an album (dubbed Ax The Cables) and have brought back the acoustic format for special shows in subsequent years. In 2011, the band released When The Dust Settles, a 5 song EP of new material.

Over the subsequent years the band continued to maintain their popularity, playing theaters around the country, headlining Red Rocks, and typically getting top billing at festivals. With the band continuing in their success, it was a shock when, in early 2014, bassist David Murphy announced he was leaving the band. Murphy was one of the primary songwriters and inspirations for the group, so losing him was a significant blow. The band cancelled dates that winter, but quickly recruited Alana Rocklin for the band. They returned to the road in March 2014 and didn’t appear to have lost a step. They continued with their typical touring schedule and summer festival dates.

The new STS9 lineup spent 2014 and 2015 touring, and their live performances worked to reassure fans that they were still the band that they loved. They explored new directions and took chances, including multiple 3 set shows and adding some “Axe The Cables” sets to different environments. In 2016, 7 years after the release of Ad Explorata the band released The Universe Inside. This album continued to build on the new themes that they had introduced with the addition of Rocklin. By this time all concern about the future of the band had dissipated, and they had returned to their spot as one of the top-billed jamtronica bands.

It takes a lot of work for a band with a long history like STS9’s to recover from losing a key member. The quick turnaround of the band and the way Rocklin has fit into their very intricate musical universe has been extremely impressive. While it can be relatively easy for a bluegrass band (no offense YMSB) to incorporate new pieces due to the fact that bluegrass musicians all speak a very similar musical language, that’s not the case for bands like STS9, and the building of the band took many years of intense, focused effort. The fact that Rocklin was able to move into the band so seamlessly is a testament to her talent and to the band’s flexibility. The change seems to have re-energized the group, and it’s exciting to think about where they might go in the future.

FloydFest 17: Freedom releases initial lineup
Floydfest once again released the early portion of their lineup well in advance of the new year. FloydFest 17: Freedom will take place from July 26-30 in beautiful Floyd, VA. The initial lineup includes Michael Franti & Spearhead, St. Paul & The Broken Bones, Railroad Earth, Shovels & Rope, White Denim, Turkuaz, Fruition, Big Something, Zach Deputy, and (Cleveland band plug) Broccoli Samurai.

Galactic announce dates
Galactic announced dates for their winter tour. They’re bringing a variety of openers and collaborators along for this run.

February 2 Lincoln, NE—The Bourbon (Andy Frasco)
February 3 Kansas City, MO—The Madrid Theatre (Andy Frasco)
February 4 Denver, CO—The Fillmore Auditorium (Andy Frasco)
February 5 Aspen, CO—Belly Up, Aspen (Andy Frasco)
February 6 Park City, UT—Park City Live (The Bright Light Social Hour)
February 7 Victor, ID—Knotty Pine Supper Club (Evening with Galactic)
February 9 Missoula, MT—The Wilma (The Bright Light Social Hour)
February 10 Seattle, WA—Showbox Presents (The Bright Light Social Hour)
February 11 Portland, OR—Crystal Ballroom (The Bright Light Social Hour)
February 12 Crystal Bay, NV—Crystal Bay Casino (Gene Evaro Jr. )
February 14 Las Vegas, NV—Brooklyn Bowl Las Vegas (The Bright Light Social Hour)
February 15 Tucson, AZ—The Rialto Theatre (The Bright Light Social Hour)
February 16 Solana Beach, CA—Belly Up (The Bright Light Social Hour)
February 17 Hollywood, CA—Fonda Theatre (Funky Meters)
February 18 San Francisco, CA—The Warfield (Funky Meters)
February 25 New Orleans, LA—Tipitina’s (Evening with Galactic)
February 27 New Orleans, LA—Tipitina’s (Evening with Galactic)
March 9 Boston, MA—House of Blues Boston (Con Brio)
March 10 Philadelphia, PA—The Fillmore Philadelphia (Con Brio)
March 12 Fairfield, CT—The Warehouse FTC (Con Brio)
March 14 So. Burlington, VT—Higher Ground (Con Brio)
March 15 Pittsburgh, PA—The Rex Theater (Con Brio)
March 16 Charlottesville, VA—The Jefferson Theater (Con Brio)
March 17 Washington, DC—9:30 Club (Con Brio)
March 18 Washington, DC—9:30 Club (The Hip Abduction)
March 21 Cleveland, OH—The Beachland Ballroom and Tavern (The Hip Abduction)
March 22 Detroit, MI—Saint Andrew’s Hall (The Hip Abduction)
March 23 Milwaukee, WI—Turner Hall Ballroom (The Hip Abduction)
March 24 Minneapolis, MN—First Avenue & 7th St Entry (The Hip Abduction)
March 25 Chicago, IL—House of Blues Chicago (The Hip Abduction)

The Infamous Stringdusters announce dates
The Infamous Stringdusters released an extended list of tour dates that will take the band all the way through April. They’ll make a run to nearly every part of the country over the next 6 months.

