Monday, June 11, 2018

Insomnia in Seattle: Wychdoktor at Mechanismus

With the Wychdoktor having been summoned to Seattle to perform, I have volunteered myself to document the experience with my pen and camera. Sitting with some small misgivings in Ottawa International, apocalyptic squalls bear down on Toronto. A series of flight delays and cancellations cause any attempts to get airborne to be ultimately abortive; Wychdoktor and the lady get on their plane, only to spend some two odd hours on the tarmac before turning around and deplaning.

One disoriented awakening at four-thirty a.m. the following morning later, I am back to the airport to attempt the odds once again. With only a slight amount of trepidation, my patience at the gate in McDonald-Cartier International is rewarded with the very last seat in cattle class on the three deep on each side Airbus to Vancouver.

Still sleep-drunk and crammed between a quiet businessman and a briefly wretching blonde, I resume Pale Fire by the incomparable Vladimir Nabokov before switching to Blade Runner 2049, then back to dozing as I feel my eyelids begin to grow heavy. Travelling against the natural flow of time, I am only the slightest bit wide-eyed when Pale Fire makes an appearance on-screen in the film (“Uncanny”, I whisper to myself with due apropos.) Relapsing back into some kind of Replicant stupor, my legs look forward to the end of their confinement.

Deplaning in Vancouver leaves me with a lingering sense of anxiety and existential dread; I find myself looking for spectres that will never pursue me here, that I will never chance across here, but my eyelids are hooded, and my heart is hungry. (Forget the Doppelgänger of a guy you once called your best friend passing by you in the bar in Ottawa only some small hours ago. You didn’t let your gaze linger, and neither did he.) I am unable to find, to trace these phantoms into reality here in Vancouver, but this city, like so many—like all others on Earth—only induce an awareness of loss, disconnection, and alienation. (Barrie, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec City, Calgary, Banff, Vancouver, and before long, others too, I can imagine.) I think about the Klonopin in my bag—think about the fact that I could really and truly kill for a beer right now, despite the fact that it’s nine-thirty in the morning on the Pacific coast. My instinct towards these two molecules is fraught with the potential for inconceivable trouble, agony, death, and suffering, but as my defence so often goes these days, I am just doing what it takes to survive. Deprived of the chance for ethanolic exuberance, I plod to the gate with my companions, tonguing a tab, terrified and tremulous of what—who—might come around the next corner.

The flight to Seattle-Tacoma is wide open, and spends less than an hour in the air before plunging back to earth. Seattle’s airport is heretofore unknown to me, and a quick exit to the ground level results in only a minor wait for the festival’s organized ride to arrive, much to my delight. With ‘Move On’ by KMFDM blaring, they fly down the highway to downtown, drop us off at our hotel, and bid us farewell. However, upon reaching the front desk, we find our room isn’t ready until three, and it’s only just past noon now.

Entrusting our bags to the hotel’s bellhops, we sojourn down to Pike Place Market, which on a sunny Saturday is swarming with locals and tourists, and is nigh-intraversable. Waddling through squat crowds searching out fresh seafood—really fresh seafood—and more coffee than any sane person could shake a stick at, I find my irritability growing, thinking only of the first ethanol miracle of the day. After belated further searching, we finally settle on some hip and ethical restaurant (20% gratuity included—of course) and dine on fine fare (pulled pork and pickled greens on a brioche, coupled with a local IPA). We slap an ooluu and Wychdoktor sticker on a nearby signpost, and I take a quick photo for posterity’s sake.

With food in our bellies, it’s time to head to the venue for Wychdoktor’s soundcheck (a quick line-in and line check—fucking electronic musicians). Arriving, I am sporting my Wychdoktor t-shirt and trying to ensure my camera is working correctly. Wychdoktor is having some trouble getting his beats to the front of house, but after some quick debugging by the sound tech, a faulty USB cable is cut from the mix and solves the mystery. Ready to rock, we vacate the venue and hop in an Uber to Target, in hopes of wine and other such necessary accoutrements.

The Uber to the Target is helpfully redirected when the driver informs us there are dispensaries within reach, and offers to take us to one a few short minutes from our previous destination. Back at the hotel, Wychdoktor and the lady retire for a nap, both fighting off some malaise with Target cough syrup and a little R&R.

