THURSDAY, 10:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 24
Old City Hall, 814 Saginaw St.
Valley Hush (Detroit)
Less than a year since they played their debut show, this Detroit quartet has been making waves around the region for their evocative fusion of electronica, pop, and indie rock. Multi-instrumentalist and producer Alex Kaye crafts a synesthetic kaleidoscope of sounds, upon which Lianna Vanicelli lays her sultry and silken vocals. With two EPs under their belt — To Feel Small and, more recently, Don’t Wait — the group is steeped in dynamics, brushing subtleties against washes of vivid textures. Gloppy beats, sensual rhythms, and scintillating synths are the group’s hallmarks. The template is given an edge with Kaye’s guitar prowess, ranging from prog-rock tones to bluesy. With her serpentine pipes, Vanicelli is by turns predatory (“Black Sea”), yearning (“Healthy Hours”), tender (“Raw Form”), playful (“Journey Into Golden”), and seductive (“Bedrooms”). When it all comes together in a live setting, the quartet holds audiences in rapt attention, flowery vines draped on their instruments and incense smoke curling up to facilitate the ambiance. For heralding in the music side of HHMX, there’s no better band to lure you down the rabbit hole with a come-hither beckoning.
FRIDAY, 3:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 25
Electric Kitsch, 917 Washington Ave.
Hailey Wojcik (voy-check) may build her songs on a foundation of darkness. Yet she shines brightly with her ability to turn what might be considered creepy into cute with whimsical and witty wordplay over solid punk-pop riffs. If you’re looking to satisfy your hankering for break-up songs and poetic balladry, we suggest you witness “the Wednesday Addams of her genre” unleash he inner goth girl as she takes the Kitsch stage for an intensely honest and intimate afternoon performance.
FRIDAY, 5:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 26
Harless+Hugh Coffee, 1003 Washington Ave.
The shimmering psych-folk that is the trademark sound of Detroit singer-songwriter Loretta Lucas is as melodic as it is hypnotic. Whether she’s exhibiting her skills on autoharp, ukulele, synthesizer, or showcasing a precise command of natural, smooth vocals, she’s sure to coax listeners into a trance-like state while they experience her unique and thoughtful compositions.
FRIDAY, 9 p.m. Friday, Sept. 25
Empire Room, 1205 Washington Ave.
Ampersand Castles (Bay City)
Consider this trio Bay City’s resident super group, comprising veterans of some premiere groups from the area. Handling lead vocals, guitars, and synths is Trevor Edmonds, known as one of the architects of Grand Rapids-based HHM alum Tokyo Morose. Manning the drum kit is the always-frenetic Cody Marecek, who made a name for himself as the percussionist in YUM. Holding down the steady bass lines is Aaron Cianek, previously a sideman to Andy Reed’s An American Underdog project. After a brief but focused gestation, the group made their debut at an HHM Indie Music Showcase in May, blowing away the audience with their deft textures and space-rock qualities. With their captivating interplay, they shift from proggy shoegaze, to synth pop, to balls-out rocking, pulling from their diverse experience to craft something entirely new. This gig marks their second show and you can bet on them being an aural spectacle to behold.
Pink Lightning (Detroit)
The off-kilter influences factoring into Pink Lightning’s modus operandi are astounding. The quintet wrangles, subdues, gnaws on, slurps down, and spits back a demented mélange of sounds. They have the sheer weirdness of Captain Beefheart, the passion of the Clash, and the gypsy-punk vibe of Gogol Bordello, yet they plunge into a darker realm than those comparisons allow for. Built upon Leo McWilliams’ accordion and frontman Chris Butterfield’s unhinged charisma, they enthrall as they crank up the fervor. Their brand of cabaret occupies an alternate timeline where the world is nothing but carnival freakshows and seedy burlesque clubs. They’ve released two LPs and live, they’re incendiary enough to burn venues to the ground. Theatrical to its core and not for the faint of heart.
Cold Blood Club (New York City)
Cold Blood Club is the band you want to play your end-of-the-world rooftop party as an asteroid burns through the atmosphere. The seven-member Manhattan troupe is apocalyptic in their revelry, fun as hell without being light. Having a blast is treated earnestly and with gravitas (sounds oxymoronic, yes, but it’ll make sense once you’ve seen them). Think of them as aggressive new wave or heavy noir pop, their sound a nocturnal affair. Shimmering synths, surging rhythms, hard-hitting percussion, shredded guitars, an evocative violin, and dueling male-female vocals compel you to dance without concern for whatever might travail you. Theirs is a world where hangovers be damned, so join them in the decadence they unfurl.
