On a blustery Sunday night in Asheville, NC, the rolling mountain winds lulled the Wortham Center for the Performing Arts into a hypnotic slumber to dream the electric dreams of Hypnotic Theatre. Organized by VJ Tenorless, whose credits include shows with Tipper and Jade Cicada, the event was meant to highlight the works of visual artists alongside electronic music DJs. Somatoast, Dillard, Entangled Mind, and Maxfield handled the music while Tenorless, Oneirogen, The Void, and Papa Bear took care of the visual accompaniment.

Nothing about Hypnotic Theatre was like a typical concert. For starters, the event was held at the Wortham Center for the Performing Arts, a stately and ornate theater tucked away in a nook in downtown Asheville. The venue is normally used for live theater, speaking events, dance recitals, and other sophisticated cultural activities, but on Sunday night, we classed up the joint possibly more than the typical Ted X speaking engagement. Ahead of the show, Tenorless announced that formal attire was encouraged given the sophisticated nature of the evening’s event. Upon entering the venue for the pre-show cocktail hour, those who went in the dapper direction breathed a sigh of relief after seeing that most everyone had followed the wardrobe assignment.

There are many ways to prepare for a concert. There’s the tried and true method of drinking beer in the parking lot, or you can go out for a nice meal to get some energy for the evening ahead. Some who have been in the game long enough wisely do yoga or pre-show stretching (we’re all getting old, but it sure beats the alternative) and other brazen folks walk in right at showtime when the lights are about to dim. But I’d probably wager most attendees of Sunday’s show don’t typically dress their best, walk a red carpet (yes, there was an actual red carpet for our own Asheville Academy Awards), and snack on delicious and nutritious vegan hors d’oeuvre, while sipping wine and perusing fine art. The pre-show cocktail hour set a tone of class, grace, and overall decorum that seemed to bolster the crowd’s enthusiasm about dressing for the occasion, adding an element of elegance akin to holding your pinky out while sipping a beverage.

The other key difference between this show and any other electronic music concert was that this was a seated affair. Just like the recommended dress, Tenorless had specifically instructed everyone to sit down, kick back, and allow themselves to focus on the visual elements. As Tenorless—aka Joe Vassar—had explained to me days before the event, a lot of times at a regular show it’s difficult to fully absorb the visuals while gyrating around the crowded dancefloor. The music itself followed suit, setting a downtempo tone to further the evening’s visually immersive intentions.

Finally, it was time for the show to begin. While 2,300 miles away, Jimmy Kimmel was kicking off the Oscars, we in Asheville had our own celebration of moving pictures. Beginning our feature presentation in the Diana Wortham Theatre was Maxfield paired with the visuals of Papa Bear. The Boston-based Maxfield was an idyllic scene-setter for the evening, his atmospheric downtempo beats gradually drawing the hushed audience into his environment and sprinkling us into the soundscape like droplets of rain. In a similar vein, onscreen granular visual effects took their time to build up only to become as densely layered as a sand-filled beach. Growing in intensity, Maxfield’s melodies inherently revealed his virtuosic guitar training—he studied at Berklee College of Music before being ensnared by electronic music—and even included distinct nods to Pink Floyd’s “Echoes”. If you’re playing a seated audiovisual event, it’s only fitting to tip your cap to the laser rock concert OGs.

Up next was Entangled Mind and VJ The Void. Also hailing from Boston like Maxfield, Entangled Mind proved a contrast to the previous pair. Whereas Maxfield incorporated the modern sounds of distant fuzzy guitars, Entangled Mind reached back centuries to create their soundscapes using time-honored organic instruments. The second set dialed up the bass frequencies and took forays into deep house as distant female voices were paired with visuals exploring the evolution of the human spirit. The Void’s visuals were engrossing and impressionistic, at times like living inside of a Van Gogh painting. By this point in the program, it had become evident that the journey of the Hypnotic Theatre was about becoming engrossed in the stories the visual artists were telling just as much as it was about the creations of the musical acts.

Following a brief intermission, it was time for the exciting conclusion of the story. Denver’s Dillard and Fort Collins’ Oneirogen were the penultimate pairing of the evening and signaled an artistic shift from the first two acts. While Maxfield and Entangled Mind’s music was more atmospheric and immersive, Dillard and the ultimate Somatoast set were forward-facing performances that dialed up the liquid bass, glitches, snaps, crackles, and pops to really test the audience’s resolve to remain “fully seated.” Visually, Oneirogen continued the pattern of bar-raising that had gone on unabated the entire night. Early in the set, Oneirogen presented the image of an ornate, infinite staircase like something out of the ending of Titanic. This visual manifestation proved to be the final portal before the Wortham entered the dream state at the pinnacle of the Hypnotic Theatre.

Closing out the evening was the man of the hour, Tenorless, who was fittingly paired with another of Asheville’s finest, Somatoast. Their performance was the culmination of everything building in the Wortham that night. Stylistic droplets from each of the evening’s acts—Maxfield’s ambient psychedelia, Entangled Mind’s ancient organic instrumentation, and Dillard’s fully liquified frequency soup—all came together for a performance that finally broke the crowd and sent dozens of people out of their seats—a cathartic release of energy that had been reluctantly contained throughout the night. Meanwhile onscreen, Tenorless fully embraced the familiar spiral lines most commonly associated with hypnotism, which proceeded to gradually engulf the surreal world he had created. With the textures of both the music and sound so clearly defined, working so perfectly in tandem as a single audiovisual force, the dream for the evening felt fully realized.

And then, just like a real dream, we all woke up and it was over.

Returning to our conscious state, it was time to crack open the dream journal and reflect on what we experienced. What was there to learn from the Hypnotic Theatre and its study of electric dreams? This was the literal realization of one specific person’s dream: Tenorless. In a culture that can at times be admittedly oversaturated with art—be that from show posters, to live painters, to performing artists, to visual artists, to all of the beautiful people who color this scene with the paint swatches of their personalities—it can be too easy to mindlessly consume someone else’s intimate creative expressions. What Hypnotic Theatre gave us all was an opportunity to take a seat, take a breath, and truly take in someone’s deepest declaration an artist’s imagination. That’s a dream we can all hope to make a reality, no hypnosis necessary.

Check out some videos from the Hypnotic Theatre below along with images courtesy of photographers Drew Stevens and Liz Buckner.


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