I take this opportunity to start writing this account of the voyage. Cracking a beer, I down the fruity IPA in a stemless wine glass, slivers of daylight piercing through the drawn curtains. Realizing the time for the free wine tasting in the lobby is among us, I tell Wychdoktor I’m going to sample their wares. However, when the elevator doors open, I realize this is more a wine drinking hour than a wine tasting hour. The room is packed with young and old travellers alike taking advantage of the generous pours. Selecting a syrah from Washington’s Walla Walla region, I am given a healthy splash of wine—nearly to the brim—and so stand gormlessly by the wine and water, gurgling on the mellow red contemplatively. I manage to make the glass last some ten odd minutes before splitting, thanking the obliging wine wench with a “Thank you, miss”, heading back upstairs to finish my IPA, and realizing that the grille on the fireplace looks really, really phallic.

Wychdoktor and the lady are stirring when I return, and I’m feeling only slightly self-conscious from my stag attendance of the wine swallowing, as well as my lack of chic frames. I start to fiddle with the Canon and the Rode mic, testing some parameters and irritating the ever camera shy Wychdoktor in the process. We crack the complimentary pinot gris the hotel put on ice for us, and I pour Wychdoktor a hearty glass as he does his pre-show shave. Another IPA disappears, and the gears start to turn. I summon an Uber and we head to the venue, the night upon us.

A street vendor shooting wild espresso is the prefatory stop. Ordering a single espresso, the tiny little shot nestled in the diminutive porcelain cup explodes with raucous salty warmth, giving way to the dark, roasted mocha. Regretting only slightly the fact that I passed on the soda back, one of the pre-rolls meets a lighter, and I dutifully puff away before passing it along. Now approaching the twenty-four hour mark of no sleep, this espresso is single-handedly combatting the beer, wine, weed, and final few molecules of Klonopin still lingering in my system.

The venue is packed when we arrive, and we find a pair of bar stools to rest our weary legs in anticipation of the venerable Wychdoktor’s set. Feeling conspicuously stoned, and definitely dehydrated, the bartender shows me where the communal water canteen is at the end of the bar. Downing the contents of my cold cup greedily, I am conscious of the fact I can’t keep burning the candle at both ends if I want to shoot the set properly. The other openers are well-intentioned, but against the tribal might of the Wychdoktor, they ultimately fall far short.

When it’s finally time for him to take the stage, I swoop in, unapologetic with the bulky Canon and attached mic. With an anticlimactic intro from the MC, Wychdoktor launches into his set, shrouded in a sleeveless hooded robe and a black mask, slowly swaying to the ethereal ambiance spilling across the crowd. When he drops the beat, the lights begin to pulse and flicker, and the screen behind him becomes a panorama of occult and shamanic images. The crowd is thick and densely packed in the narrow length of the bar. With such a visceral element in the music, it is in watching the Wychdoktor sway, entranced, that I—that the crowd—can register the magic, the sonic spell being cast on all the witnesses convoked.

Unfortunately, the video is stuck on the play menu, and so dashing off to find the organizer, I find him near the entrance to the washrooms. “Is the sound guy there?” he asks me—I tell him I’m unsure, and that I don’t know definitively. Leaning over, the organizer points out a guy in a cap and says, “That’s him,” and gives me his name. A little irked by the fact that I’m the one who's fixing this organizational technical trouble, I hoof it to the sound booth and tap him on the shoulder. “Hey man, his DVD is stuck on the play menu!” I shout into his ear. “That’s just what it’s doing,” he shouts back uselessly, but not believing him, I add, “You can see the play button in the corner of the screen!” I’m more or less shrugged off, but when I reestablish myself in the crowd, it appears I was able to entice him into trying the play button once again, because the full video is now playing as it should.

Several new tunes span the set, all chaotic, dense, throbbing, and raw. It’s when Hexen starts that the crowd starts to really groove, as the heavy side-chaining on the synths drone in delirious cacophony. As the crowd feeds off the beat, a contented grin spreads across Wychdoktor’s features, having shed the black plastic mask, the lights and swaying having taken their toll on his temperature.

When the set ends, Wychdoktor gives a small wave and smile to the crowd, who cheer uproariously for the northern medicine man. Going up to the stage, I offer to grab gear, but Wychdoktor’s got a handle on it, so I tell him to meet me at the merch table. It only takes ten odd seconds to get to the tables at the back of the room, but when I do, there’s already a small group queueing in front of the Hexen and Inferno CDs spread across the table. Shuffling behind the table, I start taking orders, most people taking one of each, often giving a $20 and refusing their $5 in change, demanding, “Keep it!”

I’m asked more than once if I’m Wychdoktor, to which I grin and say, “No, but he’ll be over in a bit; he’s just grabbing his gear. Besides,” I add to one interlocutor, “wouldn’t I be a bit of a douchebag if I was wearing my own t-shirt?” The interlocutor asks, “What?”, and I just laugh and answer, “Never mind.”

