In June of last year, Jared Silvia — musician and founder of Circuit Church, an all-purpose cassette label, events series and (as far as local music goes) electronic subgenre in and of itself — made what, at the time, seemed like a bold decision: He was going to restart his collective's monthly electronics music showcase.
Silvia had been in regular contact with his "informal community" of modular synth and hardware enthusiasts throughout the early course of the pandemic — including Modal_Plane, Void Machine and Zap Danger — and they all were feeling cautiously anxious to give a live show a try.
"We were making music and collecting music but missing that instant feedback that you get when you have an audience," says Silvia. "And also, I think people were getting really just sort of tired of livestreams. It's like, how livestreams can you go to before you're like, 'OK, this is still just me sitting in my house,' you know?"
Circuit Church relaunched at its former Milk District home at the Nook on Robinson on Saturday, June 26, with performances from Fatal Flower, Void Machine and Mata Live — a sound range going from glitchy squiggles to healing ambience.
Whereas, pre-pandemic, Circuit Church was indoors on Thursdays, this was a weekend night event that sprawled out in the parking lot behind the Nook. A mobile sound system was cobbled together from Craigslist by Silvia and duly set up, and tables and chairs were schlepped outside for artists and audience. It was a free show and an early one starting at 7 p.m., no dithering as there was a 10 p.m. deadline to be courteous to neighbors.
With nothing in the way of context, the big question was: Will anyone show up?
"My feeling was, we're gonna get like five people," remembers Silvia. "We're going to be playing to, essentially, an empty parking lot. But I was happy at the moment to do that because the musicians just needed that outlet. So even if we're just gathering and playing to each other, in a sense, I felt like that was OK. At least it was giving us a chance to plug into a PA and do a performance."
And in the underground music equivalent to Field of Dreams, the audience did indeed come. In multiples of the number that came to see Circuit Church V.1 inside the Nook or even when they headlined the pavilion at Mead Botanical Garden (which, in a moment of strange foreshadowing, was the final pre-pandemic Circuit Church event).
Chalk it up to cabin fever, blind luck or a new hunger for adventurous sound on the part of a live-music-starved community. But writing as someone who regularly attends left-of-the-dial events and performers, this writer was surprised by the number of new faces (alongside the familiar ones). And many of those same people have made Circuit Church a Saturday-night ritual.
"The first one was shockingly well-attended and the thing is, I wasn't really able to fully account for that attendance," confesses Silvia. "I think that people were just so absolutely ready to go see live music and the fact that it complied with CDC guidelines. ... I think there's a pretty low bar for entry. If you show up in the parking lot, there's no charge and you can get a couple of Polar beers for like two bucks or whatever."
Electronics wizards aren't often encountered in the great outdoors, but the balmy Florida weather has been a silent partner in this enterprise.
And now here we are nine months later. Circuit Church has been held without fail the third Saturday of every month (except for December, when the appointed date basically fell on Christmas). Circuit Church was one of a number of outdoor events series that geared up during the pandemic; now it is one of the very last still going.
Performers over the last nine months have included close Silvia comrades like She Dreamed in Pixels, Berz3rk3r, Aaron's Home and Mata Live — not to mention his own post-punk project Super Passive and solo endeavor Pressurewave. But Silvia has also welcomed new performers to the Circuit Church pulpit, including TTN, Feline Conduits, Dan Reaves, Saturn Valley, Danielfuzztone and even Tampa-based synth-pop artist Whirlynn.
The Nook has been a supportive host for these events. Giving over the plum Saturday night slot to experimental music was a bit of a risk, let's be frank. "By pivoting, putting safety first, and growing their event through even more collaboration and experimentation, Circuit Church has really been able to level up," says Nook co-owner Matt Duke. "The Nook is constantly reminded how amazing of an event it is and are honored to be a part of such a special community."
"This is another area where I feel incredibly fortunate," says Silvia. "When the Nook decided to start doing events again, I know that they were making a conscious effort to limit the number of events, but to focus on the events that they really liked and one was Circuit Church. ... They gave us this prime spot, just to help encourage the kind of attendance that we're seeing. Doing it on a recurring night on a Saturday, I think, is one of those opportunities to build an audience."
And another silent partner in this whole enterprise has been ... the balmy Florida weather? This is a point of deadpan humor not lost on Silvia, as electronics wizards aren't really associated with the great outdoors.
"I want to keep doing it outdoors. Not just because of concerns about the pandemic," says Silvia. "Just to experience what it feels like to be in that sort of humid, late summer rain and still be outdoors with oscillators going out of tune and stuff.
"I really do think that Florida presents such a unique opportunity for electronic music, for outdoor performance, that very few other cities have. ... We should capitalize on it."
Attending a Circuit Church event often feels less like passively watching a performance, and almost more along the lines of an act of discovery. Even walking up to the block of Robinson Street where the shows are held, your ears will begin to detect an abstract pulse or an ambient wash drifting over trees (if you're coming from the neighborhood) or bouncing off the T.G. Lee plant. The sounds draw you in as you round the corner into the parking lot and see musicians calmly presiding over banks of electronics, keyboards or drum machines.
"There is a kind of curiosity," agrees Silvia. "And so when you go back and chase that sound down, the fact that there is someone who is actively engaged in forefront music, experimental or otherwise — that, I think, is extremely attractive.
"And it's visually stimulating, whenever possible. We have projectors against the wall for visuals either live or remotely triggered. So, we're trying our best to make it so that if someone comes in out of the sort of curiosity for 'what are these squealing synthesizer sounds coming from behind a building,' they're rewarded with something more than just, 'Oh, OK. There's someone playing some sort of abstract techno back here.'"
In a way, there might be something unique at work here, in terms of making left-field music like this open and accessible in the broadest sense of the word.
"There's also something about, like, outdoors equals public, and public equals accepted," says Silvia. "When you're in a parking lot, anyone can walk up. It's on egalitarian terrain. And that's a kind of an odd and wonderful thing too.
"When we take the kind of electronic music that relies on more experimental aspects and then put that in public places, to me that feels like a new thing. ... I think it's often been this sort of gathering of, you know, technological nerds creating music for each other."
As for the future, Sylvia and his fellow Churchgoers take things month by month, though he does offer a couple of teases. "The label continues. We have some releases slated. And we plan to continue to release cassette tapes," says Silvia. "We are currently in talks with Mead Gardens about doing another outdoor event there, although the conversation is still ongoing. But I think both groups are 100 percent down to do it. It's just we have to work out the timing and all that. ... I can say without putting anyone in an awkward position that we are planning another one at the Botanical Garden right now."
Stay tuned for more on that. But in the nearest of futures, the Saturday, Feb. 26, installment of Circuit Church features noise OG-turned-synth wizard Creep City from Jacksonville, along with locals She Dreamed in Pixels and Jream.
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