By Jess Kwiatkowski
On Saturday, March 10, I arrived in Kalamazoo for the 8th Annual Kalcun. The title is a play on popular vacation destination Cancun, of course. A perfectly ironic name for an event taking place where the temperature hovered just above freezing. Barren trees, ice patches, and stubborn piles of dirty snow are hardly portents of a carefree, alcohol-fueled weekend escape from the humdrum studies of continuing education. Despite the weather, Kalcun proved equal to my refreshment.
The venue welcomed us into an intimate atmosphere. Mismatched furniture, charmingly dated paneling, and over a hundred VHS copies of “E.T.” (really) added a certain retro air to the place. As an older property, it featured vernacular architecture in quaint motifs along the wainscoting. The main level was spacious and comfortable, and a walled deck sprawled off the back entrance. Downstairs, pale concrete ran from floor to ceiling; modest decorations of string lights adorned the walls. Concrete even made up the stage; a small area rose up to the waist and jutted back. PAs and band equipment fit snug onto it.
Patrons of Kalcun arrived not in ones and twos, but in swaths of bright colors and enticing costumes. A loose theme for Kalcun is “beach attire,” but more people used the event to dress up in spectacular displays of masks, cloaks, glitter, and gauzy garments. Suddenly, upwards of seventy people ranged through the venue and excitedly discussed the upcoming evening or reminisced about years past. A woman in a fox mask informed me that Kalcun often proved to be a two-day event; laughingly, she told me how, one year, the night spilled over to 7 o’clock the following evening.
I doubt I’d ever seen such a well-seasoned party of veterans. They dove daringly into the night with the same unrestrained spirit of Cancun spring break that 90s kids might recall seeing broadcast on MTV. In this case, everyone knew how to handle themselves to make for the sort of organized chaos everyone dreams to be a part of, at least once. From the first surge, the crowd only continued to increase. Standing just outside the door offered a front row view to a great parade of lavishly dressed, rogueishly confident Kalamazoo scenesters.
Another Man’s Trash started the musical part of the evening around 11:30pm; this set also proved to be their debut in the state of Michigan. A 5-piece experimental band self-described as “ADHD party punk,” the general party had only just heard of them. With a foundation in punk, Another Man’s Trash has developed deeply satirical, sometimes comical, and always sensational sound. Despite their newcomer status, voices in the audience quickly joined the singer and continued to reciprocate his easy prompting throughout the duration of their set. they received praise for their surprisingly rousing blend of Dead-Kennedys-meets-MSI sound.
Katy Needs a Life took the stage as the second act. With the eponymous Katy at center stage, singing and playing keyboard, their synth-driven sound soared through the popping and crackling complements by accompanying guitar and drums. It was music that the crowd swayed to; dramatic upswings carried the voices of the crowd along with Katy and reflected the sort of small town difficulties that resonate across class and creed with heart-aching familiarity. Romantic difficulties, ennui, and the rose-colored glasses that look back on the past overlaid the sometimes hypnotic, sometimes jolting soundscapes.
Anticipation for The Wrap made the wait for their appearance seem longer. Already one o’clock, many more than a hundred people were partying in full swing. The basement crowded more densely than ever to see this synth duo perform. Their immense popularity could be likened to a cult following, and everyone sang along to every song. Musically, I’d describe them as black comedy pop with mockingly sinister undertones. Topics ranged all over the place, from perspectives of a character who just turned 21 and who still lacks coherent judgment to crowd-favorite “I Wanna Be Your Bike Seat”. With the coordination of Kalcun, their extraordinarily successful alternative marketing, the divine synth accompaniments, and their hysterically satirical lyrics, it’s no wonder that they are considered one of the greatest underground acts in the area.
A DJ titled Daisy XL was slated to play for the rest of the night (possibly into the morning as Spring Forward brought 3am around quite suddenly). Lacking the stamina to carouse into sunrise, I left before seeing the last act. However, I did listen to Daisy XL later. Sometimes, the dancing beats are overlaid with weird, esoteric sounds. At other intervals, something more confrontational in the melody ignites more assertive, decisive movements. Fluid direction drives the listener forward then beckons back into contemplative, languid motion. Hearing it in hindsight, it’s plain why Daisy XL was chosen to lead Kalcun into the dawn: the deft control of their recordings insinuates the artist’s ability to guide a crowd.
When I spoke to Gabe later, he revealed the origins of Kalcun. More fortunate citizens of Kalamazoo often flew south for the college’s spring break. Gabe and his friends lacked the funds to escape the latter part of a Midwest winter, so they decided to have a party and pretend they, too, enjoyed a tropical vacation. After the first Kalcun, some years passed before The Wrap decided to throw another one. As for advertising, Gabe Hovey and Jon Follett made YouTube commercials to promote the event. The success of those videos prompted a mini web series. This year of Kalcun reveled in a famous turnout.
Gabe concluded that The Wrap enjoyed entertaining people. Most decidedly, people love to be entertained by The Wrap.
The Wrap: https://thewrap.bandcamp.com/album/replaced-by-a-machine-or-whatever
Katy Needs a Life: https://www.knal.us/
Another Mans Trash: http://anothermanstrash.bandcamp.com/