After a few more minutes of grinning vapidly and letting retail-me out of my cage, Wychdoktor appears with his gear, still sweat-licked. Several people come to him in sequence to gush about the set, and deservedly so. Ever humble, he thanks them all with true enthusiasm. After the fans get their fill, the lady comes and tells us she’s going back to crash at the hotel, and so bidding her goodnight, us lads keep the party going. The roll en route to the venue has left me lightheaded, and so despite my earlier plans of really painting the town red, I’ve stuck to water since we arrived.
When the last of the Wychdoktor merch is sold, cold hard cash in pocket, I put some ANTEDILUVIAN promos out on the now empty section of the merch table. People cruising by are occasionally confused by this CD—the band’s not even on the bill, and so some feel compelled to ask either what it is, or how much it costs. Those who ask are truthfully told it’s a band Wychdoktor plays guitar and bass in, and that it’s a free promo. Every one of the discs is a seed being sent into the void—just some sharpie-labelled CDs with a two-sided insert with the cover and a track listing. Whenever someone inquires, I grin—I know they’ve effected a quantum certitude, and can now fear the flood the same as we hidden ooluu heathens.
I tell Wychdoktor we need to go outside and light another roll. With his set behind him, he agrees, and we head out into the cool warmth of the pacific night. Lighting the lance, I pass it to Wychdoktor, and he partakes of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. The night is quiet, but alive; goths have gathered to smoke, some poor bum literally trying to sleep in an alcove near a shop door tucked away from the street. I tell Wychdoktor he fucking killed it tonight—probably two hundred or more people were present, and loved it—love it.

The night has imparted a sense of exhilaration; to now be exhaling and drinking in the night is a moment of nigh-post-coital clarity—world spinning, just as it ought to be. After we finish our heart to heart and the spinning, we head back inside to check out the headliners, but after a few more songs, we’re both at our limit. Wychdoktor goes to say goodbye, yet after fifteen or so minutes, he's still gone, and I am fading fast, the twenty-four plus hours spent awake now truly catching up with me. I look into the crowd, check out the washroom corridor—nothing. As I start to give up any hope of ever collapsing in bed, Wychdoktor surfaces, apologizing. We grab our affects, hop into an Uber, and in fifteen minutes are back in the hotel, out cold.


The next morning is comprised of a gentle awakening into muscular agony; I’ve been clenching my jaw and/or sleeping on my neck funny, and am wholly deprived of anything like ibuprofen, clever man that I am in my travelling. I sneak into the bathroom to take an only slightly hung over shower, tailbone on the tub, water blasting down on me and beading on my skin. I crawl back into bed—try to be very still, with my neck very straight. Another hour creeps by. I try to check in to my flight—fail. My eyes water. I try to sleep some more. Wychdoktor and the lady finally stir, and make plans for breakfast. Having grabbed a banana and a carbonated grapefruit juice at Target the day before, I opt out of breakfast and opt in to squeezing in a few more winks.

With the hotel room to myself, I end up going downstairs to the street to finish the final pre-roll, which upon completion, slowly lets the tension headache fade away. Returning to the room, I take a second shower, this time actually washing my hair, and get into my travelling clothes—navy Lacoste polo, mottled grey chinos, black suede desert boots. There’s still half a bottle of pinot gris left, as well as four IPAs, but thinking better of it, my stomach still aflutter, just leave them for the lucky cleaners.

I hit the bricks and head to the LRT a few blocks away, deciding a $30 Uber is less preferable to a $3 fare, and not having to rush, can see a bit more of the city before my final departure. The LRT’s carriages are relatively full, but as Mariners fans eke out at the stadium, I find seating and pull out my camera to get a few shots of the city rolling by.

I clear security in a few princely minutes, thanks to my NEXUS card, and pull up a seat at a random coffee shop to review the footage from the other night over a breakfast sandwich and iced coffee, simple syrup and cinnamon drizzled on top. Opening the first file, the video is in focus and the audio is clear and punchy—beautiful.

The flight to Vancouver is short, and I find myself once again disquieted by my return to this particular square of spacetime. I hide from myself until they call my name to board, and I am thankfully en route to Ottawa thirty minutes later, though the lingering sense of unease remains. We touch down at 1:30 in the morning, and I am fortunately in time to catch the final bus back to my abode, and am in bed by 2:00, asleep by 2:30.

The bed is familiar, but I have become a stranger to myself, some lasting trauma still clinging to the air and airports of the world. I never know who I’ll run into—who I might find again. That fear—that hope—is the enemy. And I cannot afford to forget that.