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POP MUSIC REVIEWS

Organic '96 Offers Fresh Alternative

June 24, 1996|DENNIS ROMERO

SAN BERNARDINO NATIONAL FOREST — KROQ is here broadcasting live, several heavyweight label executives are checking out the scene, and so is a capacity crowd. Organic '96--an all-night synthesizer-based dance music affair with perhaps the most artistically laudable lineup of its kind ever assembled in America--is a critical success.

But the question on a lot of people's minds (including those label folks) is not about the critical, but rather the commercial. They want to know: Can dance music festivals like this one, which ended early Sunday, fill the void left by the highly lucrative Grateful Dead tours and at the same time bring a fresh alternative to "alternative" rock festivals gone stale (read: Lollapalooza)?

Perhaps the question is left unanswered. For Organic's organizers, concert promoter Philip Blaine and a music agent who went under the moniker Chaotica, cost, apparently, was no object. Besides bringing top British acts such as the Chemical Brothers, Underworld, Orbital and the Orb to the stage (along with several other acts and deejays), they sprung for state-of-the-art Turbo sound (of Pink Floyd fame), more than 80 computer-controlled lights, a 70-watt laser that shot out tree-trunk sized beams and, of course, the vast grounds at Snow Valley Resort, providing a techno-hippy vibe. With more than 6,000 paying customers (at $25 to $30 a head) drawn by heavy promotion in print, radio and on the street (fliers), Blaine said it was a "break-even situation."

It's too bad it couldn't be more profitable, both for the promoters and for the future of music festivals. Despite being hampered by low nighttime temperatures (low 40s), the event was world-class. Underworld, a critically celebrated duo, programmed a nonstop techno trip with ambient bridges and ecstatic eruptions that had the crowd eating out of its hand. Orbital's trip was much the same, with the Hartnoll brothers and their trademark flashlight shades (making them look like aliens) programming exalted sounds while backed by sublime computer graphics (heartbeat monitors). The only letdown, and a slight one at that, was the Chemical Brothers' set, which sounded more like a pre-programmed medley of their greatest hits than an improvisational take on their rock-inflected break beats.

Ironically, more than 30,000 are expected to go to see some of these very acts next weekend--in England.

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