Whether spitting rhymes over vintage, soul-inflected soundtracks or rapping amid a barrage of layered synths and crashing beats, this duo is dynamic in all facets. Composed of Brent “Blak” Smith and Bryan “Mister” Lackner, Passalacqua are smooth-groovers whose artistry is paramount and infectious. Trading off vocals, they rhapsodize social commentary narratives, introspective examinations, and chronicle the simple joys of camaraderie. Live, they break down the barrier between performers and audience, engaging the crowd with confetti cannons, cardboard masks, and self-deprecating patter between songs. Longtime friends of HHM, they’ve played several Indie Music Showcases but this is their first time playing the actual festival.
SATURDAY, 1 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 27
Harless+Hugh Coffee, 1003 Washington Ave.
Though he now resides in Nashville, Nathan K.’s muse is firmly planted in his native Michigan. With soul-searing lyrical directness and evocative melodies, Nathan’s songs deftly capture the marble cake nature of joy and nostalgia. It’s a subdued approach he brings, but don’t let that belie the gravitas which pervades his tunes. Catch him early Saturday afternoon before you see him perform as the guitarist of HHMX headliners Stepdad.
SATURDAY, 4:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 27
Electric Kitsch, 917 Washington Ave.
Rustic folk, dirty blues, and alt. country, all filtered through an indie mindset, are this Detroit quartet’s stock and trade. Led by the dueling and harmonizing vocals of Holly Bernt and Kevin Kline, their sound is steeped in a vintage atmosphere of saloons, juke joints, or rural jailhouses. Lush and vibrant, Woven Tangles are nothing short of captivating with their revival of rural Americana traditionalism.
SATURDAY, 9 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 27
Masonic Temple Blue Room, Madison Ave. & Sixth Street
Describing this trio is no easy task. Suffice to say, what they play is a vein of impossible-to-pigeonhole/lo-fi ambient jazz noise rock. Their EP Heavy, released earlier this year, is suitably named, composed of a single 21-minute long suite with three distinctive movements blending seamlessly together. From gently cascading melodies to blistering bouts of riffing to trance-inducing pulsations, Pines does it all, and they do it all in stellar fashion. Be forewarned, when they play, they play LOUD.
Valentiger (Grand Rapids)
You could label this trio alt. country, occupying the same realm as Wilco and Ryan Adams. With their vocal harmonies, pastoral textures, and rustic vibe, they certainly fit this bill. At the same time, the tag does this trio a disservice in limiting the scope of their range. Add in their rollicking rhythms, insouciant approach and stage presence, and revved up energy, they flick the switch between acoustic balladry and driving rock. They’ve released three acclaimed albums thus far, most recently 2014’s Stray Animals, so you know they’re doing something right. Actually, they’re doing everything right.
The Lippies (Grand Rapids)
Old school punk is thriving in the veins of this Grand Rapids quartet. Concrete-fracturing basslines, shockwave drumming, and frenzied guitars compose the platform from which vocalist Tonia Broucek projects her scathing pipes. That’s not to say their sound is too aggressive or overtly hardcore. On the contrary, there’s a strong sense of melody and earworming hooks in each of their tunes. Feminist and empowering in the tradition of the DIY/riot grrrl movements, they are a firebrand of contagious energy live. Having formed in late 2014, they released their self-titled debut EP in December.
Stepdad are a mainline shot of pure sugar in the synth pop confectionary. The quartet purvey 8-bit anthems, tailor-made to get you dancing in a communal bout of camaraderie. Ryan McCarthy’s melodic synth bursts and singer ultramark’s wide vocal range are the forefront of the group’s sound, with Nathan K.’s guitar lines and drummer Ben Weissenborn expanding their musical tableau. Odds are you’ve heard their songs in various video games or commercials, or any number of TV shows, most notably in the series finale of Showtime’s “Weeds.” Try listening to the bouncy pop of “My Leather, My Furs, My Nails” or the mystical grooves of “Must Land Running” and not feel a galvanizing force stir inside you.
Secret Show – come to the fest to find out when/where
Nigel and the Dropout
Think of an art show at once visually, aurally, and intellectually stimulating and you behold Nigel & the Dropout. A projected light show of images flutter about the duo of Nigel Hemmye and Andrew “the Dropout” Ficker as they conjure a whirlwind of sounds to match. Hammering percussion and Ficker’s virtuoso guitar prowess are front and center, with Hemmye’s evocative synth lines and danceable beats serving as the construct’s bedrock. Yet in the gooey core of their experimental carapace is a decidedly punk aesthetic, conveyed with their DIY approach and Flicker’s sneering vocals. With three full-lengths and an EP released in rapid succession, the twosome has a symbiotic chemistry, clear both on record and on stage. Where can you see this transcendent spectacle during HHM? Well, that’s a mystery, but keep your ear to the ground and you’ll hear the right notes leading you to their cave of dulcet tunes.