It’s close to midnight on Mother’s Day, and sons and daughters are descending into a cold, dark wine cellar in Moscow, Idaho. As they squeeze inside, packed tighter than the tobacco in their cigarettes, their excitement is the most palpable thing in the room. The sweaty odor in the humid air is coming in a close second.
Every one of them is here to see Moscow’s own Psychic Rites, an electronic three-piece that makes gloom its business and dance its product. The impatient chatter dies down as the band signals that they’re ready and fills what little of the room is left with a deep, ominous synthesizer hum.
Psychic Rites is the fourth and decidedly darkest band to play tonight, but it’s also the first band to get people moving. Members Mike Siemens, Dave Miller and Andy Schmidt craft moody, cacophonous dance music that goes heavy on the glitter. But it’s angsty. It’s shrieking. And it’s infectious.
Just eight hours earlier, keyboardist and songwriter Siemens sits on the floor of his apartment, playing an old, circuit-bent keyboard.
“Whenever anybody asks us what we sound like,” says Siemens, “I usually just say ‘neon doom disco.’” It’s a heavy-handed tag, but nothing about Siemens is remotely contrived. The spirit and the atmosphere of Psychic Rites, dark as they may be, seem totally present in him.
Not an hour later, I’m looking up at the bottom of Siemens’ shoes as we ascend a large tree in his backyard. Up at the top, roughly 75 feet in the air, is a landing that he has built — one that is surprisingly sturdy, given its haphazard placement.
Initially I refuse to go up, but Siemens isn’t having it. “You have to go up,” he tells me with a matter-of-fact charm that is hard to say no to. “The branches will catch you if you fall,” he attempts to reassure me.
Despite getting sick at the thought of the climb, I eventually say yes, and it’s because of one comment that Siemens makes off-hand: “You have to face your fears.”
We never discussed it, but Psychic Rites seems like a project that is aimed at doing just that. Clearly, the three dudes who make the music are neither as deranged nor abusive as the music they make. Psychic Rites feels like an outlet for emotions that are not easily understood and thoughts that we struggle to convey. It’s a glimpse into one small corner of the mind that is much blacker than the rest.
Or maybe it’s just a kick-ass electronic band. That’s more likely the case, at least according to 60 people in an unventilated cellar, dancing like they’re on drugs that are still illegal in Idaho.
“We’re all audiophiles,” Siemens tells me, “but not in the way that we love the pristine quality of audio. We’re more in love with the idea of audio.”
Psychic Rites have no trouble exhibiting this fetishism of sound, both on record and on stage. They’re dynamic, they’re calculated, but best of all they’re controlled. No noise goes out of place and nothing gets lost in the mix, which is something that not even many internationally recognized acts can boast.
Even still, there is a mystery and danger that comes with making electronic music that no amount of control can overcome. But Psychic Rites doesn’t seem interested in overcoming it. They use it.
In fact, many of the sounds and instruments they play were even designed by the band members themselves. As we stand in Siemens’ workshop (aka the guest bedroom in his apartment), he shows me things he’s designed and others that he’s currently working on.
“This one is a step sequencer that I designed,” he says humbly as he shows me a large plastic strip, covered in switches. I pretend to know how it works so he’ll keep talking about it.
Later, we sit at the top of his tree and he makes me sit in the “infinity chair,” undoubtedly the most cosmically named broken lawn chair strapped to a tree branch ever. It sits a few feet away from the trunk, held up by climbing ropes. It’s terrifying, yes, but something about letting go of the actual tree itself and feeling completely suspended by nature makes me enjoy the terror.
I enjoy the terror, just like a damp room full of sweaty concertgoers will enjoy it later that night.
Psychic Rites plays Volume on Fri, May 31, at 9:45 pm at the Blue Spark • 15 S. Howard • 21+