STS9 makes electronic dance music. The Santa Cruz-via-Atlanta quintet's live shows seamlessly dissolve instrumental musings into fine-tuned sonic sculpture, veering from lengthy, jazz-driven improvisations to laptop-enhanced downtempo suites. Picture PCs and houseplants, turntables and congas, Mayan symbols, digital artwork hanging above a golden Buddha, incense burning, crystals gleaming, low-key beats blending into the white noise of traffic. The sound is cerebral and sensual at the same time. There's perhaps no band that better balances heart, soul and intellect on music's cutting edge.
When electronic dance music is vital and populist, STS9 swells with creativity. When electronic dance music chases its own tail into esotericism, STS9 strays, too. Judging by STS9's recent activity, everyone's feeling fine.
They're at the apogee of 15 or so years of evolution, from drum 'n' bass to trip-hop to glitch to dubstep to now and their still-unnamed music incorporating it all. They're no longer trying new ideas; they're no longer trying anything. They're simply doing it, revisiting and refracting and refining trails they previously blazed. The phrase "orgasmic soundscapes" comes to mind but won't be used here.
STS9 consistently ranks as one of America's top-50-grossing touring bands, according to Pollstar magazine, selling out mid-sized venues across the country. Maybe the band's lyricless format allows deeper immersion into the music; maybe the drugs are really strong. The music they make is almost certainly beamed in from some other-dimensional space rave light years away. Like no other band, STS9 can elevate a concert from commonplace celebration to transcendent communion.
STS9 plays Showbox Sodo Friday, Feb. 22.