Patrick Hambrecht first caught the attention of music fans in Jersey City as the frontman of the apocalyptic psych-rock band Flaming Fire. Hambrecht’s taste for signal processing and sonic experimentation — not to mention off-kilter songwriting and general delightful weirdness — made Flaming Fire a favorite of the free-form deejays on WFMU. Lately, Hambrecht has turned his attention to electronic music, and he’s been putting his newest mad science on display at Jersey City’s own Zip Zap Vroom, a roving party of his own devising.
Since the inaugural event at The Dopeness last summer (now The Citizen), Hambrecht and co-organizer Michael Zurek have hosted three other Zip Zap Vroom events in town, and made one detour to the Pine Barrens. Zip Zap Vroom number 5, which happens this Saturday, March 19, is a full-fledged electronic music and film festival, including performances by Hambrecht’s new project Outsekt, VJ Jim Tuite and DJ Chanski, homebrew synthesizer master Leon Dewan, electro-experimentalist Bryan Zimmerman, and the uncategorizable Camilla Ha (pictured above), who’ll play new music to new film she’s put together. There’s even a kid’s dance party before the electronic acts take the stage. It all goes down at Halftime Bar and Grill, a new spot at 746 West Side Avenue; the family event kicks off at 5 pm, and the rest of the performers start at 6:30 pm. The suggested donation is $10 per person (or per family if you’re coming early for the dance party.) We spoke to organizer Patrick Hambrecht to get the lowdown on the event.
Tell us about Halftime. Is this a new performance venue? Are acts getting booked there regularly? What made you choose it for Zip Zap Vroom?
It’s a neighborhood bar, but people have been using the backroom there. It has a huge projection screen and some smaller screens, too. We wanted to have VJs as well as DJs, and make this a visual experience as well as a musical one, so this is perfect for us. Nothing against rock clubs, but we really needed a place where we could control as much of the environment as we could, and Halftime lets us do that.
We’ve done Zip Zap Vroom at Halftime before, and it was a big success. We hung up one poster in front of the bar, and people came to check out what we were doing. I don’t think they knew any of the musicians performing or anything. There’s usually nothing going on in the West Side. People just wanted to come to see something happening, which was great.
People still think of you as a badass noise-rock frontman and bandleader. What drew you to electronic music?
Honestly, among other things, I love the economics of it. I love that you don’t have to pay three hundred to five hundred dollars for a big practice space. It seems utilitarian and working-class. You know, if you think about it, it costs a lot to do a rock gig — you have to get everybody together, load all of your stuff in a big van and get across town and back. With electronic music, people are basically mixing their own shows. You’re your own soundman. You’re controlling the pace of the show and the sound, adding the psychedelic effects yourself.
Scott Williams of WFMU put a show together at Monty Hall last year, and that was the first time I ever did an electronic music performance. I’d seen Michael Zurek play at the Lamp Post, rest in peace, and we got along really well. And in addition to being an amazing theremin player, he knows everybody in electronic music. I know funky rockers, mostly, but he knows people on the avant garde side of techno. We’ve been able to bring really talented people to Zip Zap Vroom and put on a varied festival.
What’s an Outsekt performance like? How does the electronic Patrick Hambrecht project fit in with the rest of Zip Zap Vroom? Are fans of Flaming Fire going to be surprised?
I’ll be playing with the guy I started Flaming Fire with. I’m going to be releasing a cassette soon, because it’s more affordable than pressing up vinyl, and it’s music I’ve recorded over the last year with Flaming Fire people, using handmade analog synths. The scene isn’t really all that different — it’s still a bunch of intertwined bands who record in the basement for the love of it. Lots of improvised music, nothing about the industry or anything like that.
Zip Zap Vroom is a really friendly event. The music is really exciting and happy, and you can feel the enthusiasm of the musicians who are doing it. And it’s a visual experience, too, because so many of the artists have synced their performance to film, or they’re veejaying. It’s fun, and you’re in a group of people who really do love music and creativity.
How long have you been in Jersey City? What drew you here from New York, and why did you pick the West Side?
My wife and I came here in 2005, and we brought about half of Flaming Fire with us. Before that, we were in Brooklyn, and I think we had to move three times in one year because every place we were was getting turned into condominiums. The deejays at WFMU had been so supportive of our music, and they brought us out here and showed us around town. It really had a neighborhood feel. It seemed like everything that was departing Brooklyn was alive here.
Even if I was to be a total pessimist and assume that the same thing that happened to Brooklyn will inevitably happen to Jersey City, I think that the West Side and Greenville have a good ten to twenty years for the arts to flourish. I think the best years are ahead, and that’s going to be fun to watch.
What inspired you to add a family hour at 5 pm before the festival? What’s that going to be like, and what’s the connection to Zip Zap Vroom?
I promise we’re not going to play really irritating kids’ music. It’s going to be cool. So many of the people I know have kids, and I thought this would be a way to further connect the event with the community. That’s why we’re doing it early: parents can watch their kids dance around, and then the show will come right after that. And if the families want to stay, well, electronic music is all g-rated — because there’s no words!
Zip Zap Vroom #5: Jersey City’s Electronic Music Party will be held on Saturday, March 19, from 5-11 pm, at Halftime Bar & Grill, 746 Westside Ave. Suggested donation is $10. For more information on the event, check the JCI Calendar listing and for more information on Zip Zap Vroom, visit their Facebook page.
Photo of Camilla Ha courtesy Patrick Hambrecht