January 12 Raleigh, NC – Lincoln Theatre
January 13 Asheville, NC – The Orange Peel – January 14 Athens, GA – Georgia Theatre – January 15 Abingdon, VA – January Jams – January 18 Pawling, NY – Daryl’s House Club
January 19 Plymouth, NH – Flying Monkey
January 20 Portland, ME – Port City Music Hall *
January 21 Boston, MA – Paradise Rock Club *
January 22 Hartford, CT – Infinity Hall
January 24 Columbus, OH – Park Street Saloon – January 25 Rocky Mount, VA – Harvester Performance Center – January 26 Charlotte, NC – Visulite Theatre ^
January 27 Washington DC – 9:30 Club ^
January 28 Philadelphia, PA – World Cafe Live ^
February 16 Sacramento, CA – Harlows Restaurant & Night Club “
February 17 San Francisco, CA – The Fillmore “
February 18 Los Angeles, CA – Troubadour “
February 19 Solana Beach, CA – Belly Up “
February 20 Las Vegas, NV – Brooklyn Bowl Las Vegas “
February 22 Telluride, CO – Sheridan Opera House
February 23 Telluride, CO – Sheridan Opera House
February 24 Aspen, CO – Belly Up, Aspen
February 25 Steamboat, CO – WinterWonderGrass Festival
February 26 Steamboat, CO – WinterWonderGrass Festival
March 15 Cleveland, OH – The Beachland Ballroom and Tavern ~
March 16 Indianapolis, IN – The Vogue Theatre ~
March 17 Chicago, IL Park – West ~
March 18 St. Joseph, MN – College of St. Benedict
March 19 Omaha, NE – The Waiting Room Lounge >
March 21 Jackson, WY – Pink Garter Theatre/The Rose >
March 22 Laramie, WY – Univ. Of Wyoming
March 23 Park City, UT – Park City Live >
March 25 Missoula, MT – The Wilma >
April 4 Bend, OR – The Domino Room >
April 5 Eugene, OR – HiFi Music Hall >
April 6 Portland, OR – Wonder Ballroom <
April 7 Portland, OR – Wonder Ballroom
-w/Billy Strings *w/David Wax Museum
^w/The Brothers Comatose
“w/Horseshoes & Hand Grenades
~w/The Way Down Wanderers
>w/The Ghost of Paul Revere

The Revivalists add dates
The Revivalists have their early 2017 schedule set. They’ll be hitting the road, including a trip on Jam Cruise, and have dates set through early April.

December 7 Boulder, CO—Fox Theatre
December 8 San Francisco, CA—The Masonic
December 9 Portland, OR—Roseland Theater
December 31 New Orleans, LA—Orpheum Theater
January 20–25 Miami, FL—Jam Cruise 15
February 1 Fort Collins, CO—Aggie Theatre
February 2 Beaver Creek, CO—Vilar Performing Arts Center
February 3 Aspen, CO—Belly Up Aspen
February 4 Denver, CO—Ogden Theatre
February 7 Solana Beach, CA—Belly Up Tavern
February 8 Los Angeles, CA—The Fonda Theatre
February 9 Santa Cruz, CA—The Catalyst
February 10 Crystal Bay, NV—Crystal Bay Club Casino
February 13 Petaluma, CA—Mcnear’s Mystic Theatre
February 16 Eugene, OR—Hi-fi Music Hall
February 18 Seattle, WA—The Showbox
March 14 Columbia, MO—The Blue Note
March 15 Minneapolis, MN—Fine Line Music Café
March 16 Madison, WI—Majestic Theatre
March 17 Bloomington, IL—The Castle Theatre
March 18 Chicago, IL—Concord Music Hall
March 21 Covington, KY—Madison Theater
March 22 Millvale, PA—Mr. Small’s Theatre
March 23 Baltimore, MD—Rams Head Live!
March 24 Jim Thorpe, PA—Penn’s Peak
March 25 Port Chester, NY—The Capitol Theatre
April 13 Houston, TX—House Of Blues
April 14 Dallas, TX—House Of Blues
April 15 Austin, TX—Emo’s

Dominican Holidaze
December 1-5
Breathless Beach Resort & Spa
Punta Cana
Umphrey’s McGee, The Disco Biscuits, STS9, Joe Russo’s ALmost Dead, Lotus, Lettuce, Shpongle, The Floozies

Strings & Sol
December 9-13
New Sapphire
Puerto Morelos, Mexico
Yonder MOuntain String Band, Greensky Bluegrass, Railroad Earth, Leftover Salmon, The Infamous Stringdusters, Keller & The Keels, Keller Williams’ Grateful Grass

Jam Cruise
January 20-25
Sailing from Miami, FL
The Original Meters, moe., GRiZ, Galactic, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, Benevento Russo Duo, Lettuce, Kamasi Washinton, The Revivalists, The Motet, Beats Antique

Los Muertos Con Queso
January 25-28
Riviera Maya, Mexico
The String Cheese Incident, Bill Kreutzmann & Bob Weir with Dave Schools, Jeff Chimenti, and Tom Hamilton, Chris Robinson Brotherhood

Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds: Three Concerts On The Beach
February 23-25
Riviera Maya, Mexico

Winter Wondergrass
February 26-27
Steamboat, CO
Railroad Earth, Leftover Salmon, Elephant Revival, Infamous Stringdusters, Sam Bush Band, Fruition, Brothers Comatose, Steep Canyon Rangers, Billy Strings

Panic En La Playa
February 27-March 3
Hard Rock Hotel
Riviera Maya, Mexico
Widespread Panic, Orgone, Southern Soul Assembly, Playa All Stars

Wanee Festival
April 20-22
Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park
Live Oak, FL

Sweetwater 420 Festival
April 21-23
Centennial Park
Atlanta, GA
Widespread Panic, Trey Anastasio Band, Slightly Stoopid, Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, Anders Osborne, Dark Star Orchestra, Twiddle

Mountain Jam
June 16-18
Bonnaroo
June 8-11
Manchester, TN

Electric Forest I
June 22-25
Rothbury, MI

Electric Forest II
June 29-July 2
Rothbury, MI

Floydfest 17: Freedom
July 26-30
Floyd, VA
Michael Franti & Spearhead, St. Paul & Broken Bones, Railroad Earth, Shovels & Rope, Turkuaz, Fruition

Lockn’
August 24-27
Arrington, VA

Thanks again for stopping by. I’ll be back next week with more jam. Until then, check me out on Facebook and Twitter for up to the minute concert announcements. Until next week, Jam On!