Published October 9, 2013
If one were to imagine what a band named Bastardgeist might sound like, certain styles come to mind. Maybe some punishing noise, or mutant grindcore, or dark, doomy metal. So it comes as a surprise, at first, to open the box of aural treasures that Bastardgeist, aka mild-mannered Chicago resident Joel Midden, entails.
“There was this blog I was reading when I started making this music,” he explains, “in the first apartment that I lived in after I moved out of my parents’ house. It was this really old Victorian house in Bowling Green, Ohio where I grew up, that was insanely haunted. Weird shit would happen all the time. Also I was in a weird, dark place at the time. The blog may or may not have been written by Stanley Donwood, who did a lot of the Radiohead artwork. He would talk about a spirit called the Bastardgeist, and I really liked the word and it just kind of stuck with me.”
Midden talks quickly, his eyes darting around the Laundromat cafe, sipping a raspberry smoothie. He seems relaxed, content, and light years away from that period of his life. This isn’t the first time he’s been to Iceland. “We played Airwaves a few years ago,” he recounts. “I remember playing in, like, a hair salon, and there was somebody getting a haircut literally five metres away from me while we were playing. But everyone was so attentive to what we were doing. It’s like SXSW and those kind of things are supposed to be like. We played four shows, two in hostel venues, then our official show at Faktorý, and then in the salon.” And how did Airwaves compare to other festivals? “It had a harmonious kind of atmosphere, from front to back,” Midden says, smiling. “Other festivals seem like more of a hustle—Airwaves was really laid back and it felt like I was both a performer and someone who just there at the festival enjoying it, there was no segregation between the bands and the crowd, it was really seamless.”
The experience of being in Iceland stuck with him. “Being in Iceland felt a bit surreal and hard to process immediately,” he says. “I can see how people come here during Airwaves and come away with a vision of it as a kind of playground with everyone celebrating. But I don’t know if that’s what it’s like to be here or just part of how the Iceland Airwaves festival feels.” He pauses, looking into the distance and mulling it over. “I wanted to come back and play again, and investigate that and see if it… was real,” he says, slowly and deliberately. “If it all really happened how I remembered it, and if it’s like that all the time. I don’t wanna say anything cheesy like “it draws you back,” but as soon as we were back on the Flybus today it was that same visceral kind of experience being here. And when you’re gone, it’s easy to think being in Iceland was like a dream. So I wanted to come back and see.”
He’s here to play songs from his new album ‘Infinite Lives,’ released this week. “The first record that I did was, equally by design and necessity, very lo-fi. When I started making ‘Infinite Lives’ I wanted to do something more lush sounding, big sounding, more symphonic, more of a high-fidelity experience. Whenever I start, it never comes out like I planned it—recording is an evolving process, as it is for anyone I guess. Bastardgeist feels like a different project than it was before. I don’t feel like it has a set identity, it’s more like just what’s coming out of me at any given point.”
His live setup has evolved alongside the recordings. “Back in the States, it’s no longer solo—it’s really grown in scale,” he explains. “I play with a nine to thirteen piece ensemble. But when I’m travelling solo as I am now, I use the laptop to preserve the feeling of the album. I try to balance the electronic and sample-based portions of it with something that’s immediate and captivating, like the solo kalimba playing.” He talks about the visuals, created by New York drag and performance artist Colin Self. “Hopefully it all communicates the record as accurately as possible,” he finishes. And if the show even approaches the orchestral sound of ‘Infinite Lives,’ it’ll be a mesmerizing spectacle indeed.