Daily Big Ears Recap: Day One

Pictures and words by Rrita Hashani and Zoe Evans.

Open your ears, folks. The Big Ears festival is being held in Knox once again, and we will be sharing reviews for each day, starting today!

Big Ears Festival is a celebration of all things music, film and art, hosted in Knoxville, Tennessee. It has been praised by the New Yorker as “the most open-minded music gathering in the country.” Since 2009, the festival puts together 100+ performances of music, film, and art over four days. It’s jammed-mf-packed. You may not think this is the festival for you, but trust us, everyone should experience Big Ears.

Tim Story

The Roedelius Cells is an octo-phonic sound experience, created by Tim Story, showing at the Knoxville Museum of Art throughout the Big Ears weekend. Story creates an immersive and contemplative environment through his use of eight speakers, positioned in a circle, facing inward. Listeners are free to roam around in the space within or outside of the circle, hearing each layer of the composition as they near each speaker. For this project, Story harvested and melded bits of unused material from recordings with his peer and collaborator Berlin Roedelius to create eight individual tracks, which then play through the speakers in cohesion. The attraction for the listener is that they may compose their own variation via traveling around the circle and listening to each speaker in their own individual order. The Roedelius Cells allows the participants to take some control of the sounds they’re hearing, in a way that not many traditional compositions allow.

Beatrice Gibson

Beatrice Gibson’s “F for Fibonacci” is a short film from 2014 which uses a discussion between a woman and a child, imagery of stock-market brokers, minecraft, and more to make obvious the patriarchal privilege and monetary greed inherent in capitalism. An underlying current of anxiety pulses continuously through the film, as the woman and child talk in relaxed tones about the child’s invented minecraft character who does whatever he wants since he is extremely wealthy. Hits a little close to home for anyone living under laissez faire economies. But, more than all this, “F for Fibonacci” is a gorgeous film which perfectly synergizes unexpected clips and footage. I wish I could have stayed to see more of Gibson’s recent shorts and her twenty-minute film “I Hope I’m Loud When I’m Dead.” If you ever have another opportunity to view her work, take it.

Avey Tare

Avey Tare is David Michael Porter, co-founder of Animal Collective, and his solo work feels like the culmination of his work with the electronic pop band. Spacey guitar pedals, meditative beats and dreamy lyrics painted his Big Ears set. The stage was minimal, only him with his instruments, but he filled it up with ambient and sometimes penetrating sounds. The lyrics illustrated a clear picture for the audience, “A sweetheart drinking lemonade / in absence of the shade… with a Norman Rockwell smile and some flarey summer flats.” But sometimes, his songs would travel like a train of thought - one thing leading into another into another and so on - slowly and then all at once, like it naturally would.

On the surface, you may not think Avey Tare may be something you’d be into. His drone-y sounds and deep bellowing turned me off at first. But after opening your ears (crowd boos) you’ll find something beautiful that you probably wouldn’t have in the first place. That’s what I love about Big Ears.


Kukangendai was my favorite set of the day. The three-piece experimental rock group is made up of Junya Noguchi on guitar and vocals, Keisuke Koyano on bass guitar and Hideaki Yamada on drums. Kukangendai hail from Tokyo, Japan and they hypnotized everyone within hearing range. The usually bustling Mill & Mine fell silent, besides yells and woos of praise.  

I had just chugged a coffee before heading into the venue and I feel like over-caffeinated was the perfect state to be in for the set. Each member synchronizes their sounds so that they match one another with bullet precision. The group communicates through non-verbal cues like head-nods and the drummer keeps rhythm without even drumming. He would go to strike the drum and then stop and then go and then stop and then go and then stop until finally boom and the band would come together into a raucous harmony.

It’s sick. I definitely felt lucky to have gone to their set, it seemed like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Check out the band on Youtube for a taste of the insanity. If you’re lucky enough to ever visit Japan, check out Kukagendai’s studio/venue in Kyoto. Soto opened in 2016 and looks like one of the go-to culture spots in the Sayko Ward. But first - definitely check out their music.

Very Very Hot Evil

Knoxville local and good friend Paul Royse performs as Very Very Hot Evil and it’s like, hot. His set at the Pilot Light was packed and packed tight, so like, it was actually hot.

Royse describes himself on his Facebook as “Punk Debussy” and that feels just right. He’s a demon on the piano with the voice of an angel :,). Eli Stanfield, another friend of Grlsplain, described the speed of his fingers on the keys as, “The thunder that follows the lightning.”

What we love most is Paul’s lyrics. His lyrics acknowledge the humor within negative feelings like sadness and frustration. “Can anyone tell me how to be a better piece of shit?” and “Tell me, who else can’t tell anybody no? When I say that I don’t just mean it in a sexual way” are some personal favs.

Check out his single on Taped Records to get a piece of that very, very hot stuff.