Even in its very first year, in 2008, the Switchboard Music Festival brimmed with confidence. Presenting a day-long program, the event staked its reputation on the ability of genre-breaking, left-field Bay Area artists to seize audiences' ears and hold on tight through one very long day.
Judging from the strength and diversity of the music presented, the consistently strong turnouts, and some well-deserved national recognition, Switchboard’s initial faith seems well-placed. When the festival returns to San Francisco’s Brava Theater on Saturday, June 18, with a dozen acts from 1pm-9pm, the presenters can take a bow for earning an ASCAP/CMA Adventurous Programming Award, making the festival the only event outside the Northeast to earn the distinction last year.
“We’ve always showcased a lot of local artists, and it feels like we’re representing the community here,” says Switchboard co-director Annie Phillips. “Not that we really need it, but we consider this a stamp of approval for the Bay Area scene.”
In some ways, the festival’s increasingly ambitious scope and commitment to local artists work in creative tension. The most buzz-inducing act on this year’s roster is headliner Tyondai Braxton, who presents his solo electronic project HIVE1. The son of influential avant-garde composer/saxophonist Anthony Braxton, he’s cut a fascinating path in the six years since leaving the New York experimental rock band Battles. Born out of a 2013 installation at the Guggenheim and documented last year on an album for Nonesuch, HIVE1 is a percussion-driven piece featuring Braxton on modular synthesizer.
Switchboard has tried to book Braxton since the release of his first solo album, 2009’s Central Market (Warp Records). In order to get around the necessity of numerous rehearsals for that album's music, his management suggested a solo set focused on HIVE1, music “that’s quite different from Battles,” Phillips says. “It’s all electronic, and partly improvised. In truth, we’re not sure what it’s going to be like, which is fine. We give artists free reign.”